by Kat Nickola
As we walked into the school for the first time last summer, I was more nervous than my daughter. She had taken a year of German language and was excited to start at the local high school. Me? Not so much.
“I hope I’m not missing anything,” I worried. Our appointment was set, but I wasn’t clear on what I needed to bring. So, I had a big bag with brought pens, a notebook, school records, medical records, plus lots and lots of paperwork regarding our housing and SOFA status. Most of it was unnecessary.
“It’ll be fine.” She assured me as she opened the door to the school. She was right. We figured out the sekretariat (main office) was on the first floor – meaning the next level up. It was the first of many small “aha” moments.
My two children are attending a German high school for the first time this year; one in 9th grade and the other in 6th. This is the second in a series of articles about our experience.
Communicating with Potential Schools
Prior to arriving in Kaiserslautern, we researched the available schools in the area and created a list of possibilities. I emailed each school with an introduction letter and information about my daughters’ current grades and future interests.
We got varying replies – some positive and informational, others more abrupt, one requiring an interview, and one that didn’t reply at all. All the schools agreed that no registration could begin until we were physically in Germany. So, we waited until we arrived.
We chose a Gesamtschule because it offers differentiation into leveled classes, variety in teaching methods, and some vocational classes; a bit like an American school. A student can earn any of the four types of high school diplomas offered in this part of Germany.
Make an appointment with the advisor to register
There is an academic advisor who handles registration, class selection, and academic advice for the all the students in two entire grade levels. Interestingly, the advisor isn’t a stand-alone position; all of them are also classroom teachers who advise as an additional duty.
This meant we had two different registration appointments; one for each child. I brought my kids to their appointments, which turned out to be the correct choice.
We had no idea what to expect at that first appointment with my daughter. After finding the sekretariat, we were led to a small conference room and Frau H handed me registration paperwork. My giant bag of papers was overkill.
What was needed to register:
- A pen
- 2 years of previous school records / standardized test scores (she preferred the tests)
- Vaccination records (they copied)
- Student’s birth certificate (they copied)
- Our new German home contact information (to fill in the forms)
- A passport photo of the student
- $10 for the school planner
Of course, even with all that extra paperwork I brought, I didn’t have the last two things. But, it was fine and I brought them in the following day.
Matching the program to the student
While I was frantically google-translating with my phone and filling in the registration form, Frau H chatted with my daughter. First they spoke in English, then they mixed in German.
She talked about her grades, favorite subjects, hobbies, and goals. They determined which course levels she would take, and decided against taking remedial German since it pulls her out of other subjects.
One way the German school system excels is in its focus on finding the proper program for your child. There are students with a wide age difference in each grade since it’s normal to hold kids back or start students sooner. There is recognition that college-bound and vocational-bound students have different academic needs, so they have different graduation requirements. All of this is taken into consideration at the registration meeting.
At my daughter’s advising meeting, we all agreed that she should repeat 9th grade. Because 10th grade is a benchmark year in the German school system, her grades that year will determine entry into the MSS (upper school for an AP-style diploma called the abitur). Repeating 9th gives her an extra year to work on German before she must pass that benchmark.
We left pleased with the appointment and laden with booklets and welcome letters detailing school policies and class offerings.
Choosing the right classes
Another day, I walked into the school with my son. He was nervous.
“What if I can’t talk to anyone?” he asked.
“It will be fine. We can translate if we need to. ” I held up my phone.
“What if they won’t let me take woodshop?”
“We will figure it out.”
For this advising appointment, I was more prepared with my small packet of needed items.
His advisor, Frau K, spoke excellent English; she discussed his interests with him and his favorite subjects. After taking his goals and grades into consideration, we all decided he should enter 6th grade even though his grades are middling, and stateside he would be considered 5th.
His interests are in hands-on skills, and 6th grade at the German school is the first year students can take a technical course elective. He is taking woodshop. He is also attending DaZ (Deutsch als Zweitsprache – German as a second language) for 6 periods a week to focus on learning German.
Advising and registration appointments are the first step in entering a German secondary school. Expect the need to schedule a meeting to sit down and discuss your child’s education, talents, and interests.
In the next article in this series, I’ll go over how to prepare for the start of school: from buying school books to renting a locker.