You’ve crossed off crayons and HB pencils from your checklist, but are you really ready for the new school year abroad? Between trips to the open-air market and soccer practice, have you forgotten anything? Here are some helpful guidelines to make sure you’re ready to approach school as the Romans do.
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Visit the pediatrician (see the list in childcare services)
Make an appointment for a check-up and find out whether your child needs vaccinations or a physical exam certificate to participate in school activities. Several Italian regions do not require mandatory immunization.
Plan transportation and after school pick-ups
International schools in Rome offer bus service. But if you’ve enrolled your kids in Italian public school, you may want to arrange a carpool and/or after-school care for your child. Even if you don’t plan to carpool, it’s wise to gather contact information for neighbors and other parents who may be able to help when needed. Create a network with organized shifts to take the pressure off your work schedule and reduce traffic! Provide the school with a complete list of persons who will be taking and/or picking up your child in your absence, and provide xerox copies of their id.
Mark school events on the calendar
Create a master family schedule and add each person’s appointments and activities. If you have children at more than one school, plan ahead to make sure a parent, visiting relative or caretaker is always available to attend each open house, meeting and holiday pageant.
Stock up on school supplies
Visit your neighborhood cartoleria (stationery store) and stock up on notebooks, pens, paperclips, highlighters, stickers and colored pens, crayons and pencils. Besides buying the supplies on the list provided by your child’s teacher, get extras of items your child is likely to misplace, like glue sticks or scissors. Think about the items your child may need while doing homework and keep them in a central location. Italian elementary school kids normally always carry an astuccio (pencil-case) and a diario (homework journal) in their zaino (backpack). These all come in a myriad of styles, sizes and prices.
Review the rules
Get a copy of the school’s guidelines and go over them with your child. If the school does not have an English version, have a trusted bilingual friend translate it for you. Make sure your kids understand all the rules they’ll be expected to follow.
Check in regularly
Ask your child how she feels about starting school in a foreign country. If she’s nervous about making new friends, the new language and general back to school anxiety, consider arranging a play date with classmates. I always throw a back to school party, just to warm up post-vacation blues. Keep the conversation open on issues your children may be concerned about, such as bullies, cliques, peer pressure and love.
Evaluate extracurricular activities
Talk with your child about extracurricular activities. Select fun activities that teach new skills or that can better integrate your child in the Italian culture, but avoid over scheduling your family or your child. Taking on too many activities can cause anxiety and distract children from schoolwork.
Meet teachers and staff, and visit the school before classes start
Call the school to arrange a time for you and your child to meet his new teacher ahead of time. Also meet with the class representative parent, and exchange contact numbers and e-mail. Usually this parent will be the one informing you in the event of strikes, field trips, special expenses, etc. Another good idea is taking your child on a tour of the school so he knows how to find his classrooms, lavatories, cafeteria, and so on.
Talk with the teacher
Let the teacher know about things in your child’s life that may affect her performance, such as health issues, a recent relocation, or family changes. You might also mention your child’s hobbies or special interests. It’s a good idea to bring along someone who can translate for you, just in case.
Learn about school resources
Find out which professionals the school has on staff and what services they provide. Ask about the best way to get in touch with the principal, school counselor, or other staff members you may need to contact. Inquire if anyone on the staff offers Italian language lessons you and your child can attend after school.
Italian public school is a free service, but lunches are the only expense. These can be paid at the post office through monthly slips made out for each child. Costs are calculated on family income and you’ll have to get help figuring that out at a neighborhood CAF (free financial counseling office). The information gathered at CAF is then handed in at your municipal Ufficio Scuole, that works out your fee and posts your pre-marked payment slips.
But this is a small price if you consider the quality. By law, Italian school menus have to be designed seasonally by a team of nutritionists, dietitians, pediatricians and organic alimentary experts.
Lunches in Italian public schools are in fact 100% certified organic and fair trade. All staples, including bread, olive oil, cheese, juices, free range poultry & eggs, grass-fed bovine/ovine meats are biologico and absolutely no GMO foods are present in Italian school kitchens. Guaranteed fresh produce is served within 3 days of harvest, and children are fed raw vegetable antipastos, seasonal specialties of the Lazio region; and the only afternoon snack is fresh fruit. There’s also a mid morning snack served at around 10 am, and it’s usually a healthy sandwich of homestyle bread and prosciutto (or mortadella), or a chunk of dark chocolate. Once a month, school kitchens cook a typical menu of the foreign communities present in Rome to introduce kids to their non-Italian schoolmates’ eating traditions.
Make contact with other parents
In Italian schools there is no PTO or PTA, but if your child will be attending International school, these groups will have lots of information, including nuances and tips that aren’t written down anywhere else. Make an effort to meet all of your child’s classmates and parents, and exchange telephone numbers.
Discuss safe travel routes
Make sure your child knows how to get to and from school safely. If your child walks or rides a bike to school, review the route with her until you’re sure she knows it. If she rides a bus, have her bus pass always updated and paid for, and remind her where the bus stops and where to get on the bus after school. No matter how your child gets to school, remind her of safety issues she is likely to face, such as how to cross the street.
Go over after-school plans
Remind your child where he will go after school, whether it’s home, to an extracurricular activity, or to an after-school program. If you’ve signed up your child to soccer, swimming or any other sports activity, besides the necessary equipment and gear, parents are asked to provide a certificate of physical fitness signed by a medical practitioner.