Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Penny started school yesterday at Stafford High School.  We took some pictures before she left to start the day, my favorite of which was of her and her favorite host father, The Chief:

P1080229She was really nervous, but she admitted she was very excited too.  After I walked her up the hill to the bus stop, I came back to the house and got Michael and Leah in the car to go to the train station so Michael could get to work.  As we went down the hill, we saw Penny’s bus just going up and around, so we decided to follow it and take a picture of her getting on the bus.  I was slightly overwhelmed at the bravery she displayed in getting on the bus and going off to a new school in a new country surrounded by new people and trying to learn in a new language.  So yeah, I cried.  She is an extraordinary young woman. 

I spent the day keeping us busy so I wouldn’t have time to sit around and fret about how she was doing.  Leah and I walk with our neighbor every morning and afterwards, I took Leah over to a local place called Toddlin’ Time for her first “class”, which I guess she enjoyed.  She was more interested in tearing the place apart than in playing games and singing songs with the other 17 month olds there.  (Yes, my baby is 17 months old today!!! YIKES!!!)  Afterwards, we went to the park for lunch with Cindy and Wendy, and on the way home, Leah passed out and I used the time partly to relax and partly to clean up some of the house.  Leah got up around 2:30 and we only had 45 minutes to wait until Penny got home, so I decided to let Leah play outside with her buckets of water.

I heard the bus arrive up at the top of the street and figured that Penny would be home in a couple minutes, but I turned around to see her flying down the hill, cutting across the neighbors’ lawn, heading straight for us.  She hurled herself into the lawn chair next to me and heaved such a sigh!!!  I thought, “Uh oh!  This can’t be good!”  But in fact, she said it wasn’t awful.  :-D

She met several people in her classes.  She has no idea of their names.  We talked a bit later about how to continue a conversation with someone and hopefully today she will put that into action.  Penny’s 18th birthday is coming up soon and so we’ve decided to use that as an “excuse” to meet new people.  We started making a list of people she could invite already and none of them have names.  They are people like “The boy across the corner” and “The Ukrainian girl who sits behind me” and “The girl who liked my drawing”. 

I had decided to pull out an old trick of my mom’s and I tucked a greeting card into Penny’s lunch bag so she would have a sweet surprise waiting for her at lunch time.  She said when she got it, she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so she did both.  The front of the card read “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”.  She felt it was a message she needed to hear and it helped her through her afternoon. So, thanks, Mom!  Penny was happy to read our message and know we were thinking of her.

Last night, I helped her with her government homework.  We learned about constitutional law and the geography of the US.  She is a good student and prefers to work things out for herself rather than be told answers (she had to fill in the states’ names on a map of the US and decided to read an atlas instead of having me tell her the names of the states). 

Afterwards, she, Mike, and I had a lengthy chat about everything while sitting around the kitchen table.  It was one of the best chats we’ve had since she got here and just made me realize all over again how fortunate we are to have Penny spending her year with us.  It is great fun to hear all her hopes and dreams and plans, and what she thinks of school here and how it already differs from school in Thailand.  My friend, Donna, asked me to find out about the differences in the schools and post them to the blog, so I asked Penny a lot of questions last night.  Here’s what I learned:

In Thailand, Penny is at school from 8:00-4:30.  She wears a uniform identical to the other kids (girls wear skirts, boys wear pants).  She sits in one classroom all day and the teachers come to her to teach each subject.  There are no lockers, everything fits in her desk.  She takes 8 classes per day.  She gets a 30 minute break after her first 2 classes.  After 2 more classes, she gets 1 hour for lunch.  Then she has 2 more classes and another 30 minute break before her final 2 classes.  The students are not allowed to have food or drink in the classroom.  They must sit in the same seats every day.  Everyone takes the same classes, they cannot choose which classes they want to take.

The Thai school year starts in May and runs until September.  Then the students have the month of October and half of November free.  Mid-November, they start back up and go to school until March 1, 2, or 3, depending on the calendar.  Then they have off again until May.

At her school here, Penny has 8 classes, but only attends 4 classes per day.  The schedule runs on an X, Y schedule, so on X days she has one set of 4 classes, each lasting 90 minutes, on Y days, she has the other 4.  She has no breaks other than 5 minutes between each class to get to her next class.  She has a locker.  She may wear whatever she wants.  She has observed other students eating and drinking in class.  She may sit wherever she wants from one day to the next unless the teacher assigns seating.  She has only a 20 minute lunch break.  She had the freedom to select different electives for her class.  She sees a sea of different faces at each class, potentially making it harder to get to know people as she may connect with someone who shares only 1 class with her, and will not see them again for 2 days.  She noted that each ethnic group in the high school tends to stick together—all the Asian students in one spot, all the black students in another, all the Hispanic students over here, all the white students over there.  She was surprised by this, but she also admitted to actively seeking out other kids who were Asian to start with.  I don’t think there is a whole lot of ethnic diversity in Thailand, but when you hear of America as the great “melting pot”, you probably expect to see more intermingling.  It makes me pause and consider what Leah’s future holds.

It has been a bit of a shock to her system, I think, but overall, she has handled it incredibly well.  I’m excited to see what her “second first day” is, as today is the Y day in her schedule and she has both math and science on her Y days.  We have told her that we want her to participate in at least one club or activity this year, so she is pondering that one over.  I think it will give her a good opportunity to meet people in a fixed environment, so I hope she chooses well and gets things going.  She is interested in the drama club.  We’ll see!!!  We collectively decided that we would not participate in the Parent, Student, Teacher Association, so that one is out :0)  We’re leaving it up to her!

So that’s the latest from Penny’s participation in the educational system.  Tonight I’ll make up invitations to her birthday party for her to hand out when she meets interesting people.  Otherwise, she’ll just keep trucking.  We know she will meet people in time, and getting used to all the changes in the school day is a big challenge.  She’s doing great.  We are proud!

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