Choosing Schools

[This article first appeared in the Cass Lake Times.]

My husband and I were both Peace Corps volunteers, and that’s what originally took each of us overseas, him to Pakistan in 1989 and me to Albania in 1994. Our paths crossed in Tirana, Albania’s capital city in 1995, and the rest is, as they say, history. Since then we’ve lived in Eritrea in east Africa, in Papua New Guinea near Australia, and now in Mongolia.

Since we are coming home to Cass Lake soon, I’ve put a lot of thought into how our lives will change, and especially for our two children, how school will be different for them. I homeschooled our girls until the oldest was in fifth grade and the youngest in first. At that time I got a job teaching at the International School of Ulaanbaatar, and they got their first taste of a “real” classroom, though it was hardly typical.
At ISU about 25 countries are represented in the student population. Even though English is the language of instruction, it isn’t unusual to hear five different languages spoken in a single day. I know there are schools in large urban areas with a similarly diverse population, but they would not have the safe, cozy atmosphere of a small school that has about 250 students from preschool to 12th grade.
So when we looked at local schools online in Cass Lake and Bemidji, we wanted to make sure that our daughters, now entering 5th and 9th grades, would feel as comfortable as possible since everything in their lives is changing drastically after growing up in Mongolia. Even though the public school websites are terrific, we probably cannot decide about our youngest until we get back, which has me feeling somewhat anxious.

Our oldest, on the other hand, has had her eye on Trek North High School for several years. It’s a charter school with a strong outdoor education focus, and since she loves canoeing, rock climbing, and gardening, we applied. In fact, as I write this she is on a week-long canoe trip down the Tuul River.

As you may know, charter schools use a simple lottery system. If your name is drawn, you get in. At Trek North there are only 160 spots for grades 7-12 and most of those are already filled with current students. We knew it was a long shot, but we gave it a chance and applied. When we received the email that she’d gotten a spot, we celebrated.

Of course, you never know how things are really going to be till you get there. Life never goes exactly as you expect it to, but our daughter has a good, open-minded attitude: “I’m going to miss all the people and the culture here. I think there will be a lot of new things for me, but it’ll be fun.”

I should probably quit worrying. The kids will be fine. We’ve done all we can from here, 5738 miles away, and now we’re just counting down the days till we get home.

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