Back to School Shopping for Schools

Today was the day we set aside to find a school for Josh. This had been the one thing keeping me up at night prior to the move. Finding a high school that teaches in English for Josh was not easy. All of the public schools teach in Hebrew, but we had heard there may be some that accommodate non Hebrew speakers. The American school is about 45 minutes north of Tel Aviv (without traffic), so the commute was not ideal. It was also extremely competitive, accommodating the parents of diplomats and large companies first. The British school where the girls were attending was full for Joshua’s grade. And another small English teaching school was no longer being recommended by the state department because of some issues with Americans. That left one school, an International IB School called Eastern Mediterranean International School. It looked like an amazing school with kids coming from every corner of the globe and a challenging IB curriculum. My only hesitation with this school is it was a BOARDING SCHOOL. How could I bring my teenage son half way across the world and then have him live away from us at a boarding school in Israel? The good news is it was a short car or bus ride from our new apartment, about 15 minutes. Again, the bad news is it was a boarding school!

For some background, I called the state department a few months ago to inquire about high school options for Americans living in Israel. The woman chuckled and asked me WHY we were moving there and basically thought we were crazy. She was little help, except to connect me with a woman who was the former Ambassador’s wife. She told me this woman could help me learn about all the school options for Josh. The woman only knew her name, NO CONTACT information!  So, I had to track her down on social media via LinkedIn. I paid to join the premium linkedin account just to send her an email!  She emailed me back within hours, with her personal email and we later spoke at length on the phone. She was a HUGE resource for information about Israel and how the schools work. Unfortunately, she confirmed what I already knew. There were very few options for a non Jewish, English speaking American high school student.

We received an email when our plane touched down in Israel, Josh had been ACCEPTED into EMIS! We were delighted after a long application process and several early morning Skype interviews over the previous weeks.  But, we still were not sold on the boarding part and wanted to at least see the school and some local schools first. So we made an appointment and got up early to make the trip to EMIS and 2 local high schools.

I should also mention, doing this required some set up.  We had to find a babysitter for the girls AND rent a car.  The babysitter came in the form of a recommended house cleaner.  This lady was from the Philippines, so language was not a barrier.  What harm would it be to ask if she had any experience watching kids?  It turns out she DID, so we were able to leave the girls with her AND have some light house work done.  Bonus!  I also felt ok because she came via a recommendation from an American friend who lived in Israel.  Remember the Weissmans?

Jim rented the car, which was fairly easy, but when he came to pick us up there was a huge garbage truck blocking the entire one way street.  Traffic was at a standstill and this guy seemed in no quick hurry to leave!  It’s another reason people don’t drive here!  An unexpected traffic jam can last forever and for no good reason other than a garbage truck is blocking the street, a cab is waiting for someone, etc.  But, we had an appointment with a school this day, so I did like the Israeli’s do and personally asked him to move the truck so we could leave immediately.

Walking into Eastern Mediterranean International School

Entering the campus to EMIS, there was a guard and guard gate to greet us.  The guard politely directed us to the part of the campus EMIS is located.  There are several schools located on this campus.  The campus looked nice, but not beautiful. I was warned about this from another parent, so I was not surprised. After we arrived we were paired with a recently graduated student from South Africa for our tour.

Josh on school tour with former student from South Africa

This student could not be more prefect!  Josh was drawn to his charismatic personality, enthusiasm about the school and willingness to answer any and all questions.  He talked about his challenges at first to balance the challenging academic environment with his social needs.  Visiting places all over the world by just going home with friends on breaks.  His plans to attend a University in the Netherlands after his gap year.  This was a young man going places!  Josh walked away a lot more impressed than he started.  He was now excited at the possibility to attend EMIS!

Our next stop was a local high school that we were drawn to for it’s unique style of teaching.  We called this the “paperless high school” because most, if not all of the curriculum was done on computers.  It was a bit outside of town so we could drive, parked the car and walked up to the modern building which had workers everywhere.  It resembled a typical American High School except there was Hebrew written everywhere.  We didn’t see anyone who looked like they could help us so we freely wandered the school.  We were surprised this was NOTHING like a typical American High School that we could never enter without a prior appointment.  We finally saw some people in an office and asked if they spoke English.  The woman did and politely directed us to the principals office.  She was extremely friendly and helpful and apologized that the principal was not on campus that day. She gave us his email address and asked us to email him directly as soon as possible to discuss the option.  She mentioned they do have a special program to accommodate non Hebrew speakers at the school.

Headed to lunch on the pier

We left the school headed to lunch on the pier and emailed the principal while we were eating.

After lunch we drove home to ditch the car and jumped on scooters and bikes to head to the last school.  This was a neighborhood school with NO parking.  Again, there was no problem to just walk in and we found the administration office right away.  Everyone was overly friendly and helpful to us.  They were interested in why we were in Israel. We have learned that just about everyone keeps asking us why we are here and find it fascinating that an American, non Jewish non Hebrew speaking family wants to live in Israel.  The principal of this school also was not in, but they worked hard for a good 15 minutes to try to fit in an appointment in his busy schedule the next day.  I have been so impressed how Israelis have gone out of their way to help us!

Summer had come along with us for this trip on the back of my electric bike.  Josh and I headed home on scooters while Jim and Summer went shopping for a new bike for her.  She rode home excited with her new bike and new freedom to get around Tel Aviv.  Tel Aviv is an extremely safe city, in many ways much more than American cities, and kids often roam around freely around town to the beach, cafes and lead a very independent life. We were told this before coming and now that we are here we can see it firsthand.

Mika on swing at beach playground

When I got home, I took Mika to a nearby playground where she met some new friends.  There were several kids there speaking French that she all gathered around her to play on the swing.  It’s amazing how kids that don’t speak the same language can still play as if there were no barriers.

Mika met a new friend at the playground

Later that night, we all jumped on our new wheels and headed to a local restaurant for dinner.  I ‘m really starting to like this new place we are calling home.

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