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September 18

Dear Family:

I guess Happy New Year to all who apply. Some of this news has been told to some of you over the phone, but here is what I remember. Sorry for any repetitions.

Flags at half staff following the September 11 attacks.

I'm sure the last week has been very difficult for everyone. Peter wrote, with my comments a reaction to last week which is posted on our web page at I'm not sure you need the www [you don't, so I took it out :)]. Anyway, it has been amazing how many people have come up to us to express their sorry, and support for the United States. We have received phone calls from two of the French teachers who came to Claremont, as well as lots of parents of children who go to school with our children. They are very touching. I went by the American Consulate yesterday while doing my errands and was amazed that there must be flowers about 2 feet deep around the front and 10 to 15 people in line to sign a condolence book. In France there is a genuine feeling of profound support.

I also have noticed that daily life has changed and probably will never be as it was before, even here in Strasbourg, relatively removed from the US. France has had its experiences with terrorism before. A few years ago someone placed a bomb in the Metros of Paris and other incidents. Also, since Strasbourg is the center for the European Council, there are real reasons to have some concern. Now, when I go to the big department stores, every backpack and purse is checked. Monday, when I dropped off the younger boys at school, all the entrances to the school had the Principal or one or two teachers standing guard so that no adults could enter. The sign was always there, but last week parents could go on the playground and make sure their children got in the correct line. The Principal explained to a puzzled parent that the new rule he received over the weekend were very strict. I'm wondering if something like that is happening in Claremont. I'm actually quite happy that my children are going to schools where we think they are the only Americans rather than the large International schools right now.

Even though the events in New York, D.C. And Pittsburgh have dominated our lives this week, thankfully for the children, they had another busy week at school. On last Tuesday, as the awful news was coming in, we went to a back-to-school meeting at Brennan's school. The first 40 minutes was a group meeting with the Principal and all parents of 6th graders. (This is the first year of junior high, collège, in the French system) As I expect happens in the states, most of the meeting dealt with LOCKERS and LUNCH TICKETS!!! The system had changed slightly, we take it, from previous years and this had thrown many parents for a loop. We're dealing with both issues by having Brennan come home for lunch and not signing up for a locker.

Bouquets outside the American Embassy in Strasbourg after the September 11 attacks.

We then went to Brennan's "homeroom" where his core teachers each made a short presentation. We were most surprised that we really found his PE teacher great. Usually, we just don't care too much. However, this person seems very genuine. He said is sports specialty is the Circus. As part of PE Brennan has already done some juggling and balancing on a circus ball. He will also do volleyball, track and field, 6 weeks of swimming and other things.

His math teacher seems very traditional and said, as we all say at CHS, just putting down the correct answer will not give you full points!! However, Brennan has already been told that he canNOT use pencil as all work must be turned in, in FOUNTAIN pen. Also, the assignment appears at the top of the page underlined in, I think, green. Yesterday, I had to run out to the store to get him a four color Bic pen. He said he knows it was not on his list, but that is because, as his bilingual friend explained to him, all French kids just know that you need it to underline things in the correct color. Luckily, Jefferson, (more about him in a moment) is teaching him what to do. (Ethan confirmed over after school cookies that his British friend Saul is trying to teach him which colors go where also, as it is apparently already known by fourth grade). Luckily, I don't think they teach it in pre-school so Ryan is not behind in this respect.

The History/Geography teacher is very young and was quite nervous. We spoke with him before the meeting and he seems very understanding of Brennan's situation and Brennan feels very comfortable in his class. (Yesterday, I guess, he was called on to explain what a millennium is. He started to explain that it was someone with a lot of money. His partner, who speaks English, explained to him that the teacher had not asked about millionaires! What I thought was best is that Brennan could laugh about it!!!)

Ready to head off to school, shoulders a-aching!

We also got to meet his French teacher, who we thought was exceptional. Too bad he doesn't understand enough French to really participate in the class yet. We have already been in contact with her by e-mail because she could tell from the first day that Brennan was very discouraged by not understanding what was happening in class. She has sent home class assignments early so we can review them with him. Brennan says that really helps although he is clearly lost much of the time. However, this teacher seems to really know what she wants to teach, with emphasis on learning different ways to communicate. She indicated that she had planned something for the first writing assignment. However, on the day she was going to assign it, there was a class disruption because some kids were making fun of another kid's nickname. She then assigned the class to write how they got their names. I really like a teacher who can change assignments like that. She also has a realistic attitude with a sense of humor. One parent asked if she should be forcing her son to read something besides the comic books his does voluntarily. She said in fact it was fine. She said she went from Tintin, one of the French comic books to Proust. He is clearly overwhelmed by this class at the moment, but we think he will get a lot out of the class in a few months.

We didn't get to meet his English, Science, Art, and Music teachers. His "Technology" teacher is his homeroom teacher. He is also young and easy going. It seems "Technology" does include 6 weeks of computers, mostly word processing, as well as mechanical drawing and may be some shop stuff. Technology is one or two hours a week depending on if its a "week 1" or a "week 2". Science I think meets 3 hours a week. Some students in his class take German while others take English. He has English only three hours a week and Art and Music one hour a week.

Brennan's schedule is different everyday. Most days are from 8-12 and 2-4, one day until 5. No class all day on Wednesday or Thursday afternoon, but 4 hours Saturday morning. He has 2 free periods a week in the middle of the school day where he can wonder around campus or go to the library. His classes are in two different buildings at opposite ends of the campus! (One building has all the science labs, art rooms, music rooms etc. and I think is shared with the high school.) The rest of the campus is for the high school. There are a total of 3000 students on the combined campus. After 7 days of classes this doesn't seem too confusing for him. I think it helps that he really spends all day with the same 24 students except for English class. One hour a week the French class is split in half. (Why Brennan has one of his two breaks). We know Brennan's French is getting better because yesterday they had another change in the schedule. He explained that since this has been some of the most frequently discussed topic in class the last week and a half, he understood everything this time!! The schedule changes, as we all know at CHS, are disruptive, and were part of the conversation in the classes at the Back-to-school meeting. They were even part of the local news as a general problem this year in many schools, mostly caused by overcrowding.

As mentioned before, Jefferson, last name still unknown, has been Brennan's savoir. He was born in the Philippines, started school in Egypt and has lived in France for a little over two years. He is extremely polite, and explained that he is going to do for Brennan all that others had done to help him, as well as what he wished others could have done. He came over after school Friday. I decided I would try to be a good mother and make them Crepes for snack. I never could get the pan the right temperature and the batter thin enough, so most of them fell apart. As was getting to the end, Jefferson, named after our President because his father loves the ideas of freedom that come from America, came in. He politely explained that he loves cooking and can make crepe. He then proceeded to use the remaining batter to make a perfect crepe. We can all learn a lot from him.

Other students in the neighborhood are clearly trying to make friends with Brennan. They will wait for him at the crosswalks and walk home with him. He still doesn't have a lot to say to them yet, but they sure do make him feel good. One student, who is only in his English class lives just next door.

Ethan and his friend Arthur Plaguer.

Ethan continues to make great progress and seems so happy at school. His friendship with Saul continues to grow as well as with a student who doesn't speak English, Arthur. He spent Saturday afternoon at Arthur's riding bikes in the park, playing chase and on the computer. I saw his teacher on duty the other day, and he said that in just a week he has to use English a lot less with him and that Ethan is participating well in class. For Ethan we try to stay a section ahead of the class in his novel as well as do lots of grammar exercises together. We have managed to write the assignment in the wrong notebook, but the teacher is fairly understanding. As I think I wrote most of you, Ethan had to memorize a poem. On the first day he was not called on to recite the first stanza, but we worked hard on the second one for the next day. Ethan told the teacher that he wanted to say it. He did and the whole class applauded! Ethan felt so good. His teacher is very sensitive to the students. On the day after the bombing, they spent about an hour discussing it in class. Mr. Wieck encouraged Ethan to speak in English and Saul and he translated.

Ryan and Paul.

Ryan is also doing very well. He literally skips to class. He has found a friend named Paul who will come to lunch on Friday. Ryan reports that he does lots of drawing in class so it is fun. On Thursday, he came out of class and his backpack was full of books. I asked him why this was and he said it was because everyone else was putting things in their bags, so he did too. I decided to go back in the school to talk to the teacher, as it was clear if he had homework, he had no clue what it was. I went in and the teacher explained that she didn't know that anyone put anything in their packs, but never mind. She also explained that Ryan greatly surprised her that day. It was the first day she had written anything on the board and it basically said "Good day. My name is _______ and I now go to the big school." She said she asked students to come up and point out what they recognized. Ryan came up and pointed out three words. She couldn't believe he could read French as he says so little in class. Also, and more importantly, he was the only student who could pick out words as all the others only picked out letters. This little conversation assures me that he is getting French very well, and I'm so happy he was not too shy to participate in class. If I was in the states I would clearly be asking the teacher for supplemental materials, but right now I'm happy for him just to pick up the language six hours a day, four days a week, and another 4 hours Saturday morning. (No school also for elementary on Wednesday-there's a long political/religious history explaining why schools are set up this way dating back to the French Revolution. Why it persists is harder to explain but in Alsace includes a special twist.)

Peter's work continues to move ahead. He seems do feel like he is getting something done. I'll let him speak for himself.

I have set up some things for me to do also. I have signed up for about 4.5 hours of pronunciation and written French classes which meet Monday Tuesday and Friday mornings starting October 15th. They are offered through the "Universitaire Populaire" which was started in the 1920's as adult education. The whole year costs about $220 (depending on how far the dollar falls). I also can take a free cooking class every other Thursday afternoon sponsored by the Kestler Foundation. This is the Foundation that helps settle visiting scientists and their families into Strasbourg. I went for their Tuesday afternoon Tea last week. There are French hosts and the wives of visiting scientist there. It would be a nice opportunity to meet an interesting group of women. I still have not looked into voluteer work, mostly because of the attacks. Several people told me I should go to the consulate for direction, but it still seems best to let things settle for awhile. Anyway, I still feel busy going to open air markets, trying to stock the fridge and keeping up with the news.

Time to pick up the boys for lunch.

My thoughts are with you


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This page was last modified on Sun, Dec 23, 2001.