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Living in France: Articles, Key Resources, and Websites

Schools in Paris

Find the Right One for Your Child

Finding a school for your English-speaking child in Paris can be a daunting task, particularly if you're trying to conduct your search long distance. Fortunately, the Internet offers a wealth of information, and the variety of Parisian schools makes it possible to find one to fit most ages and language levels.

Before you begin your search, consider your child's specific needs and personality, the length of your anticipated stay in Paris, and your personal goals for your child's French-language education. Very young children are remarkably adaptable and often learn a new language quickly. An all-French or primarily-French school may be perfectly suitable. Private schools are available in every neighborhood (arrondissement) of Paris; you can find a listing at your local mairie, or town hall.

While immersing your child in French may sound ideal, be realistic about your own ability to communicate with the school faculty. If you and your child speak no French, consider at least starting with a bilingual private school. For example, the Ecole Active Bilingue or "EaB" (www.eab.fr) operates separate elementary (Ecole primaire), middle school (college), and high school (lycee) facilities in central Paris. Children in the earliest grades are placed directly in a French classroom and receive separate English instruction daily. Older students are put in special "adaptation" classes to prepare them to blend into the French system.

The not-affiliated Ecole active Bilingue-Jeannine Manuel (www.eabjm.com) also offers bilingual education geared toward rapid integration into an all-French education. The large Jeannine Manuel campus is located in the 15th arrondissement. For a list of other bilingual schools across Paris, see france.english-schools.org.

Be advised that these schools often promise that your child "will be fluent in French by Christmas." Generally speaking, this is wildly optimistic. A typical child may be functioning well at school by the end of his or her first semester, but true "fluency" takes longer.

Prepare for Differences

Be prepared for the differences in Parisian school facilities and manner of doing things. Schools in central, high-priced Paris often occupy smaller buildings than many Americans are used to. Classrooms may seem a bit cramped. Lab equipment may be shared or completely omitted.

Students are generally expected to stand when the principal or headmistress enters the room. French teachers tend to be stricter than American teachers, but this doesn't mean that they are uncaring. A French teacher may even tear up work he or she feels could be better. It helps to discuss cultural differences with your child so they don't take criticism from a teacher more personally than it is intended.

Some parents, particularly those of younger students, may have a little difficulty adjusting to the strong sense of school autonomy that prevails in France. There is an attitude of "School is our domain; the home is yours. We leave you alone to do your job; you leave us alone to do ours." Parent volunteers are less common than in American elementary schools, and you may not be allowed in classrooms or on upper floors without an invitation to a Parent Open House or similar event. This is not to say that teachers and principals are not available for parent conferences. They just tend to interact less frequently with parents.

If possible, look for an apartment on the same Metro or bus line as your child's school. This will make life infinitely easier. Older children routinely ride the Metro or bus to school on their own.

International Schools

For older students, a bilingual/international school may be the best option because it is simply impossible to successfully handle complex courses in an unfamiliar language.

The EaB-Victor Hugo tests middle school and high school students on their first day to place them in appropriate French and English classes. If they speak no French, they will start with French 1 as well as courses like art and physical education in French. As their French progresses, they have the option to take more of their core courses in French while continuing to study English in classes geared to native-speakers.

Those planning a short stay in Paris may want schools with a more English or American orientation. The American School of Paris (www.asparis.org), located in the posh Neuilly suburb, and Marymount School-Paris (www.marymount.fr) offer solid academics with less emphasis on learning French.

If your plans include an eventual return to the U.S. (or other English-speaking country), you will want to be sure your child can re-enter school at home without losing credit. Discuss your child's situation with school personnel at home and in Paris. Most bilingual schools in Paris strive to keep their students abreast of requirements at home. For example, the EaB offers the opportunity to track the French, American, or British educational system. High school students have the option of preparing for the French Baccalaureate, the American SAT/AP, the British exams, or the International Baccalaureate. The American School of Paris follows the American system and offers AP and IB courses.

Even with excellent teachers and curricula, there will probably be some adjustments upon return. Prepare your children for this in advance. Remind them that you don't get something for nothing. Maybe she's a little behind in chemistry, but she's way ahead in world history. His French will probably be outstanding compared to his American schoolmates, but maybe he needs a little refresher on English sentence structure. These things can be resolved and are minor compared to the priceless experience of living and learning in Paris.