Posts

Think back to when you learned to read. I don’t really remember it, do you? I just remember being able to read. I don’t remember putting any effort in (although I am sure my mother would remember the homework). This is pretty common in people for whom learning to read was just one quick stop on our educational journey. But what an important stop! It opened the world to all the other things we needed to learn. 

What is a reading order/dyslexia?

However, that is not the only experience of learning to read. For plenty of people, for plenty of reasons, learning to read was a hard-won battle. A reading disorder is one possible reason for children struggling to learn to read. So, how do you know if your child has a reading disorder? And if you suspect they do, what should you do about it? 

Dyslexia is a neurological condition that causes difficulties with learning to read and spell (so it will affect both reading and writing). Dyslexia is only ONE name for reading disorders – just because you do not meet the standard criteria for dyslexia does not mean you do not have a reading disorder. These problems are not related to intelligence. Bilingual people with dyslexia will typically have the same problems learning to read in all their languages. 

It is diagnosed by a psychologist (or sometimes a speech therapist) and is treated mostly by speech and language therapists (orthophonistes in France). In order to be considered for testing, children must have shown little progress after sustained normal literacy instruction. 

Dyslexia runs in families, so if someone in your family has been diagnosed with it, it might be something you need to be extra vigilant about. 

What might a child with dyslexia look like in the classroom or at home?

There are lots of red flags you can look out for early in order to identify children who might be at risk of reading disorders. First and foremost, it tends to present as a difficulty learning letter-sound correspondence despite a lot of normal instruction and reinforcement. That means knowing that ‘A’ says ‘ah’ etc. Teachers might report having tried different methods but nothing really making a difference. There may also be the classic sign of mixing up mirror letters or ones that look or sound similar (p/d/b/q, k/g or m/n). *It’s important to note that typical children do this too but remediate it with typical help in class.


You might also notice children who make the same mistakes over and over again despite teaching on the point. Sometimes, you may not be able to put your finger on it, but these are children for whom reading is a BATTLE. Children who have difficulty reading often compensate by making a fuss or even refusing to do literacy tasks completely – some goof off and use distraction techniques to make it seem like they just don’t care or are not trying. These are children for whom reading requires HUGE amounts of mental energy (they might be physically exhausted from literacy work) so sometimes, not doing it is just the best option.

Finally, it might be a child who, after huge effort, has learned to read (probably slowly) but still has difficulty understanding what they read.

How to Get Help

In France, it is the orthophoniste who treats will treat dyslexia. If you’re worried about your child’s reading and have already given all the ‘usual tricks’ a go, you should speak to your GP or paediatrican and ask for an ordonnance (referral) for assessment and treatment. After assessment, if dyslexia is suspected your therapist will offer you therapy sessions to help remediate, compensate and provide education to both you and your child. They might also have information on special classes and institutions set up to help people with severe dyslexia and accommodations that might be afforded children for school or exams. Waiting lists can be long, so call around and be persistent. Lastly, try not to worry ☺. Help is available and lots of very successful people have dyslexia (Richard Branson, Einstein and Walt Disney to name but a few), so with the right support your child will still have a bright future ahead of them!

-Marie Robert, SLT/Orthophoniste

Marie Robert is an Irish Speech and Language Therapist and children’s author, currently working just outside of Paris. She treats children from birth to 18 years of age. Marie treats a wide range of speech and language delays and disorders and specializes in treating developmental language disorder.

Sweet Home Alabama Part 2 – Jennifer Hua

This is a continuation of our experience sending our daughter to the US for a school year. You can read part one here.

There were still many niggling details left to take care of before Katie left for Alabama.  We informed her orthodontist in the spring that she was leaving for a year and the doctor decided to remove her braces in July, just before she left for the US, and then put them back on when she returned.

Another issue we had to deal with was Katie’s airplane ticket.  We were advised to buy a changeable roundtrip ticket.  Because we purchased the ticket in April, the computer system was unable to program a return date for beyond March of the following year. So, I had to remember to change her return flight a year later so that she could fly back in July, and for a fee, of course.  We were then only limited in that she had to fly back within 365 days of her original flight over to the US.

We also researched temporary travel insurance for her, but it was hard to tell into which category she fell, since she wasn’t a college student, or an adult.  We really couldn’t see a suitable policy for her situation.  Luckily, one unexpected benefit of having signed over guardianship to our daughter’s host family was that she then qualified to be covered under their employer-sponsored family medical insurance, so they simply added her to their policy! 

In the spring we discovered another quirk of the guardianship issue, due to a lack of communication with Katie’s host parents.  Since I had dropped her off at the family’s in late July, I blithely claimed her as a tax dependent on our tax return for that year, thinking that she’d spent the better half of the year with us.  However, over in Alabama, her host parents were told by their accountant that since they had acquired parental rights in mid-June, they should claim her as their dependent.  Needless to say, they were a bit taken aback to receive a letter from the IRS stating that someone else was claiming her!  As it didn’t change our taxation at all, I amended our return, attaching a copy of the court papers.  And, we agreed that they would also claim her for the following year.  I feel very grateful that we had such a good relationship with this family that this could be dealt with without it turning into a big issue.  We never bothered to rescind the guardianship order, figuring that Katie would soon be turning 18 and make it a moot point. 

Katie had a fantastic year in the US.  School, as you might imagine, was a piece of cake, compared to her rigorous French lycée, even given the language issue in the beginning (her English was good, but not yet fluent.)  She played her clarinet in the marching band, and was even elected prom queen in the spring!  Her family took her camping and boating, and on trips to Civil Rights era sites, Charleston, SC, and NYC.  She learned to play the guitar, and came home with the most charming Southern drawl.

Towards the end of her stay, she began to apprehend her return to the French school system.  The anglais bilingue office at the lycée had advised us to consider having her stay in the US for two years, so as to establish residency for Alabama’s state universities.  We thought about it, but weren’t ready to make that step yet.  Because her American cousins and many of her kayaking friends in Alabama were being schooled at home or online, Katie approached us with her idea of doing online school (CNED) after she returned to France.  She wanted more time to spend with her grandparents, do volunteer work, and enjoy life at her pace.  We discussed it and got advice from various people, but ultimately decided it was not a good idea, much to her disappointment.

The return to her French lycée was extremely difficult.  She landed in 1ѐre S, in a class of 44 students, most of whom she didn’t know since they were a year behind her.  It took quite a few months before she felt she fit in socially.  By Terminale, she had built up a group of friends, but was still suffering academically.  She had been a stellar student up through 2nde, but forgot much of her science and math while in the US, and struggled to keep up; the long school days and uncertainty of her future studies made for one confused teenager. Luckily, her teachers worked closely with us.

A few years later, we had the great pleasure to welcome her two American host sisters during the Toussaint vacation and show them the sights in Paris and in the French countryside.  I won’t forget driving through one picturesque village in the Vexin on the way to Giverny and being asked if people actually lived there!  The three girls even bought a drawn portrait of themselves together at Place du Tertre in Montmartre– real sisters!  We feel extremely grateful that this family has become true friends of ours.

I hope this may answer any questions you may have regarding logistics involved in sending your child to live in the US.  If you choose not to go with an exchange program, for school enrollment it is likely that your only options will be to transfer guardianship, like we did, or enroll in a private school.  And, I can’t over-emphasize getting in writing the conditions for re-enrollment upon return to France; I know of families that were refused re-enrollment in their zoned school because of overcrowding, and the fact that their child had temporarily left the system.  Despite the rough times since our daughter’s return, she doesn’t regret one minute having gone for a homestay; it is still by far the best way to experience the American culture.

About Jennifer Hua

Jennifer is a stay at home mom to four wonderful children, all now young adults, two of whom were born in France. She also volunteers with AAWE on the Board of Directors – Executive Committee as our Treasurer.

Sweet Home Alabama Part 1 – Jennifer Hua

My husband and I have four children, all of whom have been educated in the French school system. When I’d hear them complain about school, I always wished that they could experience an American school, with its electives, school spirit, and generally more positive relationship with the teachers. They were not having the fun learning experience that I remembered. I also wanted them to experience more of American culture than what they got during our annual three-week summer blasts to visit family in the US. When I was in high school, I was an AFS exchange student to Australia, and my French husband had likewise experienced family stays in England and Canada when he was younger, so we envisioned sending our kids abroad via a family stay, where they could attend the local high school.

When our third daughter Katie entered 2nde, she was very insistent from the start that she wanted to spend a year in the US. At her lycée, we were told that the best time to do an exchange would be between 2nde and 1ère, due to the Bac. If she were only gone one trimester, the school would consider admitting her back as a 1ère, but if she wanted to be gone a whole school year, then she would essentially lose a year here in France. Our lycée, which is private, was willing to hold a spot for her the following year. Other lycées may be different.

Katie did not want to stay with relatives; she wanted an experience more like what we had had. We could have gone the easier route of applying through an exchange student organization, such as AFS or YFU, but we didn’t see the need, since our daughter had a US passport, and we figured our network of family and friends would surely put us in touch with families interested in hosting her. We were offering an eventual reciprocal hosting here.  Plus, the cost of a program to the US was fairly prohibitive – nearly 12,000€. We started looking seriously for possible host families in December; I contacted old school friends, and some online friends. Since Katie was a kayaker, my sister in South Carolina also posted a notice on a regional kayaking board. One friend suggested that our daughter write up a letter introducing herself; I then distributed this to everybody I could think of.

We ended up with three to four good solid leads by the end of January, one being a university professor in Virginia who’d seen the kayaking board notice! After much deliberation and exchanges of emails back and forth trying to get to know the families, we talked them over with Katie, and in mid-February we decided on a family in Alabama that had two teenage daughters, one of whom was a serious kayaker. The mother taught French and English at the local high school. They happened to be friends of a colleague of my sister’s. We were able to meet the mother in Paris in the spring when she brought a group of her students to Europe.

In the meantime, we also contacted AFS, the Rotary Club, the US Consulate, the local high school near my parents’, and AAWE for any and all information that we might need, such as insurance and school enrollment requirements. We were trying to have all our bases covered, but we got quite a bit of conflicting information, which was very frustrating.  

Katie’s future host family quickly began running into difficulty getting her enrolled in their local high school.  The principal kept insisting that she needed a J-1 visa to enroll as an exchange student. I had to forward a written confirmation from the consulate in Paris that an American citizen with an American passport did NOT need a visa!  Basically, since she was not with an exchange program, the school would not enroll her unless she could prove Alabama residency. I have since learned that this is a very common problem.  The host family went to great lengths, up to meeting with the school district superintendent, to make this work, and after much back and forth it was finally decided that our only option would be to grant the host parents legal guardianship of Katie. Because this was Alabama, it would essentially be permanent guardianship. This was a huge step for us to take, but we really liked and trusted this family, and felt comfortable making this decision. We filled out a form that I’d downloaded from the internet and had it notarized at the consulate in Paris, stating that we were handing over our parental rights. Gulp. The host family then used this form when they went in front of the judge in Alabama family court to claim guardianship. This ended up costing us around $850 in attorney fees, plus $50 for the notarization. This whole process took until the end of May to finally get settled. We were on tenterhooks all these months, not knowing if Katie was going to be able to go or not. Finally, we were able to tell her that, yes, she was going to be able to spend a year in the US with a host family and experience an American high school!

I made up a Word document detailing all of her vaccinations in English, and attached a copy of her French carnet de santé to it. I had to fill out an Alabama health department medical certificate, which our pediatrician here then signed. The anglais bilingue office at our lycée prepared a school transcript, along with a description of how to read the French grading for the school.  She was now ready to officially start school. 

Look for Part 2 of “Sweet Home Alabama” in mid-April.

About Jennifer Hua

Jennifer is a stay at home mom to four wonderful children, all now young adults, two of whom were born in France. She also volunteers with AAWE on the Board of Directors – Executive Committee as our Treasurer.

ADHD in France: Getting a proper assessment and coordinating with your child’s school) – Part 2

In my last blog post, I went through the current state of ADHD knowledge and assessment in France. In this post, I will explain what is involved in an ADHD assessment, and what to expect from French schools.


The following steps are necessary for a thorough evaluation and diagnosis:
1. Interview with parents including the child’s full medical, psychiatric, social and academic history
2. Interview with the child
3. Completion of questionnaires and behavior checklists
4. Psycho-educational assessment (also called psychological or cognitive testing) is also usually advised. If you have gone to a psychiatrist, the testing will be done by a psychologist whom he/she recommends.
5. Classroom observation is also a plus, but it is not commonly allowed in French schools.

Once a diagnosis is made, the psychiatrist will discuss treatment options. Medications available in France are more limited than in the US; only methylphenidate and related molecules (Ritalin®, Concerta®, and Equasym®) are available. Since the first prescription has to be delivered by a hospital service, it is preferable to see someone affiliated with a hospital. A pediatrician, general practitioner, or private practice psychiatrist can then renew the prescription. Once a year, however, the prescription must be updated at the hospital. The psychiatrist will also, based on the information he or she has gathered, order a language evaluation by an orthophoniste (similar to a speech/language pathologist in the US), in order to determine if your child has any language learning issues, since these are often associated with ADHD. In addition, if there is any grapho-motor (handwriting) or visual-spatial problem, a referral for evaluation with a psychomotricienne or psychomotor therapist (similar to, but not exactly the same as an occupational therapist in the US) will be made. If problems are identified by the orthophoniste or psychomotricienne, therapies in these areas will be prescribed. The services of French orthophonistes are covered by French social security, but those of psychomotriciennes are not.


Some psychiatrists will recommend cognitive behavior therapy for the child, usually done with a psychologist or other counselor. They may also recommend guidance parentale or parent training. Recently, there has been increased recognition that these sorts of treatment are important.  One program, called Triple P (Programme de parentalité positive), has been translated into French and is available online. Unfortunately, while these kinds of treatments are almost systematically recommended in the US, they are still unusual in France. In addition, they are not covered by social security and so must be paid for out of pocket. Many international insurance plans pay for these services. Be aware that psychiatrists in France may still recommend classic individual play therapy despite its lack of proven efficacy.

If you are coming to France with a diagnosis of ADHD already established, keep contact, if possible, with your existing physician or psychiatrist. Since it may be difficult to get an appointment with a specialist here, and you are not yet sure of your child’s reaction to the new environment, this ensures some continuity of care. Once you get an appointment with a French psychiatrist, bring all reports, diagnostic evaluations and/or follow-up documents from your home country. While most French psychiatrists do not speak fluent English, they do comprehend written English. If your child takes medication that is available here, there should not be a problem in getting a French prescription. If the medication is not available here, you need to decide whether you want to try switching or if you will obtain refills during regular visits to your home country. If other services (language, non-verbal, psychological, etc.) are necessary or desired, your psychiatrist will probably be able to point you in the right direction. In English, contact SPRINT for a list of professionals who provide services in English to children with ADHD and their families.

Now we get to the difficult situation of school. French schools, overall, are poor at dealing with children with any kind of learning differences or behavioral issues. While a full discussion of this situation is beyond the scope of this post, this issue of accommodation for special needs in French schools, or the lack of such accommodation, will be discussed in other posts on this blog. For a child with ADHD, a standard French classroom can be a challenge, where learning is often neither multimodal nor behavioral, and academic expectations are high. French education professionals often pride themselves on treating all children equally, and might therefore balk at any individualized plan or at changing the rules for one child. Therefore, strategies and accommodations routinely implemented in US classrooms such as allowing a child with ADHD to get up when needed, to manipulate special “fidget materials,” to do fewer exercises in order to show comprehension, to get special “attention” signals from the teacher, and finally, to establish an individualized reinforcement system for good behavior or good efforts to control attention or impulsivity both at school and at home, are often seen as completely out of the question in a French school. French school psychologists are overworked and not present enough in classrooms to be able to help with such plans, nor do most of them practice such an approach.

However, sometimes, such special accommodations are possible and are successfully implemented.  It depends on the individual teacher and his/her desire to innovate or cooperate with parents or therapists. While it is obviously important to indicate your involvement and willingness to help, it is generally better to let the teacher come up with solutions, perhaps assisted by your gentle suggestions, rather than “imposing” ideas upon him/her. While active cooperation and consultation between parents, professionals and teachers is the norm in the US, French teachers consider themselves the “bosses” of their classrooms and often resist direction from the outside. In my professional experience, French teachers have come up with great plans for ADHD children and have very effectively implemented them; however, some do not consider this their role. On a positive note, I have found that for a subset of children with ADHD, the increased structure, stringent rules and high expectations in a French classroom are actually very beneficial and provide them with much-needed and clear limits and boundaries. 

As I mentioned in the first post, the French organization HyperSupers-TDAH France provides a great deal of useful information about ADHD on its website. The association has published brochures to better inform others about ADHD, including one specifically for teachers, and holds an annual meeting where new research on ADHD is presented. Furthermore, this group helps in advocacy and in promoting legislation concerning education and persons with ADHD and handicaps in general. In addition, HyperSupers-TDAH France has recently begun to support independent research projects. 

Organizations mentioned in the text: 

HyperSupers-TDAH France

SPRINT

Programme de parentalité positive

EKIPP


-Mia Vieyra

About Mia Vieyra

Mia Vieyra is an American clinical psychologist, who has a large private practice in Paris, where she has practiced since 1992. She sees children, adolescents and adults. One of her areas of expertise is the assessment and treatment of ADHD. She is a longstanding AAWE member.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – Part 1

This is the first of a two-part series on ADHD in France. In this part, I will tell you the basics of ADHD and how it is perceived in France. The second part will be a more practical guide on what to do if your child has an ADHD diagnosis and you are moving to France, or if you already live in France and suspect that your child might have attention deficit problems. 

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a neurodevelopmental diagnosis that children and adolescents commonly receive. It is increasingly recognized in adults as well.  The latest research indicates that there is no significant difference in numbers of cases between North America and Europe. However, there are major differences between the United States and France in how the diagnosis is made and how children with this problem are handled, both by the medical establishment and in school. In French, ADHD is called TDAH” (Trouble deficit de l’attention/hyperactivité)

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is characterized by problems with sustained attention, impulse control and activity level. Currently, there are three types of attention deficit disorders recognized by the psychiatric community:

  • ADHD predominantly inattentive type is diagnosed when the child is mostly plagued by difficulties with keeping his/her attention focused for a time and at a level thought to be typical of his/her age. This child is often seen as dreamy or “lost in space.” He/she may have difficulties paying attention in class and completing homework, following through on assignments or activities, and organizing and structuring work or other tasks. He/she is often forgetful, loses things and is easily distracted.
  • ADHD predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type is diagnosed when a child has great difficulty sitting still or has a level of physical activity which is thought to be significantly greater than the norm. This child is often seen as “bouncing off the walls,” fidgets, has trouble waiting his/her turn, talks excessively, blurts out answers, interrupts conversations, and is often described by teachers as being disruptive in class.  
  • ADHD combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive type is diagnosed when a child has trouble with both attention and is also hyperactive and impulsive. 

In all cases, to receive this diagnosis, the symptoms must have begun before the age of twelve years and persist for at least six months. Symptoms must be present in at least two spheres of the child’s life (e.g., home and school) and there must be significant disruption or interference with adaptive social, academic, or occupational functioning.

In France, historically, ADHD has not been recognized as a condition. Since child psychiatry was long in the hands of psychoanalytically trained psychiatrists, such behavior was seen as a manifestation of anxiety or of another emotional disturbance. Often this behavior pattern was considered to be the result of poor or inadequate parenting. However, slowly over the past 20 years, there has been increasing recognition among French psychiatrists and psychologists of ADHD as a valid diagnosis that requires proper identification and treatment. There are now, particularly among younger child psychiatrists and psychologists, many who understand ADHD, know how to diagnose it and are competent in prescribing or referring children for appropriate and empirically validated treatment modalities.


Energy is building and awareness of the needs of children with ADHD is growing throughout Europe. In terms of helping individual children in France, awareness of ADHD is growing, thanks largely to the efforts of advocacy groups. Lawmakers and school administrators are responding and are beginning to tackle the challenge of educating children with learning and behavioral differences. In 2015, “Guidelines to follow for children and adolescents suspected of having ADHD” was published by the Haute Autorité de Santé (the French Health Authority). You can find the document here in French. It provides recommendations for appropriate practice to help physicians identify cases of ADHD, recommend proper diagnostic and evaluation procedures, and indicates procedures for coordinating treatment among the primary physician and the treating specialists. Unfortunately, these recommendations are not always followed by French physicians. Be careful, knowledge of ADHD is evolving all the time, so you might find yourself talking to a physician or a psychiatrist with some knowledge but who still holds outdated notions about the condition.

If you want an evaluation or treatment at the hospital, the wait is often several months long; you will need a letter of referral from a physician before you can be put on the waiting list. Alternatively, you can call the psychiatry department at Hôpital Robert Debré and ask for a referral to a psychiatrist in private practice. Slowly, other major hospital child psychiatry departments are becoming more familiar and competent in dealing with ADHD.

If you suspect your child has ADHD, you should consult a competent psychiatrist. You may also, especially if you and/or your child are not yet fluent in French, make an appointment with one of many Anglophone psychologists trained abroad, who, unlike their French counterparts, are used to recognizing ADHD, and can provide counseling and make appropriate referrals if needed. You can find such practitioners on SPRINT, an interdisciplinary group of professionals who work with English-speaking children with special needs. For French speakers, HyperSupers – TDAH France, is a large parent support association with a volunteer network established throughout the country. The association website outlines the steps that should be taken to acquire special provisions for your child at school and your local association volunteer can steer you to the appropriate professionals and parent support group in your region. Another source of information and support is a parent association called EKIPP (Extraordinary Kids in Paris and Parents Too) which is a parent support and information network for parents of kids with various types of difficulties, including ADHD.


In Part 2 of this article, I will go through the proper procedures for a good ADHD assessment. Stay tuned!
-Mia Vieyra

About Mia Vieyra

Mia Vieyra is an American clinical psychologist, who has a large private practice in Paris, where she has practiced since 1992. She sees children, adolescents and adults. One of her areas of expertise is the assessment and treatment of ADHD. She is a longstanding AAWE member.

A History of the French Baccalauréate Exam

Any attempt to understand the French ​Baccalauréate (Bac) and the near mythic status it holds on the French national conscience should begin with a quick look at its long, illustrious history. Established in 1808 under Napoleon Bonaparte as part of his plan to make French society more egalitarian, the Bac​, as it is often called, was designed to provide universal opportunity to anyone who possessed the talent and intellectual prowess to pass its rigorous exams. It’s no accident that it was developed in the wake of the French Revolution, and it also reveals important lessons that Napoleon himself acquired during that tumultuous period of French history.

But first, let’s go back to the Revolution itself and what occurred in France, particularly during the Reign of Terror under Maximilien Robespierre. Robespierre – himself a distinguished graduate of the prestigious ​Lycée Louis Le Grand​ – understood the role of educating the young to solidify the hard-won lessons and achievements of the Revolution. Only through teaching the younger generations about the glory of the Revolution, Robespierre reasoned, could this momentous period of French history take permanent hold of the national conscience.

For this reason, Robespierre created a national curriculum, which oversaw the education (others would say indoctrination) of French schoolchildren in the accomplishments of the French Revolution. Teachers were issued the 18th-century equivalent of lesson plans, with text and instructions on how to impart to young children the glories of the Revolution and the great changes it had wrought. Ultimately, the purpose was to keep alive the ideals of the Revolution, to perpetuate them from generation to generation.

Robespierre may not have survived the Revolution, but his idea of a national curriculum did. By the time Napoleon Bonaparte became emperor, Robespierre’s initiative, along with Bonaparte’s personal experience during the Revolution, inevitably led to the creation of the ​Baccalauréate.

It was through having played a key role in the Revolution and witnessing several key events that the future leader of France came to understand how society in general functioned. A fervent supporter of the Revolution, Napoleon saw first-hand the result and the dangers of a stagnant society, the lack of opportunity for social and economic advancement among its more able citizens, along with the need for well-educated military commanders and a contented middle class. In essence, he understood the essential role the middle class played in the creation of a society free of discontent and revolutionary fervor. After all, wasn’t the legacy of the Revolution the abolition of the monarchy, the aristocracy and inherited privilege? The basis for a happy, productive society, Napoleon reasoned, was the chance for social advancement – most particularly, for those deemed eligible and worthy of it – and it was this thinking that translated into affording people the opportunity to access the middle class. Such access would help in the creation of a truly happy, secular society – giving hope and opportunity to anyone who wished to set their mind to it. Family connections and birthright had no place in this new society – rather, it was through merit and hard work that anyone, regardless of upbringing or social status, could nurture the dreams and aspirations of a better life.

The subsequent creation of a national system of education and the ​Bac​ quickly followed. With nation-wide standards setting educational objectives, and a national exam to gauge knowledge of those objectives, France was on its way to creating an egalitarian society with access to the kind of opportunity that Napoleon had envisioned. In line with Napoleon’s vision of creating a meritocracy, the exams are taken ​à l’anonymat​ – the name, and identity of the young person taking the exam being masked from the view of the person grading it. What’s more, successful completion of the ​Bac​ promised much – guaranteed acceptance to university and with it, advancement up the social ladder.


Today, the ​Bac​ still holds this special place in French culture and society, offering the first crucial step to university and social advancement for generations. However, concerns have grown recently over its ability to produce future university graduates, ready to compete in the global marketplace. Citing the fact that the average drop-out rate for first-year students in French universities is 60%, the current French president, Emmanuel Macron, vowed to bring reform to this venerable exam during his presidential campaign. ​Baccalauréat 2021, created under the direction of the Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer,​ is the result.

Adrienne W. Covington

Director of the American Section of the Lycée International de St. Germain-en-Laye.

After graduating from from Brown University with a simultaneous B.A. in Classics and an M.A. in Asian History, she spent two years as a metro reporter for the Washington Star, turned down a modeling offer in New York, and moved to Paris as a styliste stagiaire at Christian Dior.

Back in New York three years later working for a menswear designer, she helped her employer win the Coty (the Oscar of fashion). After working with a few more designers in the US and Japan, Adrienne once again changed direction and enrolled at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. She has taught history in three schools over thirty years, first in New York and then in Paris, finally arriving at her current position as director of the American Section at the Lycée International in Saint Germain-en-Laye.

Dearest Reader

Most of us are very good at seeing what we don’t like about a system that is not our own. Those of us who attended high school in an Anglophone country will find major differences between our experience and that of our teens today in France. And if our teens attended an Anglophone school before entering the French school system, we (and they) may find the differences to be even shocking.
I would like to ask you to look at these differences from the perspective of a coach. And that would mean looking without any preconceived notions; leaving judgment and assumption aside.

Consider the following…

A 17-year-old American boy visited his 17-year-old Franco-American cousin in France this summer. He told him that his school day in the United States lasts less than seven hours, that he practices sport, piano, and guitar ten hours a week, and that he holds a 3.4 average (85 percent), which puts him in the second quarter of his class. His cousin told him that he tries to practice five hours of sport a week, but often can’t because the length of his school day in France (up to ten hours) and homework don’t leave him enough time. He has a moyenne of 14 out of 20 (70 percent) and is in the top quarter of his class. His grade of 10 (50 percent) in math is above the class average.

Some teachers in France read each student’s grade aloud to the class, beginning with the lowest. The assumption many of us make is that encouragement and good grades build self-esteem. The judgment many of us make is that the French system is unnecessarily tough.

Yet assumptions and judgments are limiting; both close the door to more profound reflection.

Resilience

A word mentioned more and more among Anglophone educators is resilience: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” If anything, the student in France is given the space to fail. It is what it is. For better or worse, it is not something that is hidden. The benefit in this is the student in France must grapple with failure and figure out how to succeed; and how to toughen up. With practice, many of them do. The cost is that some just can’t, some give up, and some never get over it.
Perhaps the assumption that the French school system makes is that a teen is not too fragile for honest grading; that a teen has the intellect to understand that top grades are not a right, and the logic to accept that academic ability is not distributed evenly.
With proper support from parents, our teens educated in the French system can benefit from it. Parents who focus on the learning process rather than grades will empower their teen to keep trying.

Next time you find yourself wanting to bash the French school system, and especially if you are within earshot of your teen: tourner sept fois votre langue dans votre bouche avant de parler! (Translation: Turn your tongue seven times in your mouth before speaking!) Consider this: unlike you, your teen has no other school system. The French school system is a key part of his or her identity, and if we bash the system, we are bashing our teens. We are confusing them too, because after all, we are the ones who chose to raise our teens in France.
Bash the French system for students that do get their backs broken by it, but remember to praise the system for believing that teens are strong enough to handle rigor, detached honesty, and failure. After all, this is the real world they will encounter as adults.

Sincerely,
Jane Mobille, PCC, CPCC

This article was originally published in INSPIRELLE (September 24, 2015) and has been republished here with permission of the author.

Jane Mobille

Jane Mobille is a Professional Certified Coach who counts young people and families among her clientele. She and her husband have raised three bicultural children in France. Their children attended semi-private bilingual school, public nursery school, Catholic primary school, and public secondary school with international sections. Two of them struggled for many years before encountering success.

Getting Permission to Change Schools – Part 2

This is part 2 of a series on getting permission to change schools within the French public school system. In case you missed it, here’s part one

The first part of this series discussed some general things to consider when asking your city for permission to switch schools and the procedures to follow in maternelle and primaire. Here I will tell you about when your kids are older, in collège and lycée, and I will also give you some Paris-specific information and a few more important things to keep in mind. 

Collège

In the spring of CM2 (US 5th grade), your child will be assigned to a middle school based on your current home address. This means that if you received a dérogation to attend a different primary school, or have since moved to another district, your child may not be assigned to the same middle school as his/her classmates. Geographical perimeters are set on an annual basis for each collège by your Conseil Général (in Paris, by the Mairie), and these determine all secondary school assignments. Each year slight modifications may be made to this carte scolaire, especially concerning streets on the edges of a given sector. You can usually find your assigned school online; the Académie de Paris, for example has a street-by-street search tool. https://www.paris.fr/pages/colleges-2090

If your child has not been assigned to the collège you prefer, request a dérogation by completing the second page of the Affelnet 6ème sheet, which will be provided by your school. Check with your school principal or rectorat for specific procedures. If there is room in the desired collège once the children assigned to the establishment are enrolled, your request will be accepted. 

A commission de dérogation meets in the late spring to consider requests, and the DSDEN will make the final decision. If your dérogation is refused, you have two months to contact your académie and contest the decision. Note that the most strategic time to request a dérogation is for the class of Sixième, as there are relatively few openings in subsequent years, especially in the most-requested collèges

Lycée 

At the end of Troisième (US 9th grade) all students receive their décision d’orientation, established by the conseil de classe and submitted to parents for approval. This determines the child’s future educational path (general, technological or professional baccalauréat) and, coupled with place of residence, dictates which lycée is your child’s école de secteur

Affelnet is the computer system that assigns Troisième students to public high schools in most areas of France. Depending on their académie, students request three to eight different high schools, and Affelnet makes assignments based on the académie’s pre-determined criteria. This includes the student’s home address, and depending on the académie, may also include their knowledge of the socle commun (common core) and their academic results, as well as the recommendation of school principal and/or the commission d’affectation. Bonus points are often awarded to students who receive financial assistance (élèves boursières) and those who have been in REP (réseau d’éducation prioritaire) school. While students may request any lycée, it is highly recommended that one of their wishes be the école de secteur that corresponds to their home address. If their other requests are not granted, they are guaranteed placement in this school. Students make their request in concertation with their collège in May, and decisions are made public in late June/early July. 

As with collèges, if there is room in the desired lycée once the children assigned to the establishment are enrolled, your derogation request may be accepted. You should address requests to the DSDEN of the desired département

A special word about Paris

Lycée assignments within the city of Paris are more complicated, as students do not have one assigned (and guaranteed) school. Currently students must rank 8-10 schools. They receive 9,600 points if a requested lycée was in their assigned district, and up to 9,600 points based on common core knowledge and academic results. 4,800 bonus points are attributed to élèves boursiers and to those coming from a REP school. There can be quite a bit of strategy involved in ranking schools, and students are strongly advised not to put only the most prestigious schools on their lists for risk of not getting into any in the first round of proceedings and being relegated to a lycée with a poorer reputation in the second round. Note that this point system makes it very difficult to obtain a place in a school outside of one’s district. 

Other important considerations and tips to keep informed

Every year a number of magazines and newspapers publish high school rankings, the palmarès des lycées, based on the percentage of students succeeding on the baccalauréat exam, the school’s student retention rates from Seconde through Terminale, and the socio-economic make-up of the student body. The schools with the best reputations, those that tend to be most sought-after, are usually those best rated in the table, often with 100% bac success rates. Be aware that in order to maintain a 100% success rate, some schools weed out students along the way who may not be able to pass the exam. Also, due to the weight of academic results in the Affelnet algorithm, students with higher academic results are often concentrated these schools, which can result in more competitive, stressful environments.

Deciding whether it is worth seeking a dérogation to change schools is about planning the best educational path for your child, being aware of the possibilities, and setting a strategic course. Keep your ear to the ground for the “off-the-record” information from informed teachers and parents, and check for the latest official information though your mairie or Académie/Rectorat, parent groups such as the PEEP and the FCPE, or by subscribing to publications such as La Lettre des Parents, which informs parents of educational reforms and changes in official procedures.

Margaret Jenkins

Margaret Jenkins is the Assistant Director of the American Section of the Lycée International in Saint Germain-en-Laye. She has been at the school for past seventeen years and has worked in nearly every aspect of school administration, notably piloting the growth of the school’s advancement program, integrating communications, community relations, development, and alumni relations. She also works closely with secondary students, including leading a long-standing community service and culture exchange trip to India. In her spare time, she serves on COGNIA accreditation teams for schools worldwide, and is involved with local non-profits, such as AAWE, USAGSO, and the Wellesley Club of Paris. 

Getting Permission to Change Schools – Part 1

This is the first in a two-part series of articles on getting permission to change from one public school to another. Here I will give you an overview of this process, reasons that are valid to request a change and reasons that are likely to be rejected, and some specific information about the procedure in maternelle and primaire. 

Students in France are assigned to public schools by means of a geographic zoning map, known as the carte scolaire. However, families have the right to request another school via a system of dérogations. In addition to requesting a dérogation, some parents resort to more radical means to get their children into their school of choice, including falsifying their address, buying a maid’s room in the coveted neighborhood, or pulling strings (note that we in no way condone these methods!). 

Reasons for Requesting a Dérogation

For a dérogation request to be accepted, it must be made for a compelling reason. Requests citing reasons of personal convenience (the school is on your way to the nearest métro, for example) are usually refused. 

At the maternelle and primary level, here are a few valid reasons for requesting a dérogation:  

  • The child’s caregiver living near the school 
  • The school’s location is close to the parent’s place of work 
  • Both parents work and the school must have a cafeteria (cantine) or a before/after-school program (garderie/ étude

Certain files have priority: 

  • those of children with medical problems or handicaps
  • students receiving financial assistance (élèves boursiers
  • those with a sibling already in the school 
  • those whose home address is near the desired school 
  • those wishing to study a foreign language or be part of a special option that is not offered in their assigned school

Certain schools, such as those offering international and European sections, or special music and sports classes, are subject to specific recruitment procedures. These often involve application files, tests or auditions, and interviews. If you are interested in such a school you are encouraged to contact the school at the beginning of the transitional years (GS, CM2, or Troisième) to inquire about requirements and deadlines. 

If your request for a dérogation is denied, it can be renewed as often as you wish. 

Procedure for Requesting a Dérogation

Maternelle or Primaire

The carte scolaires for maternelle and primaire are determined by municipal councils. Your town hall (mairie) website should provide this information. 

Your child must be enrolled in a public school before a dérogation is requested, even if you are new to the district or the child is beginning school. Once your child has been enrolled at the mairie of the town/arrondissement in which you live, you should inquire at the mairie of the school in which you wish to enroll your child to find out the proper procedure, as each town/arrondissement manages its own registrations.  

Often requests for dérogations can only be made at specific times during the year, usually in February or March. Wherever you live, inquire well in advance, and respect all deadlines for the best chance of success. You will most often be asked to download a feuille de dérogation, which you will complete and join to a letter of motivation outlining your family’s particular circumstances and significant reasons for changing schools (your motif). Be sure to include corroborating documentation if you have it, such as your assistante maternelle’s work contract with the address indicated.

The procedure for submission of the paperwork varies from town to town. Some simply require that you submit your completed request to the town hall. Others stipulate that you take the form to your assigned school, where the school principal will sign the sheet then forward it to the directeur of the school you wish to attend. The file will then be sent to the Inspecteur de l’Education Nationale.

At the end of May/beginning of June, a commission de dérogation, made up of the mayor’s representatives, representatives from the Direction des services départementaux de l’éducation nationale (DSDEN), directors of the district’s public schools, and representatives of parents’ associations meet to review all dérogation requests. If you are a member of one of the parent associations, you might wish to contact your local representatives and explain your case, so that they may advocate on your behalf during the session. Requests are either granted or denied depending on local circumstances, and they are contingent on space availability. 

A word to the wise – always be diplomatic when completing these formalities. You don’t want to burn any bridges should your request be denied. Also, be aware that while requesting a dérogation is possible, it is not encouraged. Some towns, such as St. Germain-en-Laye, make absolutely no mention of it on their website. The 18e arrondissement in Paris states that if your request is denied, your child no longer has priority in their assigned school, and will be assigned to a third school if the école de secteur is full. Know as well that if you are requesting a school in another town, the town where you live will have to pay a sum of money to the town where your child will attend school, which may motivate a denial. School officials may also deny requests if the drop in student numbers could provoke a class closure.

Are you looking for information about changing schools in Collège and Lycée, and some special aspects to consider if you live in Paris? Look for the second half of this article to be posted the first part of November.

Margaret Jenkins

Margaret Jenkins is the Assistant Director of the American Section of the Lycée International in Saint Germain-en-Laye. She has been at the school for past seventeen years and has worked in nearly every aspect of school administration, notably piloting the growth of the school’s advancement program, integrating communications, community relations, development, and alumni relations. She also works closely with secondary students, including leading a long-standing community service and culture exchange trip to India. In her spare time, she serves on COGNIA accreditation teams for schools worldwide, and is involved with local non-profits, such as AAWE, USAGSO, and the Wellesley Club of Paris. 

What is inclusive education?

“Inclusive education means that all students attend and are welcomed by their neighbourhood schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of the school.”(1)

What does this really mean? It’s simple.

All children can learn, but all children learn differently. Every child should attend mainstream school in a common learning environment with their same-age peers regardless of perceived ability or level of disability. All children benefit from inclusive education because all children belong.

One of the most important features of inclusive schools is that all students of different abilities are taught in a common learning environment for the majority of regular instruction hours. In other words, simply housing children with disabilities in the same school building as their peers but keeping them segregated for the majority of the day does not count as inclusive education. Curriculum development that assumes competence and sets high standards for all students while developing learning goals that are in accordance with each child’s abilities is a key feature of inclusion. The cookie-cutter approach to teaching and learning is obsolete. Children do not all need to have the same educational goals to learn and grow together in a regular classroom.

We must shift the perspective from how to best educate children with disabilities to how to best educate all students in the same environment in ways that are meaningful to all. Inclusion is about considering the whole child, from academics to emotional intelligence, social skills, and more, and finding ways to include every student in the classroom. All aspects of the school environment must be considered, from the physical school building, to teacher training and support staff, curriculum design and implementation.

But does it work?

One of the most frequent sentiments expressed when inclusive education is discussed is that of “It sounds great, but does it actually work?” 

The short answer is YES, and there is over 30 years of research to back it up. 

A common fear of opening up classrooms to children with disabilities or behavioural concerns  is that their needs will affect the learning environment and negatively impact the academic achievement of their peers. This has been proved to be false several times over. A 2013 study compared the achievement of 202 low, average, and high achieving students in classrooms in which students with disabilities were present, and an equal number of students in classrooms where they were not. There was no significant difference in the academic achievement progress of any of the students from classrooms with or without inclusion of disabled students.(2)  

Earlier research found similar results. In 2007, researchers from the University of Manchester systematically reviewed a set of studies from 26 studies from the United States, Australia, Canada, and Ireland, and found that 81% of study findings indicated that nondisabled students either experienced no effects (58%) or experienced positive effects (23%) on their academic development as a result of being educated alongside students with disabilities,”(3)

The impact on disabled students when included in mainstream classrooms was overwhelmingly positive from an academic and social standpoint. A study of over 1300 students within 180 school districts in the United States showed a strong relationship between the amount of time spent in general education classes and achievement in math and reading. A different study looking at the outcomes of 11,000 students in the United States showed that regardless of disability, more time spent in a general education classroom correlated with fewer absences, fewer referrals for misbehavior, and more post-secondary and employment options.(4)

What are the benefits of inclusion for all children?

As most school brochures will tell you, school is about more than just academics. It is  a place to learn to be part of a community, to make friends, and to learn the rules of society. Schools offer activities outside the classroom such as sports, artistic activities, field trips, and other social activities that are often off-limits to children in segregated special education classrooms. Likewise, inclusive education practices result in benefits that extend beyond that of academic achievement. For ALL children, the benefits of inclusion include: opportunities for diverse friendships, improved social skills and wider social networks, peer modeling that works both ways, problem solving skills, positive self-image, acceptance and respect for others, increased understanding and acceptance of difference, shared learning opportunities, and better readiness for inclusion outside of the school environment.(5)

If one of the functions of school is to prepare children for life in society as adults, the importance of inclusion for all becomes even more apparent. If disabled individuals are segregated in the mainstream education system as children, what place is there for them in society as adults? Inclusive education prepares all students for adult life in an inclusive society, by affirming that disabled individuals are full members of society with their own individual strengths, weaknesses, needs, and gifts to offer the world just like their non-disabled peers. When every individual is supported to achieve their full potential, everyone benefits.

Resources

  1. What is Inclusive Education?
  2. 7 New Research Studies to Help you Win the Fight for Inclusion
  3. The impact of placing pupils with special educational needs in mainstream schools on the achievement of their peers.
  4. 7 Research Studies to Help you Win the Fight for Inclusion
  5. The Benefits of Inclusion in the Classroom | Community Living Toronto (cltoronto.ca)
Kathleen Sperduti

Kathleen Sperduti is a wife and mother of two boys, Xavier and Etienne. A former high school teacher, she currently works freelance part-time and dedicates the rest of her time to supporting EKIPP and the families it serves.

Erin Reeser

Erin Reeser is a wife and mother of two children, Lucie and Felix. She works full time in study abroad and dedicates the rest of her time to supporting EKIPP and the families it serves.

EKIPP

EKIPP–Extraordinary Kids in Paris…and their Parents too! is now an advocacy and support network for anglophone and multilingual individuals and families of children with complex learning, medical, or physical needs. We celebrate diversity in all its forms. More importantly, it is a lifeline for parents like us, looking for social connections for themselves and their children. The best part? Through EKIPP, we have found our tribe.