Sunday, April 6, 2008

Amazing Cities By Nite!

I added a slideshow on Amazing Cities by Nite recently. It was recommended by a fellow blogger. I couldn't get it on this posting, however I managed to insert it at the bottom right hand corner of this blog. Go on take a peek! Tak boleh pergi to those places but at least boleh tengok.... pun jadi lah, kan?... :-)

Click on the link below to get to Anuj's blog & other slideshows...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

My take on the US School System..

My daughter Atiqah goes to Monta Vista High School (MVHS), - located 40 minutes walk from our home - the high school which is said to be one of the finest in the state! It is no wonder advertisements of Cupertino's residential neighbourhood - apparently made to Taiwan & Korea customers, not surprised if it goes to India as well! - describing a modern living in a scenic resort lifestyle also includes the high school as one of its attractions. To ensure community dollars are spent on students residing within the district's boundaries, the Union High School District which is similar to our Pejabat Pendidikan Daerah, has recently instituted a residency verification by checking the resident's housing title or leasing agreement, driver's license and vehicle grant. It started early of this year and it will continue every year at the beginning of Spring Semester. Formerly, when it was not so strict, people living outside of this area 'cheat' by borrowing someone else's leasing agreement. You'ld be surprise to know what people are willing to do and sacrifice just to get their children into the US School System and eventually gaining entrance to Colleges and Universities here. Atiqah tells me that a few of her friends here are not staying with their parents but instead with relatives or even with 'my mom's friend'. They pay for room and board, of course.. but such sacrifice at that age! I remember myself also, in a boarding school and away from my parents (and missing them most of the time) during my adolescent years, but that was between Seremban and Selama. A stark difference in distance between Taiwan or Korea to California! My new friend from the SBS (Study Buddy Society) program which I am now volunteering at MVHS, is renting an apartment here with her twin sons who are 9th Graders. They came here last year and her husband stays in Taiwan running their business. She says they have to sacrifice for their sons' education. I think they are also fortunate to have the money to do so! Of course, I do count my blessings too.. alhamdulillah..;-) As of the 2006-2007 school year, Monta Vista has a student body of 2,573 students, of which a majority (68.7%) are Asian American. Only 28.2% of the population are white : A 2005 Wall Street Journal article claimed that Monta Vista is currently experiencing a "white flight" caused by white families feeling overwhelmed by the recent influx of Asian American immigrants. And we know how most Asians are.. when it comes to education! Very competitive...

Bulletin Board outside of schools is really a good idea.

The way I look at it, studying with the best has also a downside if one is 15, new to the language and no countryman to freely converse with! I think Atiqah would be better off if she was eligible to start somewhere in Middle School when we first arrived in the US. It would give her more time to enjoy and adapt herself. However, she never complains about the schools - be it Newton South or Monta Vista - nor the teachers, and never miss even a day of classes. Tak pernah ponteng! With so much to cope with, I think I would be so overwhelmed ..

The road that Atiqah takes walking back from school everyday and for me every Mondays and Wednesdays when I do volunteer work at MVHS... Actually, 40 mins of walking is a looong way, but not an ounce shed!...uurgh...

The US School System starts with Elementary School (Grades 1 to 5), Middle School (Grades 6 to 8), and High School; which caters for 9th (Freshman), 10th (Sophomore), 11th (Junior), and 12th Graders (Senior). Most schools start somewhere in September of each year with the exclusion of MVHS which starts one month earlier. The children here begin formal education at the age of 6. That means a January-born child goes to school 7 or 8 months older and a November-born child goes to school 1 or 2 months younger. The cut off age is in December where the child goes to school the following year... but they are still considered as 6+ , right? Atiqah turned 15 last November and 10th Grade in the US school system. Although ecstatic about missing PMR ( and hopefully SPM too! ) my daughter knows she has to play catchup real fast with the US school system and syllabus. Like any other International Student, meaning English is not the primary language, she is placed within the ELL (English Language Learners) group. Some schools call it ESL students (English Secondary Language). These classes go through the same syllabus as the regular classes but at a slower pace. There are 3 Levels of ELL classes in MVHS and Atiqah is currently in ELL3. At this level she can now take some courses (subjects) in regular classes.

The pathway that I take in between houses to reduce a few hundred steps...

Up close the plant really looks like some form of sea-creatures or aliens from outer space... try clicking on it, you'll see what I mean..

Selecting the courses reminds me of my University days. Here, the students get to pick what they want to learn base on their capability and performance for the duration of their 4-year stay in High School; as long as they cover the core main courses such as Math, Science, English and History. There are also Technology/Career Courses, Leadership Courses and Language Courses offered. These will add credit to their College applications. Dalam Math ada Algebra 1 & 2, Geometry, Trigonometry. Dalam Science ada Biology, Chemistry, Physics. English pulak ada World Literature, American Literature, British literature.. History offers World History, US History. Geography is not offered as a course but I see Geography lessons covered in History, isn't that strange? I suppose if you wanna learn about a country's history, you also will have to learn where it's located, population, climate, and other geographical stuff. All the core courses also offer AP (Advance Placement)and H (Honor) classes which are added bonus and even could be requirements to the IVLeague Universities. I am not sure whether IB (International Barclaureate) courses are offered at Monta Vista. I think my daughter is not up to that level yet...The level she's at now pun dah tercungap-cungap! People say it's easy studying in schools overseas than at home.. well, I used to say that too! 20 years back maybe so.. or maybe, the system implemented which makes it easier. I have seen the high school work that she has to do everyday, a lot !: Essay writing, Projects, Debates, Journals, Presentations, Speeches.... Which some of the work I think we did in College!
One of the many tuition centers in Cupertino... don't talk about the fees.. memang mahal!

To make it worse, dulu tak ada 'big' exams.. now California enforces CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exams) and Massachusetts with their MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System). Kalau tak pass tak boleh graduate from high school and tak dapat High School Diploma. I haven't begin to story about SAT exams.. which is a requirement for most Universities. I sympathise with her, but sometimes I myself am not able to assist ... causing tensions on both sides. Ya la pulak... kita kan dah lama tinggal sekolah. Like parents back home, my only solution is to get external help in the form of 'tuitions'...
I'll story more about SBS Tutoring Program at MVHS... it's interesting & worth modeling. Maybe, a few of our Boarding Schools might already have this kind of program.