I think it must have started around the time my oldest daughter turned 3: the worries about what to do about school and where I should send her. We already knew we were zoned for one of the so-called "problem" schools in Kreuzberg (I'd rather not get into the details here, but anyone in Berlin will know what I'm talking about. If you read German, this interview addresses the issue very well.) The playground talk of some parents was that the school was improving. Others would shake their heads and click their tongues and then tell a story about the son of poor so and so or how they've heard this and that, the clear message being, Don't send your child there. But what to do?
We love Kreuzberg and our apartment, so moving wasn't an option. Sending our daughters to even one of the less expensive private schools would still mean giving us any small luxuries as well as family vacations. But schooling isn't everything. What kind of parents would we be if we made ourselves move to a neighborhood that bored us to tears or got ourselves into a position where we couldn't afford to visit my family in California for the next 6 years? Should we jump on the band wagon and register ourselves at a fake address zoned for one of the "better" schools or hire a lawyer to sue our way in? To be honest, we seriously considered both of these options. But in the end it just didn't feel right. The situation would be different if people didn't use these tactics and I didn't feel comfortable being part of the problem.
But there was more to my sleepless nights than just the issue of public schools in Kreuzberg: my other worry was whether or not I should send my daughters to a bi-lingual school. Although I knew they would learn English eventually in school, I would prefer them to learn to read and write in English early, to become friends with other English-speaking children, to be in a more international environment. But, since we had ruled out private schools (which also aren't exactly around the block...) sending our daughters to a bi-lingual school would mean at least a 40 minute commute through the city not to mention friends who all lived far away (and, of course, they are all very hard to get into....) When I was a child, my school was a 15 minute walk away, but this wasn't true for my youngest brother. I remember how isolated he was during summer vacation, with no friends in the neighborhood. I didn't want that for my girls.
About a year ago, an American friend of mine mentioned that the Carl von Ossietzky Schule near Südstern wanted to open an elementary school next year with a bi-lingual German-English offer (and no Einzuggebiet, so anyone could apply.) We walked past the school quite often on the way to dance lessons in Körtestrasse, so I knew it was a concrete fortress built sometime in the 70s and that some of the teenage students seemed a little rough. But it won't hurt to check it out, I thought, and I'm certainly glad I did. The staff was open and friendly, the building newly renovated, the concept good. They are interested in building up the bi-lingual concept and even working towards making it a true bi-lingual German-English Europa Schule (no guarantee, but there is a fairly good chance.) A school with a bi-lingual offer that is also only a 15 minute walk from our home? Hell, yes! We signed up.
School has been in session for several weeks now and we are still more than happy with our choice. The teachers and staff and great, the school is small (only two parellel first grade classes), and still feels separate even though it's on a much larger campus. The students are a true Kreuzberg mix of nationalities with no one group heavily in the majority. My daughter is happy to go there in the morning and happy when I pick her up in the afternoon.The only slight disappointment I've had so far has been with my fellow native English speakers. I've spoken to several of them who said they were interested and would jump on board once the school is truly bi-lingual. And the friend who brought me to the school in the first place? Her son got into JFK so she'll be sending him there instead. A vicious circle really, because the school won't ever become "truly bi-lingual" (let alone an official Europa Schule) unless enough bi-lingual famlies come and say they want it. But I know there are a lot out there who would love to join but maybe just don't know about it yet. Like me, such a school, here in Kreuzberg, would be an answer to their prayers. I've set up this Facebook page to help spread the word, so if you or anyone you know is raising a bi-lingual child, please get in touch or come by the school.
Worst case scenario? The school stays as it is, with English lessons 3 times a week, a great mix of nationalities, engaged parents, nice staff, and happy kids. Yeah, I could live with that. Either way, I'm definitely sleeping much better at night. :)