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  • Writer's pictureGaëlle Frilet

Middle School Differences: NYC vs. Paris

"Is this a proper school Mom?" This is what my youngest 7th grade daughter told me after 2 days in school. We moved to New York from Paris a few months ago.

So, my two daughters have been going to a public middle school here in Brooklyn for a few months now, after having spent almost all their schooling in Paris, France: what a difference, I can tell you! It seems so relaxed that you start doubting it’s normal?

First, in France, MS goes from year 6 to year 9  (instead of 6th to 8th), so with an additional year compared to the US (MS is 4 years in France). In France, school periods are 55 minutes long (meaning 30% longer than the 43-minute periods here in NYC!) 

In comparison, time flies here and there is not enough time to get bored. Besides children have two teachers in the classroom. They were surprised to realize how available they are, offering to come and discuss the lessons at the end of the day or during lunch break for extra help whereas in France the main comment about our French system is that you have to fit in or…there’s no other way.

In France teachers are asked to teach 18 hours a week and the rest of the time they can do all the prep time and marking at home. That is what they do and there is no time and space for students and teachers to speak and develop an interesting relationship.The other day my daughter told me she played « the Old maid » with her Math teacher in homeroom and he gave her a high-five. I couldn’t believe it!

In New York, at 3pm they finish school and they make all their French friends so jealous.

Back there they have twenty-six 55' periods dispatched along the week, between 8 in the morning and 5 or 6pm in the afternoon. Each day's schedule is different: Mondays can start at 8 and Tuesdays at 9, you can finish at 3, 4 or 5pm.

Students never go to school on Wednesday afternoons, but some of them (depending on your school) have school on Saturday mornings (uh!).

And no after school program whatsoever. That’s why when we had a tour of the school here we couldn’t believe that a public one could have a huge auditorium, a gym, and real art classes. The prospect of seeing shows on stage or even performing for my daughters was a shock. They really felt they were characters of an American TV series : something you dream of while watching High School Musical for example.

A couple of other times their French friends were jealous when my daughters told them about the dance the school was organizing on a Friday night or when they told them they were going to support the school basketball team and see the games. « Tu as trop de la chance! C’est comme à la télé! » (But no, it’s not like in Gossip girl even though we’re in New York)

Vacations in France are always 2 weeks long and they occur 4 times in the school year. So, sometimes they find it a bit long but because school days are shorter, they are not as exhausted as they were in France when you feel that the break is really necessary.

Also there are no quizzes tests in France with multiple possible answers: students only do essays, based on reasoned answers: in the country of Victor Hugo and Arthur Rimbaud, writing like a novelist is very important to answer algebra questions (I'm kidding... or not!).

That’s again a good point for those who are not native speakers. 

However they miss one thing. In France every two periods you have a break and all the students gather in the large schoolyard for  15 minutes. That’s « la récréation » when they play, chat, meet friends and friend’s friends : they socialize. Plus you have the lunch break when most students eat at « la cantine » ( a mix of a cafeteria and a school restaurant) and the break is one hour and a half long. Again, time to socialize. That’s why they feel they don’t have that precious time in the American system. Unfortunately, they can’t linger and teens love that, « trainer avec leurs amis. »

As a parent I can say that after a few months I noticed students in Brooklyn seem less stressed by daily results (but so stressed about where they’re going to high school : this is such a big deal). The teachers won’t put any unhealthy pressure on the kids. They nurture a great relationship and the whole school community seems to care a lot about how teenagers feel.

However, I feel that they have less subjects and that some seem more important than others. Sadly, American people are not ready to really learn and speak other languages.

I should recommend teaching differently. Maybe they should check out French lessons at Learn French BK!


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