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Wednesday, 21 April 2010

My questions about the US school system get answered!

So I don't know about the other UK book bloggers but I find the US school system baffling. All those different words that are not part of our vocabularly leave me confused when I'm reading about American teens. So I thought I should do something about it. I asked my lovely book twin Christina at Confessions of a Book Addict if she would answer my questions and write a guest post for The Bookette. By the way, I have said this before but I'll say it again: Go and check out Christina's blog. Today she has a post with all her questions answered about the UK education system. Can you guess who answered them? Yes! Me! Go and read her post about how things work in England. 

So here are my questions and her answers. I hope you all find them as helpful as I did. And I'm sure if you think of something you'd like to know about the US system, leave a question in the comments and I'm sure Christina would be only too happy to answer it for you.

How old are the kids in each grade?

Here in the US, we have elementary school, middle school/junior high and high school (secondary school). Most elementary schools are grades kindergarten to fifth grade. Middle/Junior high is usually 6th-8th grade. High school is then 9th grade to 12th grade. At the middle level, the kids range from 11 years old to 14 years old depending on their birthdays. At the high school level, they could be 14 years old to 18 years old, again, depending on their birthdays. What is even more confusing, it depends on the state and what they require. My friend works at an elementary school that is kindergarten through 6th grade, her junior high is 7th-9th and then high school is 10th through 12th. The norm, at least in Pennsylvania, is what I discussed first.
What do all those words like Sophomore, Junior mean?
Freshman = 9th grade students at the high school level. They are low-man on the totem pole. Some schools have freshman day in which they torture freshman. At my school, mostly sports team "tortured" the freshman teammates, but it was more like pranks and nothing severe. There's a big difference between being a 14 year old freshman and an 18 year old senior. Sometimes if you have an elective, a freshman might end up in a class with a senior. That is always intimidating, especially for the boys since they mature later than girls. :)

Sophomore = 10th grade students at the high school level. If you are a sophomore, you are in your second year at a high school.

Junior = 11th grade at the high school level. You are finally an upperclassman. Junior year of high school is considered the hardest year regarding your classes and the fact that you have to start thinking about colleges, take the SATs, etc. Junior Prom is usually a big deal and it happens in April or May. Some smaller schools may combine the Junior and Senior prom.

Senior = 12th grade at the high school level. You "rule the school." Really only the first half of senior year is rigorous, because hopefully by April (or earlier) you have decided upon a college. A lot of seniors suffer from "Senioritis" (become lazy and slack off) the second half of their senior year especially if they have already been accepted by a university. Some schools have senior privileges, special senior parking for their cars, and even a senior lounge. Many schools also have a senior project in which seniors have to do something "special" before they graduate. It could be a research project, presentation to community members, community service, etc. It ranges based on the school district. Don't forget the most exciting thing that happens senior year (except graduation).....Senior Prom! There's always a "school sponsored" after party to deter underage drinking. Some of them can be quite lavish and have an amazing theme depending on the school district you attend. Lastly, there is always Senior Cut Day--meaning most seniors will cut school on a particular day....not that I would know anything about that! :)

What are the different types of school and what ages do they cover?
What I covered before is the usual public school experience. There are also private schools. They could be private Catholic schools, all-girls private school or all-boys private school. Some of them, where I grew up, are extremely rigorous and difficult to get into to. They are competitive and extremely expensive. They do give out scholarships though.

What is the Ivy League system? (that is totally baffling)
The Ivy League System only really matters for higher education (college/university). Here's some info taken from Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, Princeton University Press (1978), "Ivy League is the name generally applied to eight universities (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale) that over the years have had common interests in scholarship as well as in athletics. Stanley Woodward, New York Herald Tribune sports writer, coined the phrase in the early thirties." If you are interested in the rest of the article, you can access it here. As a senior in high school, if you get accepted to an Ivy League school that gave you major bragging rights. It's extremely prestigious.

How do the scholarship thingys work?
Students can obtain scholarships for many reasons. As a student, you can apply for various scholarships. Some are based on academics, others on sports, and lastly, there are scholarships for other things like family heritage that private organizations put together. Some Universities will give potential students scholarships based on academics or financial aide, etc.

What size are the schools, pupil numbers, etc?
This question depends on where you live and what school district you live in. For example, the school district I teach in now has approximately 300 students per grade level at the middle school. We have approximately 1,000 students in our middle school, which is three grade levels. On the other hand, if you live in a more rural area, the numbers could be much smaller.

Class size can vary as well depending on how many teachers work in the building. Here's my experience: My largest class has 29 8th grade students and my smallest has 23 7th grade students. The most students I have had in my class has been 31 students and that was a few years ago. However, due to struggling economy, many school districts will have larger class sizes, because they have had to lay off teachers. This concerns me, but I digress..... In comparison, private schools really pride themselves on smaller class sizes, which is one of the many reasons parents may send their children to a private school verses public.

If you have private schools as well as state schools, what are the yearly fees?
Public schools are funded with public dollars (taxes) -- local, state and federal. On the other hand, private schools can be expensive. I had to interview my mother for these answers, because she works in admissions at a private school. She reported the following: If you want to send your child to a private elementary school, it will cost around $18,000 dollars a year. If you want to send your child to a private school at the high school level, it will cost around $20,000-$25,000 dollars a year depending on which school you attend.

What is a GPA? (And how do I get one lol?)
G.P.A. stands for Grade Point Average and possible employers as well as colleges/universities will look at a student's GPA and compare it to other potential applicants. Here's how it works:

Normal Classes:
A= 3.5-4.0
B = 2.5-3.49
C = 1.5-2.49
D= 1.0-1.49
F = 0

AP/Honors Classes:
A = 4.5-5
B= 3.5-4.49
C = 2.5-3.49
D = 2.0-2.5
F = 0.0 -1.99

The problem with this is that there are many variations, but I've displayed the US norm for you. The ongoing debate is the fact that some schools rate an "A" as 90%-100% and other schools may say that an "A" is 93%-100%. This is a valid cause for concern! In my experience, my school district changed our "A" to 90%-100% because of this very debate.

What are the school facilities like?
This all depends on the school district you attend. Some school districts may have a brand new school with top of the line facilities/technology, but other schools may be in a dire need of repair and facilities/technology may be outdated. Some school districts may have a Smart Board in each classroom and many computers for the students to use, whereas, other school districts may still be using chalk boards and have older textbooks or not enough resources. It depends on where you live unfortunately.

How much range of extra-curricular activities?
This also depends on the school district you attend, but I will give you some basic ideas as to what most high schools offer. Basic list (not including sports): Student body government, debate club, National Honors Society, school newspaper, school yearbook, music, drama, and peer tutoring. There could also be trivia clubs (Knowledge Bowl, Math Counts) and a community service club.

Colleges and Universities really look at students extra-curricular activities when a student applies; therefore, many students will join these clubs.

What is homecoming? Rallies etc?
Homecoming is basically when you welcome back former alumni. There's usually an important football game tied to this event and there's always a school Homecoming Dance. A school may have a Homecoming Court and from that court, they vote for the Homecoming Queen and King. The Queen and King are usually crowned at the Homecoming Dance. Some schools even have a Homecoming Parade. During Homecoming Week, there are various activities at school. There may be themed days of the week such as, Spirit Day, Hat Day, Pajamas Day, etc. The night before the big game, there is always a rally. This rally may be held at the school gym or outside. There could also be a bonfire. Some schools burn the rival school's memorabilia or jersey, etc. It's quite serious for some schools. This rally will feature cheerleaders, skits, inspirational speeches, etc. My school even had a Powder Puff football game played by all girls.

Christina, a huge THANK YOU for teaching me all about the US system. You're awesome!


Holly said...

This was really interesting to read, I've always wondered about the differences for schools in the US and I have to say it sounds entirely different to school in Australia. I just wonder what a Smart Board is?

Tez said...

Aha *nods knowingly*! As a fellow UK resident I'm continuingly baffled by the American school system. But it's all so clear to me now. Yay! Thank you both Becky and Christina!

Lenore said...

Maybe you should explain the UK system for us Americans?

Rhiana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rhiana said...

That was really interesting, thank you! And very different from our school system (although there are some similarities), ours sound a little dull in comparison.

Leanna (Daisy Chain Books) said...

This is very helpful! I'm always getting confused over the grades in the US high school system!

Kat said...

Interesting. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who finds it all confusing! This has definitely helped me to understand the grades and stuff a bit more. Thanks!

Nina said...

Wow, very interesting to learn more about schools in the United States. That's so different then here in Holland. I'm curious how it is in other countries too, like England.. ;)

Kathy Martin said...

Smart Boards are interactive white boards. For a definition check here. Our school is one that has them in most of the classrooms. The Media Center, however, is not on the list to get one.

Christina is talking about Pennsylvania I think. I am a school librarian in Minnesota. Our situation is relatively the same. Primary funding for the public schools comes from each State. The Federal Government adds a small amount to the funding. In our State most funding comes from local property taxes. Therefore school districts with lots of businesses have more funds to use than more rural districts. I happen to work in a rural district although it is near one of the larger cities in Minnesota. We have 1100 students in grades K through 12. They are separated into two buildings. K-5 for ages 5 - about 10 called the Elementary School and 6-12 for students about ages 11 - 18 and called the High School. We are trying to set up a Middle School within our HS building to meet the special social and academic needs of that age group.

I believe that our State says that a student must be 5 years old by September 1 to begin grade K (for Kindergarten). Some parents, especially parents of boys, will wait an additional year before starting their children which accounts for the age range in a school. Kindergarten used to concern itself primarily with socialization skills but has become more academic recently. Kindergartners are now learning to read in our school.

Our class sizes range from 22 to 26 students in a classroom at the Elementary level. High School classes vary much more. I know of classes with 6 students and classes with 33. Our district has capped our enrollment to 90 students at each grade level. At the Elementary that means 4 classes/teachers per grade.

That is what is true in my section of Minnesota.

Splendibird said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! As a fellow UK blogger, I often get a bit frustrated trying to work out ages of teen American characters so this will save me a lot of scrunched up foreheadness (what I do when trying to figure such things out). What a great idea for a post.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I like her button too :)

Luisa Plaja said...

This is fantastic - thank you! I have most of this information scribbled in my notebooks as part of my research for Split by a Kiss, but it's wonderful to see it all in one place and so clearly expressed.

Thank you very much!

Raíla said...

Oh, there were some things I was wondering about, like... The nominations for the high-schoolers. I have knew if I was a Sophomore or a Junior. I think I am a Sophomore... According to Brazilian school, actually, we're at the first year of the High School. Like, we have only three years of High School, so... :-) Thanks for the whole info!

Christina/Book Addict said...

Thanks for allowing me to be a part of this! I am glad to have been of help! Becky- Thanks for answering all my questions as well. You're the best! I definitely want to do something like this in the future. :) Thanks to Kathy for explaining SmartBoards. I don't have one in my classroom......yet! I hope to get one soon.

Lauren said...

What an awesome idea for a guest post! So many YA novels are set in the US, so I think this is really useful for readers. I find the extra-curricular stuff completely fascinating. Here, hardly anyone goes to watch a school football match or joins any after-school clubs. The UK needs some school spirit!

Kailia Sage said...

Yeah most of the things here are right.
Raíla-- there are some schools where there is only three years of high school. my friend goes to one!

My name's Cara. said...

Christina's answers make the US school system sound more exciting than it is, at least at my high school. The extra-curricular activities are plentiful, but between studying and all that jazz I know many of my friends don't have time for it! Great idea for a guest post!

Have a great day!

I Want To Read That said...

Great post - really interesting:)

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