Cultural: School! Part 1
Some love it. Some hate it. Some are indifferent--it's something to do.
Polish children start kindergarten at either 5 or 6. There were some changes to the laws a couple of years ago and they were going to make first graders start at 6 instead of 7, which is what it had been previously. There was a big uproar by many parents and they backed off and decided to let the parents make those decisions for themselves for a little longer - so children who were either 6 or 7 would start first grade. This means 5 or 6 year olds would attend what we would call "kindergarten".
My youngest is now in college, so it has been quite a few years now since they were in elementary school. We took them out of Polish school when they finished elementary school and home schooled them in order for them to be totally prepared for college in the states.
When our kids went to school, elementary schools were pretty much separated from junior high schools and high schools. Elementary school (podstawowa) was 1-6th grades, junior high (gymnazjum), was 7-9th and a traditional college-prep high school (liceum) was 10-12th. If the child started at 7 years old, they would either be 19, or almost 19 when they finished high school.
The system here is also set up so that kids who don't want to attend college, or aren't prepared academically, have options- specifically trade schools. They would enter those instead of a traditional high school. They would then be trained in some sort of skilled job, from auto mechanics to being a waiter or a chef/cook or seamstress. After their years of trade school, they would then be trained for some sort of a skilled job with some experience.
There are also specialty schools that train students in music and artsy subjects that result in a high school diploma and college prep in addition to specialized training in these subjects. I am especially impressed by the music schools!
Elementary schools here put the kids into a class, for example, 1st grade, "A" or 1A. Then as the kids progress through school the rest of their elementary school years, they would then progress to 2A, then 3A, all the way to 6A.
The kids would all stay together until they change schools. My daughter, Lydia, had 31 kids in her elementary school classroom. In fact, there was one more kid than desk in her classroom. They were counting on someone being sick every single day of the school year. And they were right. They never lacked a desk (This was either first or second grade, I believe.)
The children have the same teacher from grades 1-3. This means the teacher knows that she has 3 years to prepare her kids for a big exam at the end of third grade. This can be very good - as it provides accountability for the teacher and gives her time to work with less than mature students, or very bad, if there is a personality conflict, for instance.
For Polish kids, the school year begins September 1. The last day of school is the the 4th Friday in June. On the first and last days of school, there are school meetings - our kids had theirs outside on the school playground since there was no indoor place large enough for all of us to meet.
When our kids attended, I understood that minimal attendance was 50% in order to pass on to the next year.
Parents buy them. They give you a list and it is the parents' responsibility to make sure the kids have the books they need for school. The books are soft bound and often about the size of an 8 1/2"x11" sheet of paper, or A4. Sometimes they were consumables, and sometimes not. Sometimes they could be used by another child so you could sell your used schools at the end of the school year. The cost of all the books was $100- $200/year for a child. Of course that dollar amount depends on the exchange rate...so between 300 zl - 600 zl was normal. This could be a real hardship for poorer families - and even not-so-poor ones.
One of the interesting things was that you also bought your kids extra notebooks. For math, they used ones that had graph markings.
Others would just have regular lines. My children liked the grid markings and many students liked them for everything - from math to science to Polish. Our kids were required to take "English". Of course it was a cake course for them
At the beginning of the school year, for every course, moms would buy their kids new notebooks, or zeszyty. They were always kind of fun to buy as they came in various colors and designs on the front. These were small, often soft sided, and sometimes hard sided. The students took notes in them - keeping each subject separate.
And that's enough for part 1. I'll write up more in another "cultural" post.