As I mentioned in my last post, most things just go on hold between Christmas and Carnaval. And Carnaval happens to fall during the 2nd week of school here. So really, REALLY things don't get back to their normal routine until after Carnaval. But that's okay with me: I don't mind easing my way into the school year, breaking it up with a 5 day weekend at the beginning.
What does back to school here mean? I've mentioned before that most Brazilians with the means pay to send their children to private schools. Quality public schools exist, but for the most part your local neighborhood public school is unfortunately not very good. The teachers are underpaid and overworked, the facilities are in disrepair, resources are lacking, and unfortunately expectations are low. So, most middle class Brazilians have to decide which private school their child will attend. By late January, most people have figured out where their children will study. The application process starts back in August/September, which involves paperwork, paying application fees, and usually having your child take a test to see if they will "make it" in said school. However, sometimes a child doesn't pass the test, and so the process continues until you can find a school that works for you. This is what happened for Sebastian's best friend, and just last week his parents got everything in order for him to study at a different school.
Then once you decide the school and are accepted, you have to pay a full month's tuition in advance. In Belo Horizonte, private school tuition runs between R$600 to R$1600 a month, with the American School being twice that amount (but the American school is "full" day, from 7:30 am to about 3:30 pm, or a traditional North American schedule). But most schools will be about R$900 a month. The school day will be between 5 to 6 hours a day, either a morning shift or afternoon shift. I'd like to say that most young children (before 6th grade) study in the morning, and old kids in the afternoon, but it varies from school to school. Also, education starts at a much younger age in Brazil than in the US: usually children will start at age 2 or 3, and it's very rare that a child would wait until they are 6 (1st grade) to start school.
After you pay, you then get the pleasure of paying more, for uniform and books/materials. Uniforms can run between about R$25 a piece to R$50 a piece (piece means part of the uniform). My kids always want me to buy the jackets and accessories, but I have to stop the madness somewhere. I don't want to give you a heart attack and tell you the grand total of what we spent on materials/books, but I will tell you that Dora had LOTS of books, and they were between R$60 and R$125. You have to buy ALL their text books, ALL their materials (notebooks, pencils, paper, EVERYTHING). Beatrice had a list of materials for her kindergarten class that was crazy--paintbrushes, clay, cotton balls, cream of tartar, sand paper, playdough, construction paper, masking tape, etcetera, etcetera. Thankfully I got the teacher [free] discount, and I didn't have to shell out the R$500 for all that stuff.
The other fun thing about back to school shopping is the stores. There are normally long lines, problems with the cash registers, extended coffee breaks taken by the employees that make for even longer lines, and lack of actual material to buy ("what?!? The paper store is out of paper?!") But then you add thousands of parents descending on the stores the last few days of summer vacation and you have insanity. Just stay away from bookstores in the month of January and February, if you are wise.
I feel such a sense of accomplishment when I finish getting all the kids school supplies. I like to do it myself, and shop around (love me a bargain), and one things that I've found SO helpful is Google images. Often times you get a list with something like "Pasta catálogo com 50 plásticos" or "TNT," and there just isn't an entry in the dictionary that can help you find out what the heck it is your supposed to get. Doing a Google Image search for "TNT Brasil Escola Material" will help you realize that there is no need to blow up your child's school. :-)
But on a positive note, it's my 3rd year of teaching. I really, really like teaching. And I think that I'm pretty good at it. And now that I've done this back to school thing a few times, I don't feel so stressed. I'm going to be teaching "ala carte" this year (i.e. I don't have a classroom), but I'm okay with that. I'm looking forward to seeing my students again, and having fun with them.