Many of people have asked me what school is like in Spain. "Is it harder?" "Is it easier?" "Do the teachers expect the same from you like the rest of the students?"
However, the one question I get the most is: "Is it different from your school in the USA?"
The schools are both very different and similar. The teachers aren't better or worse here. It just depends on the teacher, like in every place. The courses for me, however, were a bit more difficult in different ways. My level of Spanish initially prevented me from understanding much of anything, thus I didn't always know what was going on.
Most of my teachers gave me a lot of slack in the beginning because they understood this. That slack tightened more as my Spanish got better, and after a while I was doing the same work and tests as my classmates. People study out the wahzooh there! They study every day, even if they don't have tests coming up or any homework, and sometimes they won't go out on the weekends if they have a test coming up.
A lot of people still struggle with their classes and failing is not uncommon. If you fail three classes, you have to repeat that grade course, but if you fail just math and language, you also have to repeat. Of course, there are the ones who don't study or care, so you may end up with a 21-year old in your class! The grading scale is 0-10; 0-4 is failing and 5-10 passing.
In Spain, you start school at the age of three with1st ensenaza infantil, go through 2nd and 3rd ensenaza infantil, then 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th ensenaza primario, followed by 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th ensenaza secundaria obligatoria and, finally, 1st bachillerato and end with 2nd bachillerato at the age of 17.
However, once you finish 4th ensenaza secundaria obligatoria (age 15-16), you are not required to go to school anymore. You can also choose between taking the bachillerato courses and formacion professional. In formacion professional you can take either ceclo de grado medio, which is equivalent to a G.E.D, and ceclo de grado superior, which is equivalent to a high school degree, but more focused on certain professions.
After all that, you can go to the university. After you graduate from the "high school" and if you want to go to a university, you have to take the Selectividad, an exam covering all that you have learned. Based on the score of Selectividad and your grades from bachillerato, you can apply to certain colleges. Unlike in the United States, you cannot apply to any college or university you want. The SAT and ACT do not exist there.
As you already know, once you get into high school in the United States, you are allowed to elect your classes. At my school in Spain, there are two set courses with a few options to choose from. They are science and technology, in which the set classes are language and literature, philosophy, English, sciences for the contemporary world, physical education and you can choose from math, physics/chemisitry, biology/geology, or math, physics/chemistry, and drawing techniques, or math, physics/chemistry, industrial technology.
The other main course is humanities and social sciences, in which the set classes are the same as the previous route, but the options are contemporary world history, Latin, Greek, or contemporary world history, economics and applied math.
After choosing your course and classes, you could choose an elective class from a list the school gives you. Since the science and technology route would have been way too hard for my level of Spanish, I went the humanities and social sciences route and took Latin and Greek -- in Spanish! Math was already full. Ironically, those two classes were two of my highest grades from the whole year. The class size was four and both the teachers were great! Normally the classes are huge, with about 35 people in each. Mine had 37! Unlike most schools in the United States, you have to buy all of your books that you use, even if you go to a public school.
On a typical day at my Spanish school, you arrive at 8:30 a.m., go to your first three classes, have a 30-minute break where the bachilleratos are allowed to go outside of school grounds (to smoke if wanted), then three more classes. At 2:20 p.m., a bell rings, releasing those who only have classes up until that time. Some people may have seven classes, detention, or have to make-up some work and leave at 3:10 p.m. The schools don't have extracurricular activities or sports.
Graduation is not that different from here, minus the cap and gown. There are speeches and pictures and a certificate. However, the graduations are a lot more personal than in the United States. Then afterwards there is a designated place, like a bar or a club, rented out for those who have just graduated and their friends! It's a very fun way to end the school year and I wish we could do that here!
My year has been a great one. I learned lots from good teachers, even in English class! Surprisingly, Latin and Greek helped me a lot with my Spanish and were my favorite classes. School initially was difficult and a challenge, but as I mastered the language things got easier and it was all worth it!
Darby Calhoun, 17, is the daughter of Bill and Laura Calhoun of Albany. During her year of study in Spain, she is contributing a periodic column to The Albany Herald on her experiences. You can also keep up with Darby's columns at www.albanyherald.com.