Heading to First Grade: Tips for Registering at a Czech Elementary School

Prague.TV’s tips to make the upcoming school registration process smooth

Would you like to send your rising first grader to Czech elementary school, but you’re not sure how to go about doing it? For some non-Czech families and for many bilingual families who are living long-term in the Czech Republic enrolling their children in a Czech elementary school is a way for the whole family to begin to integrate into the Czech community. Registration for rising first graders for the 2016-2017 school year is coming up in the next few weeks. Read on to learn how to make registration day as smooth as possible for your family. While many parents are nervous about sending their child to a Czech school, particularly if they themselves don’t speak the language, the Czech public school system has made strides in recent years toward making its educational system friendlier for non-Czech natives.

Integrated classrooms, preparatory classes with special language help for non-Czechs and cooperative educational programs like Začít spolu (Step by Step) or the international Comenius project (an extension of Erasmus) have helped the Czech educational system diversify. The low cost of the Czech state school system (students pay a small fee for lunches, textbooks/workbooks, after school sports and clubs and out-of-school trips) as well as the opportunity to form lasting relationships in a stable community are other positives of the public education system here.

Within the state Czech základní školy (elementary schools), particularly in larger cities like Prague, there are also increasing opportunities to supplement your child’s education with additional English programs (available for a cost). Check the websites of schools in your neighborhood (and see our list below) to find out if any bilingual programs or extra English courses exist in your area.

The school registration process for rising first-graders, called, zápis do první třídy, takes place annually in Czech elementary schools from mid-January to mid-February. Each school usually has a two-day registration term (i.e. on 2-3.February from 14:00-18:00), with exact days and times depending on the particular school. A typical registration process includes a one-to-one student assessment conducted by a teacher as well as formal registration paperwork completed by a parent or guardian. Both the interview and the paperwork are completed on site. Some schools offer an appointment system so that prospective students and their parents don’t have to wait their turn, while others still operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The registration process is conducted in a celebratory atmosphere with students and their parents being welcomed as special guests in the schools. Often students are given small gifts to take home as a thank you for attending the registration.

Education in a Czech elementary school is available for all Czech citizens, citizens of EU countries as well as citizens of non-EU countries who hold a long-term residency permit or a visa longer than 90-days. Children who turn six by the end of September 2016 are required to register at the school in their district during this year’s registration (or to notify the principal if they plan to attend a different school). Students who turn six during the month of September 2016 are required to register, but they can choose to wait a year before enrolling without needing a special odklad (school enrollment waiver). Children who turn six before September 2016 are required to apply for an enrollment waiver if they would like to wait a year before starting first grade.

An odklad is given to a child after a school readiness examination performed by school psychologist and with confirmation by a pediatrician. The waiver can be used to give a child more time to build up familiarity with the Czech language by attending Czech preschool as well as for students with behavioral, speech or other developmental delays.

Even if you’re not positive that when September rolls around, you’ll send your rising first grader to a Czech school, if you miss registration day, your chances will be much slimmer for finding an open spot.

Here are a few tips to make the upcoming registration process smooth.

Pick your school(s)
School zoning is done by street. Check with the locals in your neighborhood to find out which school the residents on your street attend. The spádová škola (district school) is required to admit students with permanent residence in the district. Many families choose to enroll their children in a different school based on curriculum, school size, international student population, advanced language opportunities, location, etc. Check your preferred school’s website to find out its admission policy, particularly if it has the capacity to admit students from different zoning districts.

Continue to check the school’s website throughout the month of January for updated registration information. If the option exists, register for a specific time slot to avoid waiting in line on registration day.

Prepare your child
Registering for first grade is a big deal in Czech culture. Although children are not expected to know their alphabet or perform specific academic tasks, the one-to-one examination with a teacher is a check of social and academic readiness. Students will be asked to say their full name (correct pronunciation is key) and to answer basic questions like their address, their age, to know their numbers 1-5 and their colors. In some schools, they will also be asked to recite a Czech song or retell a story in their own words. To test fine and gross motor skills, my older daughter and son were asked to finish one-half of a drawing of a house, to draw a person including details, like five fingers and a neck, to finish a puzzle and to catch a ball. Teachers check to see how the student handles the situation without help from parents as much as they look for correct answers.

Some schools offer an afternoon activity like arts and crafts or a gym class before the registration day. If possible, have your child attend a pre-registration event in order to get familiar with the school environment, teachers and potential classmates.

Documents to bring to the zápis
zápisní list – registration form (printable on the school’s website or available onsite)
rodný list dítěte – your child’s birth certificate
průkaz totožnosti rodiče (zákonného zástupce) – a passport, permanent resident card or citizenship card of the parent or legal guardian. The address on this document will be used to determine a child’s district school.
zdravotní pojištění – a copy of your child’s insurance card
zprávy od lékaře – a doctor’s note (only necessary if asking for a registration waiver)
pedagogicko-psychologické poradny – note from a school psychologist (only necessary if requesting a waiver, noting a learning disability or a need for special assistance)

Check the curriculum
In recent years Czech schools have begun to offer innovative approaches to learning, many of which stem from Western educational theories or programs. The Začít spolu (Step by Step) project is offered at more than 50 schools in the Czech Republic. The mission of Step by Step in the Czech Republic is to aid the development of a democratic society, to improve the quality and access to education and to motivate individuals and communities to build a tolerant, multicultural society. The project’s curriculum combines exploratory work in small groups at centers as well as circle time on carpets to bolster communicative skills and hands-on-learning. Writing using the international Comenius script instead of traditional cursive writing is another option in some schools.

While many schools now offer English as a second language as early as the first grade, English is a mandatory subject for all students in Czech schools from the third grade up three times per week. Some schools offer bilingual programs or English taught by native speakers. A few of the options for expanded English language education programs in Prague include UpWord English at ZŠ Hanspaulka P6; TOSCOOL at ZŠ Petriny P6 and ZŠ Cermaka P6, EATS at ZŠ Jarov P10 and LEAP at ZŠ Drtinova P5. Although these programs range in price, they can add a significant cost to the otherwise low price of a basic Czech education. However, they might help non-Czech families make the linguistic and cultural transition easier.

After a successful registration day, do what many Czech families do – celebrate! Take your child to the sweet shop for an ice cream or a cake, chat about the interview process and hear what your child has to say about his or her potential new school. The results of the registration will be posted at the school within 30 days of the application process (often sooner), but you have until the end of May to notify the school if your child will not enroll in September. Even if you decide that a Czech state school isn’t right for your child, at least you will have first-hand experience of the process, which may come in handy in later years if you decide to change schools.

Best of luck to all rising first graders. Remember your parents are likely more nervous than you are.

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