Enrolling a child to school takes time and nerves, but if you are new to the country it takes twice more time and nerves. A refugee from Ukraine, I arrived in the U.S. via Uniting for Ukraine program. My younger son was supposed to start school in Kherson, Ukraine, but the Fate decided otherwise, and now he is a student at the elementary school in Irvine, California. The other son went to high school, one of the best in the state. If you are also new to the country, you will be interested to know the nitty-gritty of enrolling a child to school. Here I share my experience and give some tips on what to start with, how to continue and follow up considering the challenges I confronted with myself.
1. Choose the School First, Then Rent an Apartment.
The truth is that you will never go to school of your choice unless you live in the area within your school district. So, I recommend choosing the school first which means checking the school rating and talking to parents whose children attend this particular school.
2. Check the School Website for Enrollment Procedure.
During the summer the school premises are mostly closed. During the summer break you are unlikely to contact anyone except the school janitor who will not be competent enough to answer all your question. But if you wait till the early August when teachers get back to school it will be too late. The chances are that the classes will be full, and your child will be assigned to a different school which is located farther.
This year enrollment process in Irvine was completed online. The funny thing about elementary school is that I and my kid saw it with our own eyes the first day school started, on the 18th of August. But school representatives contacted me over the phone whenever some questions arose.
So, online enrollment process was over on the 28th of July. I had to provide residence affidavit, leasing agreement, the second proof of residence (for new students only), health form and vaccination record. For the elder son I also provided transcripts with his previous year grades.
My tip is never to skip online enrollment procedure as through it you, as a paren,t and your children get to the city school district database. Only via this system you will be able to get access to various school services and useful applications. This system will provide you the link to the Parent Portal where you can check your children's performance and see test results.
3. Make an Appointment at the Local Pediatric to Get a Vaccination Record.
Before making an appointment, you need to get your kids' health insurance cards. Otherwise, you will have to pay for the medical checkup. There are also free clinics, but the level of service can be lower. Choosing a pediatric is not easy. I spent half a day calling doctor's offices from the list provided by Cal Optima. Finally, I managed to find the doctor with their new office right near my apartment complex. Since I had Medical, I didn't pay for anything. To make the doctor's job easier I translated the vaccination record I brought from Ukraine, so the doctor's assistant just entered the data to their vaccination record which is different from ours.
4. Be Prepared to Invest a Great Deal of Your Time.
You will need to create your account on Aries Portal, so be prepared to provide all information about you and your children. You will need to make accounts for each of your child separately and upload all the documents there. The application form is pretty long, and it takes about two or three hours to complete it for each child.
After you applied online you need to wait for the email directly from the school. Each school has its own follow-up practices. Some school will send you an email while others won't, so you had better check their website for news concerning the beginning of the school year. For example, I waited for more than a week and haven't heard from high school, so I decided to phone them myself and I'm glad I did that because I was informed that student orientation is scheduled for tomorrow. Due to my gut feeling my son didn't miss it.
Be prepared that you may be asked to fill out the residency affidavit and the health form again when you come to the school office in person.
5. Children Should Take Initial ELPAC Assessment (Test of the English Language)
All children with English as a second language take English tests periodically. At the beginning of each school year all foreign students take this test. It is used as a starting point necessary to check the initial knowledge of English so that they could assess the progress in the future. Even if you child is going to the 1st grade, like my younger son, he still takes this test. The curious thing about this test is that students take it after they enroll to school and usually during the 1st week of studying. Probably it would be more efficiently to check the student's knowledge before they actually start attending the particular school. There are cases, when after completing the test, the parents were recommended to send their kids to a different school that has a language support program.
6. Purchase School Supplies.
It's not cheap to get all those back-to-school supplies, especially when you've just applied for cash assistance and hasn't been approved yet, like me. But volunteers helped us a lot. They organized a back-to-school event for Ukrainian families with gifts and treats and purchased brand-new backpacks, crayons, colored pencils, rulers, pencil cases, lunch boxes and more. It was a very warm meeting and I'm thankful to them for all the help they give to us. I purchased the rest of school supplies at Discount School Supplies online. There were many back to school deals online at that time and I save a lot with Discount School Supply coupon I applied at checkout.
7. Apply for a Free or Reduced Bus Pass
Elementary school children are eligible for a school bus pass. I applied for a free one since my work authorization was still pending. Tip: apply for the bus pass in early or mid-July, once you've completed your online enrollment process. It takes time for them to process all applications and if you want your kid to start using the bus the first week of school make sure you do it early. I applied for the bus pass late and had to call several times till I got approved. There were so many applications that they couldn't find mine, and I had to resend all the required documents. So, be persistent, keep calling or sending them e-mails till you get some feedback from them.
Since enrolling my child to school I realized I needed to find free or low cost recourses in order to save money on everything school related. Library is the great start. You can borrow so many wonderful books for free. If you need to buy something be sure to use a student/teachers/military discount. Whichever applies to you. Studentbeans.com 20off.com Myunidays.com offer great discounts for students. Also I've discovered you can get schools supplies tax free during special tax free week.