Lenka Trpišovská, a student’s mom: I am glad we found the courage eventually

Lenka Trpišovská, a student’s mom: I am glad we found the courage eventually
Václav, Lenka Trpišovská’s son, obtained a grant to attend Open Gate from The Kellner Family Foundation. His mom sent him to school a bit worried. A focused student came back to her for vacations. Read how the entire family felt when 11-year-old Václav left for a boarding school.

Some of the students have already spent several years at Open Gate, but Václav, a son of Lenka and Marek Trpišovský, is a newcomer there. He came back for vacations after the first year. The school has meant a great change not just for his life, but also for his entire family: just a year ago, he went to a standard elementary school and came back home every afternoon. When he was eleven years old, he opted for Open Gate and won a grant from The Kellner Family Foundation. In addition to classes, he spends his free time with his schoolmates now. Václav’s mother Lenka Trpišovská has told us how the family felt when he was leaving.

You are quite open about the fact that having such a young student leave for a boarding school was not easy for you. What made you decide to go with Open Gate?
Open Gate hosted the regional round of the Logics Olympiad in November 2012. My husband and I went there with our son. While he was solving problems, we had the opportunity to look around the campus. It was like an Open Day event. I recall the first impression the school made on me. It felt like a dream school – modern, spacious, with lots of windows, and with open fields and forests everywhere. I was excited to see the equipment, the facilities and the opportunities the school gives the students. I also liked that the whole campus was non-smoking. When we then toured the school with our son I asked him whether he wanted to study there and he said right away that he did.

What was the admission procedure; was it difficult to win a grant?
We enrolled Vašek for what are called mock admissions tests, and they went great, and then he was only facing the admission interview. We also applied for a need-based grant from The Kellner Family Foundation on the suggestion of Mrs. Halfarová, who represents the Foundation. At first, we didn’t even dare hope that our son would be admitted. When we received the decision that he had gotten in and had also gotten a grant from the Foundation, without which our son obviously would not be able to attend the school for financial reasons, we suddenly hesitated whether we should let our son leave home at the age of eleven. We eventually decided to take the shot, as Vašek could always change schools if anything went wrong. Even though I kept telling myself this, I still was not sure whether we were doing the right thing.

Unlike in other countries, it is not as common for Czech children to leave for boarding schools so early. What was your biggest struggle initially?
What was the most difficult thing? Concerns of losing our influence on our son. He was going into an environment outside his own family, to be brought up by someone else. He was going to be affected more by kids his age. At first, we were also concerned as to whether he would be able to manage everything on his own. You know, going to school in the morning, homework, or maybe even not succeeding at everything he tried. We are used to talking to our children, supporting them and helping them at home. We have to admit though that we have a limited amount of time for our children during the week. Our family life happens mostly on weekends, which is usually when Vašek spends his time with us at home, even now.

Václav has completed his first year. Do you feel that staying at school throughout the week is beneficial for your son?
Vašek is enthusiastic about the school. He really loves the teaching style, the teachers and, primarily, the interesting assignments and projects. Back at home we have watched our son becoming increasingly independent. For example, he makes his own bed without being asked now. Plus he manages taking the bus trips, which is important for us. He’s found friends at the dorm; they get along well, and they accept him. He is also influenced by the excellent house advisers. He knows he can approach them with confidence; for example, ask them for a tryout exam before he takes a test, as we used to do at home. He has extracurricular clubs after classes. He chose swimming in the school pool, table tennis and playing piano, and he also helps in the school library. He has no time to get bored.

What does he like to talk to you about when he comes home for the weekend?
We call our son every evening. He tells us what happened at school and in the dorm. Most often, he talks about English, school experiments and competitions, about what they did with their house advisers, and also about the books he reads. The way he talks about his life just seems spontaneous and joyful. He likes math and English. School comes first for him, and that governs everything; we think he is really very responsible for his age now. I am glad we eventually mustered the courage to let him go to Open Gate.

How have you as his mom been able to get inkling into the way he is being taught?
I regularly read the monthly reports from his teachers, and my husband and I go to class meetings where we can talk to each teacher in person. We are in touch with the head house adviser as well as his class teacher. We can arrange to come at any time, and I have taken advantage of this opportunity for a private consultation often throughout the year. We also follow the assignments and projects he works on at home, so we see what he is doing.

Looking back at the time one year ago – has your son changed?
As I said, he is more independent and responsible. I believe he is better at communicating with his peers, yet he appreciates being home more, as well. We have also noticed that he can manage his own time now.

So what do you think differentiates Open Gate so radically from the standard school he attended previously?
Vašek attended a small elementary school. He had an individual teaching plan, and the teachers respected who he was and developed his talents. He continues in this way at Open Gate. The difference is primarily in the expectations placed on students. Vašek was a star at the elementary school, whereas at Open Gate he has solid competitors. He told us once that he’d noticed that, unlike his previous school, the relationships at Open Gate are more like those between siblings, in the positive sense. He says he has not yet felt any sense of superiority on the part of older students.

One of Open Gate’s goals is to try to erase the social differences between students. Does your son’s experience suggest that this is working at the school?
Thanks to the grants, it’s the talent and not the family’s social status that determines admission to the school. We asked Vašek several times, and he doesn’t feel any social differences. And I think he doesn’t even care. He does other things, he loves learning and reading. He never tells us at home what cell phone or notebook anybody has.

Students say that Open Gate isn’t just a school for them anymore, that it’s their second home. Do you see a similar attitude in Václav?
Vašek is happy and fulfilled. He tries to represent the school well. If he takes the school leaving exams there, he will have spent eight years at the school. I am convinced that he will then say: “Open Gate was my second home.”

Does he have plans for the future? And how do you see his future?
He wants to do what he likes best. That is math, English and computer programming. Of course we support our son in this.

In addition to the Czech school leaving examination diploma, he can also obtain the International Baccalaureate since classes are also in English in higher years. Can a Czech student benefit from this? Did you enroll your son anticipating that he would go to a university abroad?
He can use everything that helps him grow. If he goes on as he has been, he has a chance of studying abroad, and that’s a good goal. The school will prepare him excellently for this.

You have been talking about the school in superlatives this whole time. Is there really nothing that has made you change your opinion as the year went by?
We were excited about the school at first sight, and we still are. Open Gate has not disappointed us in any respect.