German schools—help needed

My son would be a junior if we were in the US. When we got here, the Schulamt put him in a middle school, because he wasn’t 16 yet. Now that school is saying they won’t let him take the MSA. He is very bright & clearly should go to university. Please HELP!

I am sorry, but the terms you used, "junior", "middle school", "MSA", are not used in Germany or have a different meaning here ("junior" means young person).
I will try to make soime assumptions here:
The German system knows no "middle school", only primary and secondary school. There are several kinds of the latter, of which only "Gymnasium" (again very different meaning than the similar English word - nothing to do with sports!) is the secondary school leading to "Abitur", the certificate enabling university access (is this what you mean by "MSA"?). I assume your son is in a "Realschule", "Hauptschule" o another type that does not lead to "Abitur". If so, and he fulfills the preconditions, he should change to a "Gymnasium". There are also other ways to gain an "Abitur", e.g. by evening classes etc. Get information about there!

Beppi, thanks for your reply! I really appreciate your willingness to help, so I’ll try again (this is my first time here, and I thought it was only Americans)
A “Junior” in the US school system is someone in the next-to-last year of high school or college/university (same thing in the US). That’s what my son would be doing if we were in the US—he’d be a high school Junior.

The school he is in in Berlin is a Gemeinschaftsschule, with kids from 7th through 10th grades. He was 15 when we arrived, so the guy at the Schulamt said he couldn’t be put in a gymnasium. Apparently if I would’ve waited 6 weeks, until he was 16, that would have been different, but that’s how it happened.

My son is clearly bright and should go to Uni eventually, so I’d like him to go to Gymnasium. (Your observation that this is a different thing than the English-language cognate is correct). I have recently learned more about what’s been going on in his class and with his teacher this year. It is dismal. She has underestimated him badly, even after he far exceeds her past expectations of him. She thinks there is no problem with him not taking the MSA (I’m not sure how to explain that to you—it is a standardized test used in Berlin, and i think in all of Germany), because he can go to an Oberschule and take the Abitur there. I’m concerned that an Abi from there would not be weighted as highly as one from a Gymnasium. I also expect that the environment at a Gymnasium would be more suited to him. So my question is what I can do to get him either permission to take the test, possibly not at his school, or to get him into Gymnasium without it.

Don't worry, it is not just Americans who are baffled by the German school system - this can hit any nationality!
Your explanation of "Junior" is still not clear enough for a German mind. Am I assuming correctly that he is in 9th class?
I just googled and found that MSA is a new abbreviation for "Mittlere Reife", the school leaving certificate (after 10 years of schooling) of Realschule. He does not need this if he continues to Abitur, although it gives him more options in case he fails on the way.
Oberschule is, to my knowledge, just another word for Gymnasium. although this might be used differently in Berlin. If he wants to reach university eventually, he should change to one as son as possible (meaning after the summer vacations, as you don't usually change during the school year). He might have to take some additional classes (e.g. another language) to catch up with his classmates there, or repeat a class.

Here in BaWue, Gemeinschaftsschulen are by their definition offering all secondary school streams  under one roof, so a path to Abitur is available for those who qualify.
If this is not the case in Berlin (schooling differs by state), consult the school authority on which options there are!

Beppi, now I see—you also aren’t in Berlin! I was irritated before coming here that friends in other parts of the country claimed ignorance about schools in Berlin, but really am seeing how differently things are set up and even named in various Bundesländer. Do you if there’s anyone on this forum who knows the ins & outs of Berlin‘s school system?
Also, you mention changing schools. Is that possible? I somehow had the impression that once a kid started secondary school, they’d finish in that one, unless they moved out of the area.

You better consult a professional - there are advisors available at the schools and the Schulamt (school authority).
Of course it is possible to change schools if you have a legitimate reason!

Sounds like you might not be clearly informed about some things. While there might be some different terms and details, the German schools systems do not fundamental differ region to region. For one thing, Gymnasium is not exactly like American High School because it is not just the last 4 years.  Kids get sorted out by ability at an earlier age and Gymnasium starts already from the 5th grade. Thus your son would not have been denied acceptance due to his age since he is more than old enough. And in America the schools have to do with age but not ability except for some special exceptions. Even in High School, all of the kids in grades 8 to 12 go to the same school but are usually in different programs according to ability. In Germany they sort the kids early into totally different school for different abilities. Gymnasium is the one with orientation to go on to University. But kids who are in a lower level school can perform well and get switched to a gymnasium or even finish a lower school and get further education to get credentials the equivalence of having completed Gymnasium.

A huge question would be your son’s level of German. Many foreign kids come and basically lose a year because the first one is spent focusing on learning German. And I am not informed about it specifically but this might likely take place in another school rather than a Gymnasium. The problem for the German schools is that no matter high smart your kid might be, from their perspective, if he arrives without speaking pretty fluent German then he cannot just be thrown into a high academic level situation.

But if your kid does manage in school but they don’t let him switch to Gymnasium (which should be determined by academic ability only) then he can still have the option to get an Abitur. Doing it later is called Abitur nachholen. Some people do this even years later attending special schools in the day or evening programs in what is called a Abendgymnasium. Another option is to go to the Volkshochschule (community college). Where one get an Abitur doesn’t matter. It’s necessary for attending University but it’s not like you need one from a well-known place to get into. German public Universities are free and open to all who qualify, not just the rich, connected or coming from exclusive private schools. Any Abitur is as good as the next as far as an acceptance criterion.

Here is a link that I think can be very useful to you. It is in German only but gives all the information about getting an Abitur after having completed another school program other than a normal gymnasium.

Hi there... Does your son speak fluent German? I just ask because we moved last fall. My youngest was leaving 9th grade, going into 10th. Somewhat similar but I see the huge problem with where your son would be in the States and how things are done here with the sorting and such. Mine goes to an international high school and is getting his IB as opposed to the Arbitur. Have you looked into any international high schools? I'm guessing so... Good luck to you and I hope everything works out for you!

JennSheer, he really wanted to do the “normal” German thing and has done amazingly well on his German. An international school is one of the ideas we’ve talked about.

Tom, the problem isn’t his iq or German abilities—it’s that the school gave us incorrect info numerous times, so now he is too late to register for the exam to get into Gymnasium. There is some kind of Hochschule he could do, either all the way through to abi or transferring to Gymnasium after a year, but that means basically doing nothing for a year, just waiting for his chance to take the exam.

JenSheer, can you tell me more about your son’s school, how you found it, and how he’d fit into the German system if he wanted to go to Uni here?

Saacnmama :

JennSheer, he really wanted to do the “normal” German thing and has done amazingly well on his German. An international school is one of the ideas we’ve talked about.

Tom, the problem isn’t his iq or German abilities—it’s that the school gave us incorrect info numerous times, so now he is too late to register for the exam to get into Gymnasium. There is some kind of Hochschule he could do, either all the way through to abi or transferring to Gymnasium after a year, but that means basically doing nothing for a year, just waiting for his chance to take the exam.

I didn't say it was his IQ, on the contrary. But your statements didn’t exactly add up because I don't think there is a "too late" to switch to Gymnasium. Many kids switch after the 10th class and it has to do with performance not age. But if one has to take an exam them obviously they have to register on time. Losing a year can be hard but if it happens then one should make the best out of it. Even if your son is getting along with German he can use the year to bring the level up if he really wants to go on to University. The subject of International Schools is often discussed on this site. The main disadvantage is that they tend to cost about 10,000 Euros a year or more and few can afford them unless it is a fringe benefit of their job.

Saacnmama :

JenSheer, can you tell me more about your son’s school, how you found it, and how he’d fit into the German system if he wanted to go to Uni here?

Sure Saacnmama!!

I'm going to use both of my son's as examples even though the middle one that's here with me is older than your son. S (the one closer to your age) goes to an international high school as I said. That being said, there are lot of German nationals there so they not only offer the IB, they also offer the Arbitur. S is strictly IB.

The German school is set up, as I'm sure you know, totally different from the american school system. If you graduate with an Arbitur over here, you have the equivalent of an american HS degree and the first year of college. When these kids graduate with an Arbitur, they already know what they want to do in university. Whether or not you do this is decided in what is the equivalent to our 10th grade. Even though S is in an international high school, he still had to do work experience which is a requirement for all students since after this grade, you can receive a certificate and enter the work force or attend a technical institution or apprenticeship.

Tom is not wrong about the $$ for an international high school. When I sold my house in the states, most of the profit went to S's tuition for the year. It's a boarding school, however, he does not board. I found several on a google search. If you're moving to a bigger city, Berlin, I think, there should be at least a couple of international high schools there.

A quick search just led me to the John F. Kennedy Berlin school. It looks to be structured somewhat like Salem, where S goes. This is what it reads... And it looks to be tuition free... I'd contact them ASAP. I've included a snipit from their website and link below...

As far as your son's german language skills. I'm so happy to hear that he's doing so well. Here's where I use my middle son as an example. V graduated with distinguished honors from his american HS. Academic teams, blah, blah. Top 20%. Graduated with 15 hours of AP classes. Somehow, we missed Latin 2. So he was unable to immediately enter a german university over here. They made a compromise and he went to language school then to Studiekollege in Konstanz which he started this week. So, now, he's in a "college setting" and has taken the German language requirement asked of him by the government. He is at a B1 level and started taking B2a until Studiekollege started.

Thank the lord this program still offers a German class structured into their curriculum. He speaks beautifully and had done amazing in the time frame in which he had to learn. But there's something to be said for learning the language then entering an education system taught in that language. It goes fast. It goes hard. Every day he's picking up new words, There's things being said he's committing to memory to look up later. Unless you can get up to at least a C1 language level, it will be hard for him. And when he gets here, it will be different. Being in an environment in which the newly learnt language is the only thing spoken, it is miles from learning otherwise. I'm not trying to dishearten you at all; I'm just trying to prepare you. S (younger one) has had a much easier time learning german at a slower pace and being taught his subjects in English at his school. But make no mistake, IB's are hard. It's like the last two years and all you take is AP classes essentially. It's not as easy as an american HS diploma. I'm researching now and have read that in American, if he chooses to go back for college, looks at an IB as a diploma and first year of pre-reqs. Education is serious over here and I really appreciate it. They have this on lock over here.

I absolutely get you not wanting him to be "useless" for a year. That's how I was with my middle one who went to language school and not directly into a university. After he's done with Studiekollege, we've got an English taught bachelor's program we're looking hard at... If it were me, I'd look at this JFK School and talk to them. I'd say that's your best chance at keeping him where you want him - moving forward. If y'all were given wrong dates and have missed the test to enter gymnasium, an international HS could be your only option to keep that forward momentum. If that school isn't an option or is full or something, I'm betting they will be a good resource for other options. 

This is the snipit from the school and link... Good luck and keep me posted about what you end up doing!

"The John F. Kennedy School is a bilingual, bicultural German-American tuition-free public school. It offers an integrated elementary and high school program that combines the strengths of both the German and American educational traditions. Acknowledging and appreciating cultural diversity, the John F. Kennedy School serves German- and English-speaking students of all nations for the purpose of developing international understanding. The languages of instruction, German and English, are equally respected. Within this framework the educational program incorporates the essentials of the German and American school curricula.

Upholding high academic standards of both educational systems, the JFKS gives students an opportunity to learn through different modes and strategies. Promoting learning as a continuous lifetime process, the balanced curriculum supports student growth in all areas, including the fine arts, humanities, languages, sciences, mathematics, and sport. The school trips are an important part of formal education and they supplement instruction by providing direct observation and experience, thereby creating new ways for students to deepen their understanding of what they have already learned and acquire new knowledge.

In guiding students to understand themselves and the world around them, the JFKS fosters independent inquiry, critical thinking, open-mindedness and service to others. The curriculum and learning strategies encourage the development of responsible, democratic citizens. At all times the dignity of the individual student and teacher is paramount."

Exactly. He didn’t register for it on time. Now he will lose another year—he took one year to learn the language, and now will need to take another. Do you understand now? I’m teyinh to be as clear as possible.

Ahhh I get it now. I’m going to defer to what Tom and Beppi said. Y’all are already entwined in the German system. I don’t know enough about it to speak to it. We had to to the int’l hs because of the lack of German. Seems there are other ways to the arbitur as they mentioned above... you might could still call the JFK school and get another opinion.

Sorry. The whole comparison to the US system threw me off! lol. I probably shouldn’t respond to posts when I’m headed out the door... 😬

Good luck!

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