"Daffy! Where have you been hiding yourself?"
"I told you not to call me that!" Daphne yelled back at her cousin across the grounds. "I've been unpacking my bags in my cubey, of course."
The two girls greeted each other enthusiastically. "So, how were your holidays?" Cecelia asked.
"Oh, pretty decent. Maeve managed to get some time off at the holidays for once, and Bride and Simon and Rix and Polly were there with all their kids, but Maurice wasn't able to get the time off. Christmas and New Years are a busy time for the hotel he's at and he's still pretty junior. I got some good books from Bride and Simon, and a really nifty camera from Mum and Dad. You?"
"Mixed. Come on and I'll tell you about it." The girls found a corner to curl up in, away from the start of term chaos.
"Well, it was great seeing everybody. Flixy's gotten a lot more cheeky since she left home, and she kept baiting Mamma and Papa until the rest of us were practically in hysterics. She and Con ran a lot of interference for me when Mamma went off at me about our proposal for changes in the school, so that really helped until she started to calm down. The younger ones were bouncing off the walls with excitement the whole time - Rob and Ro particularly, as last term was the longest they've ever been apart. Oh, and Len and Con had a great idea for what I can do next year!"
"Well, Mamma suggested I could just stay at home to help out and do some childcare for people on the Platz - you know how hard it is to get people here. I was about ready to jump into the lake at the bare idea."
"It's the middle of winter. You'd bounce."
"Daphne! You know what I mean!"
"Okay, Go on."
"Well, Con suggested that they parcel me out among the sibs and cousins for a year or two. Send me to Milan to stay with Flixy and study art and culture, to Con in England for a while with a study program at the museums and libraries - Charles could help there, maybe even dump me on Ruey and Rod at the ranch for a while."
"Neato! Do you think Auntie Joey and Uncle Jack will go for it?"
"Papa seems okay with the basic idea, but Mamma will take some work before she's convinced that the big bad world won't leap out to corrupt me if she lets me out of her sight. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!"
The department heads had met again, this time to discuss the results of the survey.
"This is an interesting comment on our promotion policy," said Miss Wilmot, looking at the section on academic policies. The school had always followed a fairly liberal guide when it came to promoting students to higher forms, or keeping them back in a lower one. The line of reasoning had been that students should be allowed to work at the level most suited to them.
"They've got a point," said Miss Derwent. "We promote the best of our juniors and middles at the fastest pace possible, often putting them up a form mid year. Then we keep them in Inter V for a year, as they aren't mature enough yet to handle the responsibilities of full blown seniors."
"It's better than having 12 year olds in the Lower Fifth," countered Miss Schmidt. "Even if they are bright and fairly mature, they're still only twelve years old, and have to be watched over much more carefully than the fourteen and fifteen year olds. Well, watched for different reasons, in any case. They're so emotionally volatile at that age, breaking and making friendships, feuds and jealousies. The fifteen years olds are less volatile, but their concerns are becoming more serious."
"Then," continued Miss Derwent, "we have girls who are held back two or three times, some because they have trouble with the languages, others because their basic academics aren't up to our standards, and others because they are discipline problems. So we have girls who are sixteen or seventeen, and still only in Lower Fifth. They are much more advanced than their classmates physically and socially, and really don't get much opportunity to spend time with girls their own age. I think some of them just get frustrated and give up."
"Twenty or thirty years ago that wasn't a problem," said Miss Ferrars. "The less academically inclined girls weren't thinking about university, and finishing school at Fifth Form without taking the official exams wasn't a big problem if they were going home for a few years to help out and then getting married. It's a lot harder to get a job without finishing school cert. now, and more girls have to work and fewer get married right out of school. Add to that the fact that with our school fees and reputation, parents expect their children to come out with a reasonable school standing."
"Or look at young Cecilia," said Miss Andrews, head of the junior school. "She'll graduate at not much past sixteen. She's certainly university material if anyone is, but I don't see her being old enough for Oxford on her own, particularly as she's never lived anywhere but the Platz."
"I think it's clear that we have to work out a new way of handling the advanced students, and the ones who have have trouble keeping up," continued Miss Ferrars.
Miss Armitage looked up with an alarmed expression. "Please, no more private coaching. I'm stretched far enough as it is, what with private tutorials in botany, physiology and chemistry, plus helping to coach the junior's netball."
"Don't worry about that," said Kathie with a laugh. "Making sure that we don't increase the staff's workload is high on my list of priorities, believe me."
It was half-term, and the prefects had been asked to assist the senior faculty in planning for the changes for the next year. Cecilia had almost regretted starting the whole thing when she realised her half-term was to be spent in meetings with mistresses, rather than partaking of the games and activities which occupied the other girls at the school, or better yet, curling up with a good book.
The students had been asked to submit suggestions for hobbies and activities they would like to see at the school, and the prefects were currently busy sorting through the results.
"Here's another one for horseback riding," said Hilary. "Don't these kids know we're living on a mountain?"
"Or how much it costs to keep a horse. There's a bunch here for motor boating in the summer, too. Can you picture Upper IV out on the lake in motor boats?"
"I'd really rather not."
Lisa continued, "Photography seems popular, and there's a reasonable number who'd like to try carpentry. We could put a wood shop in the utility shed, and we could fit a darkroom into the science labs without too much effort. I'm not sure we could do judo. It sounds like fun, but I don't think we have anyone who could teach it. Some others want dancing in the hall - not country dancing or waltzes, but modern music."
Cecilia looked up from her pile of notes. "I've got the book suggestions here," she said, in her role as library prefect. "And I asked my cousin Bride for a list of recommended contemporary books - stuff that's modern but will pass the mistresses. She sent me a whole batch - historical fiction, mysteries, science fiction, novels, children's books, mythology, plus some suggestions of some good magazine subscriptions."
Leoline Marmont, the Art prefect, looked up from the table where she and Vreneli were sorting through another stack. "They're being creative, anyhow. I've got requests here for pottery, weaving, carpentry, photography, origami, an electronics shop, quilting, raising tropical birds, guitar lessons, motor bikes, camping, canoeing and rock climbing."
"Tropical birds and motor bikes seem a bit much," said Denise Smith, the Bank and Mail prefect. "I'd be keen on pottery or weaving though, and I can think of a half dozen of the middles and seniors who would be absolutely delighted to be allowed to fiddle with electronics in their spare time."
Those of the fifth forms who weren't visiting family at half term had been invited over to Freudesheim for the afternoon. Cecilia had unilaterally refused to a help out with the festivities, invoking her duties as library prefect to back up her decision.
The girls, some forty of them, had started out with paper games and other similar activities, and were now enjoying cakes and tea in the sitting room and former playroom. Joey had been a bit disappointed that none of the girls had requested that she sing, but had swallowed her resentment gracefully. In defiance of her normal habits, which were to reminisce about old school stories until it was time to go home, she was making an effort to listen to the excited babble of the girls as they chattered amongst themselves.
Joey was having trouble even following parts of the conversation. The names of the latest rock groups and dances and movies stars were Greek to her. Actually, given her linguistic talents Greek would have been much more comprehensible. She had no experience with television programs at all, as Freudesheim still managed with a radio. She listened as what she had formerly regarded as nice, modest girls from good families (many of them the daughters of old girls!) talked about boys back home, makeup, dresses, movies and dances.
The hot topic of conversation for the day was, of course, the proposed changes for the next school year. Joey listened in bewilderment as a room full of Chalet girls, including several of her relatives, chattered enthusiastically about the proposed changes. In amongst the arguments over which activities should be chosen there was a feeling of relief and excitement. Finally, the Chalet school was going to update it's antiquated policies and move into the modern world!