The Spelling Bee Contest

img_7288So, Greg and I are swimming in work right now, but one of our “sons” from Scouts asked us to spend the morning at Colegio Valladolid judging a spelling bee.

Judge a spelling bee? Words are either spelled correctly or they’re not, no? What’s to judge? You give kids words, when they mis-spell they sit down, and you continue until one person remains standing. Right? We figured we’d show up, spend an hour or maybe an hour and a half, have some fun, and come home.

Well, just like book clubs here in Mazatlán are different than those I grew up with up north, evidently spelling bees are different, too. Here we were judging a school spelling bee “contest,” with three top winners to be selected for each grade level, pre-K through ninth grade. They had already held spelling bees in each classroom, so the top three students from every class participated in this school-wide contest. Words were printed on paper and put into a container, and each student fished out three small pieces of paper. Those papers were given to the judges, and we read each student three words.

Judging was HARD. Sometimes lots of kids spelled all three words correctly; sometimes almost no one spelled the words correctly; so how were we to choose? We were told that the students should repeat the word at the beginning, before they started spelling, and again at the end, once they finished spelling. They should spell the word correctly, pronounce it correctly, and have confidence. So, at least we had a few additional criteria.

The other problem for me was the kids are CUTE!!!! Way cute! How distracting is that, lol? We had five year olds through junior high school kids. Some were nervous, some were excited, some spelled fast, others spelled slow, some sounded out the words, some seemed to just throw letters out into space. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The whole gym was decorated for the spelling bee. Colorful drawings of bees were everywhere: on the walls, topping the pens, on the word container, on the stages. Teachers wore yellow polos with black pants, and most students wore yellow and black, also. Teachers also put “feelers” on their heads; it was all quite amusing. Lucky kids.

I was astounded at how good the five year olds were spelling words in a foreign language. I was also blown away at the older kids, who ably spelled difficult words that many native speaking adults spell incorrectly. I wondered at why there were so many girls in the contest at the younger grade levels, and proportionately more boys at the older grade levels. What changes and when? I felt bad for the kids who’d say “e” for “i,” because that’s how it’s pronounced in Spanish. And I really felt bad for the little girl who cried because she didn’t win first place; broke my heart!

Obviously the event went on a bit long with so many kids and 10 grade levels! We spent the entire morning at the school. And it was a lot of fun. We felt like “international celebrity judges.” The kids wanted to take pictures with us and their teachers. We were served a nice breakfast. We had several parents commend us for being fair and impartial. We enjoyed watching our “son” shine; I had no idea his English was so good! And we did him and his colleagues a favor; they were obviously happy not to have to judge the spelling bee themselves—it seems parents can be competitive!

Cool New Architecture in MZT

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I love architecture. No matter where I travel in the world, I find myself fascinated with spaces that are unique, both beautiful and functional. Thus I was very pleased when our Montessori school here in Mazatlán opened its gorgeous new facilities. I have always been delighted that we have a Montessori option here in town, a powerful educational alternative for our youngest students, but the work of art that is their new facility makes it even better. María Montessori considered people works of art, so it’s only fitting that a building in which to educate people would be one, too.

Mazatlán’s own Erick Pérez Páez of EPA Arquitectos (who also designed the new Carpa Olivera ocean pool) designed the complex in conjunction with Estudio Macías Paredo (Salvador Macías Corona and Magui Peredo Arenas) out of Guadalajara, and it was built by EPA in conjunction with H Arquitectos from here in town. The design is highly innovative, based on Montessori’s “constructive triangles,” the fact that the triangle is such a naturally fundamental shape—all plane geometric figures can be made with triangles. Montessori herself said education is based on a triangle: environment, love and the child. Thus, the architecture of this academy perfectly fits as a home for its occupants. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The two-story buildings are positioned to maximize the free circulation of air and the entry of natural light. Despite the heat and humidity when I visited, no air conditioners were running and a cool breeze could be felt throughout the facilities. We not only experience a hot and humid climate part of the year, but our ocean-front location wreaks havoc on buildings and equipment. This facility has been designed using materials to minimize the corrosion and the wear and tear inherent in the salinity of our location. I also delighted in the cool interplay of light and shadow; every angle seems to invite our gaze to a fascinating view or perspective, the result of so many triangular shapes and angles in the design.

Founded in 1993, Paulina Carrillo Collard and Rene de la Rocha have been running this SEP-certified Colegio Montessori Mazatlán since March 2014. When they took over the school it had 115 students from nine months to six years old; it now has 160 students up to nine years old. When the new facility opened last year it had nine students in primary school; this year it has 23, and next year 48 are enrolled. Paulina and Rene seem to have truly revitalized the school; a second multi-age classroom is being finished on the second floor now, in preparation for the new term beginning in August. Currently, preschool students still attend classes at Sierra Rumorosa 567 in Lomas, while grades 1-3 attend classes at this new facility at 6208 Paseo del Atlántico, just behind the Bancomer, next to the new Walmart in the Marina. Telephone 669 122 10 99.

Paulina and Rene would like to see the academy grow to include upper grades as well, but that will require more investment. Right now there are four hexagonal modules (1100 m2) on the site, out of a total nineteen (4000 m2) that are planned to be built. Below is an origami replica of the full design (above a timeline of María Montessori’s life), as well as architect’s renderings.

The modules are built around a central courtyard that provides open space in which the children can commune with nature, another fundamental Montessori concept. They have quite the garden growing, and actively compost. A nutritionist lays out a yearly menu that involves no packaged food—better for the environment and for the health of everyone involved.

In touring the facility I was pleased to see the use of the smooth, colorful wooden objects that I associate with a Montessori education. There were plenty of mats for floor work, tactile objects to teach about nature, and musical instruments—another cornerstone of the Montessori approach. Students learn English, and I was told they welcome any volunteers from our expat/snowbird community who would be interested in helping out. I was also really pleased to see the chore list above the sink, as Montessori children are taught responsibility for their own environments, both indoor and outdoor. I loved how my son learned to put away his toys and keep his room in order at his Montessori preschool in Colorado, a concept he sadly seemed to forget once we moved to Mexico and got a cleaning lady.

If you haven’t noticed this unique architectural village tucked in just behind the bank and the recording studio, you really ought to give it a look. Kudos to all involved and thank you for adding to the educational offerings and the beauty that is Mazatlan!

 

Life is a Parade! (¡Especially on the Malecón!)

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Since we’ve moved here, I find myself frequently telling people, “Oh, it’s another parade,” as I rush out to the terrace to enjoy the festivities.

In the spring, during the festival season in the city’s schools, we can get three or four parades pass by in a day. You might think that after five years of living here, the enthusiasm diminishes, but who can NOT smile when you see colorful balloons, hear oompah bands, and usually get to see young people with smiling faces, crowns and sashes? Everyone shouts and hoots, beeps their horns, waves a flag or banner, and there is always a police escort with lights flashing and siren blaring.

No, the malecón is not the place you live for peace and quiet. It’s a pulsating artery of the city, and we enjoy that completely. Several times a week we also have terrific fireworks to watch, and there is always a rush in the house to discover whether the fireworks are out front over the bay, or out back over the stadium at the city. Ah, life’s challenges.

I took a bit of video of today’s parade. I think it’ll bring a smile to your face…. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we do! Simple but sweet. Video is below.

For those of you who wanted to view the video but couldn’t, because I’d used a clip from a song, I’ve now deleted that clip and the revised video is above. You should be able to see it no problem now.

Three Years in Mexico with a Junior High School Student

 

We moved here three years ago. Today our son graduated from secundaria/junior high/middle school. He has gained enormously by living here, as have we.

When we moved here our son didn’t speak much Spanish; now he pretty much passes for Mazatleco if Mom and Dad aren’t around. Bilingualism is way better than speaking only one tongue, for sure. After 3 years our 15 year old is not yet grammatically perfect in Spanish, but then, he isn’t really in English, either 🙂  Key for me is he is now extremely comfortable speaking Spanish or English, one on one, in a group, public speaking, in a formal meeting with adults. He can lead his peers, he can motivate, he can tell jokes and stories and crack people up, in both languages. Three years well invested, and at least three more to go.

When we left the US, our son’s mind was on our neighborhood, city and maybe the state in which we lived. He didn’t think about much beyond that in the world, and he didn’t like languages or cultures. He was a science, history and math guy. Now, three years on, he knows what it’s like to live as a minority member of society. He has gained confidence making new friends, going into new situations and figuring out how to get along. Not much intimidates him.

He now loves languages and thinks he’s good at learning them, anxious to try out Italian and French. He’s gone from wanting to see movies dubbed into English to wanting to see movies in their original language, with subtitles if needed. He gets that the original provides the most honest portrayal and feeling. He is keenly interested in international affairs, environmental concerns. He can recite to you UN resolutions and the rights of women, children and people worldwide.  He still loves history, and likes science and math. He talks of going to university in, well, South America, Italy… he now sees that there is a whole world out there. This is the primary reason we moved here: to provide him a broader worldview, and I thank goodness that he has done such a terrific job in this regard.

As our son graduates to high school (or preparatoria), he looks forward to a new adventure in a larger school with only a few of his current classmates. Being in a small private school now, there is a bit of a reshuffling as students decide where to study for the next three years. His graduating class of about forty will be spread out across various schools in town, breaking up this close knit bunch of kids who entered and experienced the hardest years of adolescence together. This is in sharp contrast to the normal trek in the United States, of elementary schools merging into middle schools and middle schools merging into high schools, where groups of friends remain intact and take on new friends. With this new school, he will enter as a Spanish speaker and a bit of a “local.” There will be close to 275 kids in his grade, so the huge size increase may be the biggest adaptation he has to make.

Before we moved, our son gave us strict instructions that he didn’t want to live in Mexico like some “rich gringo.” While of course the average wage in Mexico is much lower than that of the US, which he was speaking to, his eyes have been opened to just how rich the rich can be in a country like Mexico, where there are huge gaps between rich and “middle class.” He is able to describe class differences, their customs and values. He has become a “blended culture” person in the sense that he now knows what he likes and dislikes, personally, about the various cultures with whom he has contact. He doesn’t judge, knowing every worldview is “right,” but he doesn’t let himself get lost, either. I’m proud of him for that.

Thank you, Mazatlán. Thank you to his teachers, tutors, mentors, Scout leaders and friends.

And to you friends, many of whom we now love, too: best of luck in prepa! Remember to maintain these precious existing friendships!

Other posts on this blog about schools:
High Schools and Foreign Residents in Mazatlán
Inauguration of Soccer Season
Moving to Mexico (Mazatlán) with School Kids