Ciudad de los Niños, Day Two

Hard workers, proud of where they live

Hard workers, proud of where they live

You saw the photos and Indiana Jones-spoof video about the big earth-moving project Danny and his friends did at one of our local orphanages a couple of weeks ago. Everyone worked their buns off and had a great time. Well, yesterday they were back for round 2. Far fewer people, but the hard workers definitely showed up.

It started off with just Danny. He got out a pick, shovel and hoe, and went to work on the two remaining, much smaller than they had been, piles of dirt. It was HOT and humid, but he had a lot of water in a cooler. Pretty soon, remarkably to us, several of the boys from the orphanage came out to help. And they did! They worked hard! They shoveled despite the heat, they laughed, they asked Danny how to do it, and we were privileged to witness them taking pride in making their home a better place in which to live.

Soon Danny’s friend Juan Carlos showed up. He was there the first time, too. He’s a great friend. And the boys worked hard for an hour or two, in the mid-day sun.

Then, gratefully, the bulldozer showed up. Hooray! Bless Noel! With the big machine he of course made much quicker work, flattening out the remaining dirt piles. In a couple of hours more Scouts and another ICO friend showed up, and the guys continued their shoveling. Danny is truly blessed with some good friends here.

After a while one of the two the volleyball nets Danny had purchased was set up on the new supports they’d made, and an inaugural game was played. I missed that part, so no photos of the game, I’m sorry to say.To conclude the day, the young men played a soccer match with some of the boys from the orphanage. It was a terrific second visit for all involved!

Mouse over any photo below to read the caption. Click to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The International Road to Eagle Scout


Our 17 year-old son has been a Scout since first grade. He was active in Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, and Webelos, all of which I led, and then he “crossed over” to a high adventure Boy Scout troop. He has learned so much from Scouting: first aid, outdoor survival, swimming, cooking, sewing, teamwork, respect, discipline, leadership, how to take care of and teach the younger Scouts.

Swearing in ceremony

Danny being sworn in to Mexican Scouts by Jefe Carlos and Jefa Graciela

When we moved to Mexico Danny very much wanted to continue with Scouts, and was welcomed into a troop here, Grupo 4 Conforti. The leader, Jefe Carlos, was bilingual, and Danny loved the experience. It was quite an adjustment learning the ways in which Scouting here differs from Scouting up north. Danny met a lot of very good friends that I’m confident he’ll have for a lifetime, and Mexican Scouts helped him perfect his Spanish and learn the culture. He’s learned to lead here as well, an invaluable skill. I know he loves the more laid-back way of learning here, with much less focus on progression and earning badges and ranks.

Boys at summer camp

Jon and Danny at their first Boy Scout summer camp—a week or so away from home

But it was also very important to our son to continue his Boy Scouts of America (BSA) path even after we came to Mexico. He was already a Star Scout when we moved, so only two ranks away from Eagle, the highest rank in BSA. However, we experienced some real challenges trying to fulfill his desire to continue with BSA internationally, and we almost gave up.

I have friends in Tokyo and in other places around the world whose children belong to BSA, but they live in cities with a US American community and an internationally-based BSA troop. We don’t have such a troop in Mazatlán, and we couldn’t find anyone within the BSA organization to help us learn how he could continue US Scouting while living internationally, in the absence of a troop. Finally we learned about the “Lone Scout” program. What a godsend that has been!

Wheelbarrow and shovelers

Danny with “Peli” (a friend from ICO), and a Scout brother

We are bursting-at-the-seams proud to report that, yesterday, Danny COMPLETED HIS EAGLE PROJECT! (That’s him in the photo above, with the wheelbarrow.) Some of his friends from his original BSA troop earned their Eagle several years ago; it has taken Danny much longer. He hasn’t had the support system that a troop provides on the path to Eagle. He’s had to be additionally disciplined and creative, using every opportunity he could create, to accomplish the necessary steps and qualifications. And, he did it! All while being an active leader in Mexican Scouts as well!

So, let me tell you a bit about his Eagle project. That in itself was a journey. Danny has volunteered for a couple of years with our local humane society, Amigos de los Animales. So he naturally hoped to do his Eagle project there. He talked with the director, and had a major project planned to repaint and restore the cages (photos above). He met with various painting contractors to learn what had to be done and how, and had a list of equipment and supplies to purchase and a plan for the big day. Then, just before project day, word came that Amigos de los Animales were going to remodel the building. The cage restoration would have to be delayed. But Danny’s Eagle project couldn’t wait. You have to complete Eagle before you turn 18, which for Danny will be this next September. So he had to quickly find another project. And, he still promised to do the cages, once the surrounding remodel is complete, as long as it can happen before he graduates from high school next spring.

After meeting with a few other organizations in town, he decided to work with one of our local orphanages, Ciudad de los Niños (photos above; click to enlarge photos). The Head Mother and Danny agreed on a two-part plan.

  1. The first part was the biggest: clearing several tons of dirt. You see, a couple of years ago there was a large soccer tournament here in town. A nearby school had asked permission to build a soccer field on the orphanage’s property, and they’d agreed. The problem was, after the soccer field was created, the builders left seven huge piles of dirt, rocks and garbage — tons and tons of heavy, compacted mounds— along the wall of the orphanage property. In rainy season, it causes runoff and flooding on the orphanage property, plus lots of mud, and in the dry season dust and dirt blow everywhere, hurting the kids’ eyes as they try to play or study. So, Danny would arrange to first loosen up the dirt in the mounds, smooth it out and use it to fill in the holes,  ruts and uneven terrain at various places around the playground. To give you an idea of the enormity of the task, the wall in the photos below is four meters high.
  2. Secondly, Danny would build a portable volleyball net, so that the kids could use the existing basketball court (concrete) or soccer field (dirt) for volleyball.

The Eagle Scout patch that Danny hopes to earn

As you may well know, an Eagle project is a culmination — the highest rank advancement in US American Scouting. To achieve it the Scout needs to demonstrate the skills he has acquired throughout his Scouting career; he must be the leader, in every way, of the Eagle project. Danny started by getting a dirt-moving expert out to take a look around and advise. In the process, the guy agreed to bring the bulldozer for a day and do the work on a voluntary basis, because he, too, is a Scout. Hooray! First hurdle jumped.

Then Danny set up a Facebook event, where he announced the project. He invited many community leaders, as well friends and his Scout group here, to participate. He met with teachers at school (ICO: Instituto Cultural del Occidente) to obtain permission for those helping to earn community service hour points. He asked everyone to bring shovels, and got rakes, brooms, trash bags, ice water, even some popsicles. He secured recycled poles and tires, and worked with his godfather to cement the poles into the tire bases to support a volleyball net that would be movable rather than permanent. He purchased two nets and a volleyball. He worked hard alongside loads of blessed friends and Scout brothers and sisters, and he supervised every step of the project.

The scheduled date of the work day had to be changed twice: once due to the heavy machinery company’s changing schedule, and another time due to the orphanage’s  schedule changes. Finally, work day arrived. That was yesterday, Saturday June 1, 2013.

All went off splendidly. I have never seen 26 young people work so hard in all my life! My official role was photographer (thank goodness!), and it was so thrilling to turn 360 degrees and see people working on different projects everywhere I looked!

  • On one side, the bulldozer (driven by Danny’s good friend, Noel) worked all day moving dirt, while young men with shovels helped. Click on any photo to enlarge it.
  • On the other side, young people cleaned, fixed and reassembled playground equipment. They also made a big pile of miscellaneous broken toys and parts they collected from the huge yard.
  • On a third side, a group of young women painted the volleyball net support poles.
  • In the middle of everything, groups of kids cleaned up trash, raked, and swept walkways.

  • Another group removed rocks that were a danger to the kids, and repaired landscaping details.
  • Yet another group of young people with shovels filled in holes and ruts on the playground with some of the dirt that was being removed from the fence line. The dirt was so hard that they had to soften it up with water in order to be able to spread it around.
  • One of the young women arrived with a big bag of toys for the orphanage kids.
  • As the heat of the day got to be a bit much, a group of the young women got the hose out to water all the plants. Which, of course, also started a laughter-filled water fight.

About 4:00 the bolis arrived—Danny had ordered delivery of popsicles in a pushcart as a surprise. The orphanage kids, nuns, and of course the workers loved that. A couple of the Scout leaders went shopping to buy sandwich fixings at one point, as some of the kids were hungry. The ham sandwiches were very well received. The kids worked hard, and they played. They loved the playground equipment: the swings, teeter-totter, slide and merry-go-round, almost as much as the orphans. A group of orphans at one point all climbed up in the bulldozer for a ride, until the nuns put a stop to that, of course. Some of the young workers actually climbed into the shovel of the bulldozer and got a ride around, too. There was a lot of fun to be had amidst the dirt, sweat and hard work. (Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.)

The paint didn’t dry on the poles for the volleyball net yesterday, so we’ll go back this week and attach the volleyball net for the kids. The really GOOD news is that Danny’s local Scout Group 4 has agreed to adopt the orphanage — to go out there regularly and help out. Next time they’ll go will be in a couple of weeks, when the bulldozer will come again to finish up the final dirt pile and to do some more smoothing. Below are some “after” photos, showing how clean (and flat!) the playground area is after the work day.

We are incredibly grateful to the 26 people who showed up yesterday. Bless you all!

Group Photo

The group shot at the end of the day. Tired but happy!

We are also eternally grateful to have been blessed with our son, Danny. He has given us 17 years of pure joy and unbelievable love. Congratulations, soon-to-be Eagle Scout. Thank you for striving to be the best you can be, and to make our community a more humane place in which to live. We love you.

I am planning to put together a video of yesterday’s project, and will share that with you all as soon as it’s ready. That will most certainly not be today!

UPDATE 13 June: Here’s the Indiana Jones spoof I made from some of today’s video footage:

Moving to Mexico (Mazatlán) with School Kids

The goal of this blog post is to explain some of the things we have learned while parenting a school-aged child in Mexico (or at least in Mazatlán, Sinaloa), and some of the contrasts with the US system of education. Much of the information below comes from the questions we are most frequently asked by those who are thinking about or planning to relocate.

Obviously the below is based on our experience as a family; many will have different opinions and experiences. It is worthwhile noting that people moving to Mexico City, Monterrey or Guadalajara will have many more choices than we have here in the “provinces,” as they say in Spanish.

I hope some of this might help you as you think about relocating. I only wish this sort of information had been available to us when we moved!

Choosing a School
Make the decision around choice of school with thought and care, after thinking about your goals and realities. In addition to the questions you’d ask in evaluating any new school, some of the questions I’d recommend when considering schools in Mexico include:

  • Do you want your child to learn Spanish? If so, do you want him/her to develop native-level fluency, or just foreign-language level fluency?
  • How long will you be living in Mexico? Will your next assignment be in another country, or back home?
  • Do you want to give your child an international experience or a Mexican experience?
  • Do you speak Spanish? Does your child? If not, are you committed to learning?
  • In what grades are your children? If they will be entering university after graduating school in Mexico, you want to be sure s/he will have the qualifications needed for the university of choice, of course.
  • How will the school help your child to acculturate, and to learn Spanish? Do they have a new student/family orientation, and a mentor/buddy system? Is there tutoring available?
  • It’s also wise to ask about testing and minimum grade requirements, as some schools require students maintain a certain grade average to remain in school.
  • Ask how the school will handle things if your child gets poor grades the first few terms due to lack of Spanish language skill.
  • Ask for a schedule of tuition and fees, including fees for after-school activities, transportation, books, uniforms and other miscellaneous expenses such as photo IDs.

Schools, both private and public, are clearly ranked by SEPyC (Department of Education) according to test scores. Ask other parents and people in the community for their recommendations as to the best local schools and why.

Class size can vary remarkably by school, sometimes with as few as 15 students per class to as many as 50 or more. School facilities will also vary. Be sure to take a look at computer labs, science facilities, sports fields and gymnasiums, if these are important to you. It can be especially difficult to find schools that have grass on the futbol (soccer) fields, or nets on the basketball hoops, for example. Ask about school-sponsored after-school activities, as some schools offer music, sports, and drama vespertinas, supervised by the teaching staff, on the school grounds. Some also offer after-school homework help or tutoring, sometimes at no additional fee. You may also wish to inquire about before and after school transportation, as walking or riding bicycles to school is not common in Mexico as it is in the the States or Canada.

Search the Internet, ask around, and select a few schools you would like to visit. Be sure to visit in person, and allow a few hours so you can meet with the staff, see the facilities, and visit a classroom or two. Please be aware that use of the Internet and email in schools is not nearly as prevalent as it is north of the border. Calling the school to speak with personnel, or better yet, a visit live and in person, will usually get you much more information than an email, which may often go unanswered or even unread.

Remember that schools are usually organized as primaria (grades 1-6), secundaria (grades 7-9) and bachillerato or prepa (grade 10-12). Primarias may include kindergarten and pre-K. Many schools will not include prepa on the same campus, so be sure to ask. Some prepas (preparatorias) lead directly into and are a part of a university. These tend to be the better schools, in our experience. Be careful; many Mexicans, when speaking English, will use the words “high school” to mean secundaria. This is perhaps because secundaria is the highest level of required education.

Something that new immigrants may not think about is to ask if the classrooms have air conditioning. Here in Mazatlán, as in most places in the US, we feel it is very important to also take a close look at campus security.

Types of Schools
Large urban areas in Mexico may have international schools or American schools abroad. These schools teach in English, using the US or another international system. Such schools also teach Spanish as a foreign language, sometimes as a second language. I’d recommend an international or American school abroad if you are planning to only spend a year or two in Mexico, and particularly if there is a good chance that once you complete your assignment in Mexico you’ll be moving to another international location. The advantages to an international school are that your child will be meeting kids from a broad variety of nationalities. Connections tend to be good: children of business executives, diplomats. Families at these schools tend to be mobile, so it’s easier to make friends quickly, and the schools are accustomed to welcoming and integrating new children and families. Downsides are that you and your child will not get a very “Mexican” experience at school. As of this writing (and still in 2014), there is no official International or American school in Mazatlán.

Most Mexican cities will also have “bilingual” schools. These are private schools with classes taught in Spanish, but with a major emphasis placed on the children learning English (or another) as a second language. Some classes will be taught in English, and others in Spanish. You will need to pay careful attention, as many schools that are not really “bilingual” call themselves such, though there are many that truly seem to be.

Talk to several of the teachers; are they bilingual? Talk to some of the children; are they? Review the curriculum and the textbooks your children will be using. The advantages to a bilingual school are that your children will have an easier transition to learning Spanish and adjusting to the system, and as parents you’ll be able to speak to school administrators in English to help clarify and resolve initial adjustment issues. Other advantages include that your children will be attending school with Mexican children from families that are committed to their success, and often who have themselves traveled or lived internationally. Disadvantages of the bilingual school include that tuition can be pricey for Mexican nationals; thus, your children may go to school primarily with children from wealthy families rather than from a cross-section of society. According to your beliefs, this could be perceived as an advantage.

A bilingual school was our choice. When we arrived in Mexico, our son did not speak Spanish. Having some of the classes (in his case English and science) in English really helped with the transition and his self-esteem while he settled in, and having school mates and teachers who could speak English, at least somewhat, helped, too.

Every community will have public schools. These schools teach in Spanish and are publicly funded. These schools are free to the public, although there are still fees associated with attending, and books and supplies to buy. Parents at public schools are expected to participate more in school activities (such as cleaning the school if there is an illness) than are parents at private schools. English as a foreign language is part of the curriculum. Some of the public schools can be very excellent. Facilities tend to be basic. Check if the school has heating or air conditioning, as may be needed in your area, and its track record on flooding or leaking during the rainy season if that happens in your area. Even a public school may have a principal or key teachers who speak English or who have lived overseas, so you may get lucky in that regard.

Advantages to the public school are its ease and affordability, and the fact that most of the children attending the school will be local. Thus, your children will be able to get to know their neighbors and easily meet playmates. As parents you will also get to know your neighbors and more easily become part of the local community or neighborhood. Another little-touted advantage is that most if not all public schools have testing every other month, according to the SEPyC calendar.

Disadvantages tend to be in the quality and maintenance of the facilities, which will vary by school and parental/teacher involvement. We visited our local public school before enrolling our son in a private school, and that school was our second choice. The principal and teachers were very enthusiastic and excited about having an international student in their student body, and we felt very welcomed.

In our experience many Mexican families who are middle class or above avoid the public schools and put their children in private schools. However, our experience in Mazatlán has taught us that there are some truly excellent public schools. If you are interested in this option, check them out, ask around and compare. It seems pretty easy to have your child go to a high quality public school other than the neighborhood school, if that’s your enrollment preference.

There are parochial (mostly Catholic) schools in most communities. These schools have varying degrees of religiosity. Some are run by the church/priests, others by nuns, some by lay people. The quality of the education and facilities can be very good, but varies by school.

There are also private schools that are not “bilingual” per se. Many of them are “chains” that you will see in most Mexican cities. Some schools may specialize in technology, global citizenship, a Montessori approach, or some other subject. Some are much better regarded than others, and the tuition varies as well. These schools tend to have a good diversity within the student body, attracting students from all over town. Advantages to these schools are that you can select the quality and the focus of education that you desire. We have found that most Mexican families who can afford the tuition prefer to send their children to private school. Private school tuition in Mexico is much lower than in Canada, the US or Europe. Tuition at private schools in Mazatlán, for example, can be anywhere between US$50 and US$300/month.

Documents for Registering Your Child for School
Be sure to get all your child’s school documents in order before you move. Remember that Mexican officials love to be official; they require documents on letterhead that include signatures and stamps or embossing—the more the better. If you bring a computer printout from the USA, which is so common there, have the principal or some other school official sign and stamp the printout. You will need:

  • Original certified versions of your child’s birth certificate—be sure they are stamped, preferably with an embossed seal. Bring several of these with you when you move, as they are harder to get from Mexico, and you’ll need them for visa purposes as well as school registration.
  • Apostillized records of your child’s school record, particularly noting the last grade completed and the next level of education the child is authorized to enter. Apostillized records can be a bit challenging to obtain. You’ll need to call your school’s district office and may have to visit your state’s Secretary of State’s office. They will give the records to you in a sealed envelope that you should not open.
  • At least one and preferably three years’ worth of original, signed grade cards/report cards.
  • Passport-sized photos of your child.

Not necessary but helpful:

  • Letters from the school principal, a teacher or two, a Scout leader, minister or community leader, recommending your child. While these are not required, they smooth the way to help you get into the best school, and can help ensure a quicker SEP (Board of Education) registration as well.
  • Copies of any awards the child has received.

Most schools in Mexico require that the children wear uniforms, even from pre-primary. Usually there are at least two and fairly often three different uniforms you will need to purchase. Uniforms include shoes and often specify the color of socks and belt. There is the everyday uniform, most often a logoed polo shirt and slacks with black leather shoes for boys, and a polo and skirt or jumper with black leather shoes for girls. There is also usually a “deporte” or PE uniform, most often shorts, logoed t-shirt, and white sports shoes, but often also including a sweat suit with logoed jacket and pants. Finally, many schools have the dress uniform or “gala,” which for boys includes a tie.

In addition to uniforms, most schools also have a dress code including requirements on length of dresses/skirts, length of hair, etc.

Adjusting to School and Life Here
Your children’s experiences will of course be different than ours, but I’ll explain our son’s experience adjusting. We moved as he was entering middle school (secundaria), seventh grade. We purposefully moved then, before he was much older, because we believed it would be harder to move as friendships solidified in junior high and high school. Moving as we did seemed to be perfect timing. Our son was changing schools from elementary to middle school anyway; he just changed countries of residence and language of instruction, too.

We knew Spanish would be a big hurdle. We very much wanted our son to become bilingual. Therefore, before we moved we had a tutor come in to our home twice a week for a year to help our son learn Spanish. His school also taught Spanish twice a week, k-6 (but unfortunately the kids could still barely count and say “hello how are you”). At the end of the year of tutoring, he still didn’t speak Spanish, but the experience he gained and the familiarity with the basics of the language were invaluable.

Once we arrived, we again hired a tutor to help him with Spanish, homework and test prep for about the first 4-5 months. This got expensive and oh-so-time-consuming, but it was invaluable. He learned little by little, and about the time we were all starting to go crazy because the homework load felt so heavy and there was no light at the end of the tunnel, he went to bed one night and woke up the next morning understanding Spanish. Honestly, I don’t know how else to explain it. He had a steady learning curve with the language until one day, boom, the light switch flipped on and he could understand. I’m guessing something similar will happen for your child as well. I wish it would happen that way for us!

From the first day of school our son felt very comfortable and welcomed by the other kids and by the teachers. He of course felt completely lost because of his lack of language comprehension, but he did not experience exclusion, bullying, or anything like that. He was invited to parties (he often didn’t realize he was being invited, or he wouldn’t understand who/where/when, but he was invited) and gatherings. People here tend to be inclusive and very friendly. Though of course there are jerks everywhere! Our son likes his alone time, so with the stress of acculturation the first year, he chose not to socialize a whole lot. This worried us a bit. We feel that the second year has been a lot better. He’s much more relaxed, and is attending at least two parties or outings each week.

Another great thing we did was to have our son continue with Scouts. He was a Boy Scout in the US, and he was interested in continuing here. Here in Mazatlán there are four troops, and those troops include both boys and girls from k or 1st through about 23 years old. It is an absolutely terrific experience. They meet in the city park each Saturday afternoon, they get a lot of exercise, release a lot of energy, learn a bunch, and these kids truly love and care for each other. They also go hiking, biking and camping, and do some out-of-state regional or national Scout activities several times a year. It was very fortunate for us to have a second group of friends for our son to bond with.

On our one-year anniversary living here, our son said that moving to Mazatlán was the best decision of our lives. He loves it here. He has a terrific lifestyle on the beach, he’s getting a sound education, he has terrific friends with good values, and teachers, neighbors and friends who care about his welfare. We are blessed.

As far as adjusting goes, it tended in our experience to be the little things that would trip us up. For example, in the beginning you don’t know where to buy school supplies. The notebooks we ended up buying were too small, and one of the teachers told Danny to go to a papelería and have them stitch two notebooks together into one! And, surprisingly to us, they did this for us! We were also told we had to have the notebooks laminated. We procrastinated for quite some time, figuring it was one detail we could blow off and not bother with in our very busy setting-in schedule. But, no, it seemed to be a highly important requirement. Live and learn.

US Schools vs. Mazatlán Schools
In the US our son went to a public school, a very good one. The school here is much smaller than what had at home. The homework load is about the same—a couple of hours a night. This feels MUCH heavier in the beginning, when everything needs to be translated. The kids here wear uniforms to school, which includes a dress shirt and tie on Mondays, and leather dress shoes with slacks and polo every day except gym day. Hair is kept short. Cell phones are not allowed.

Our son’s friends in middle school in the US study 6 subjects, at least two of which are electives. Our son has no electives and 13 different classes: Spanish, math, history (last year geography), civics and ethics, PE, technology, theater, home room, religion, critical thinking, English and science (last year biology, this year physics), and social participation. In addition, he also has a social participation activity once a month on Saturday morning, an outreach program in which the students do some good for the community around them.

We feel that the caliber of the basic classes is not as strong as what he had in the US. The math is at a lower level than we were used to, for example. But it’s still strong, and he went to a very good school in the US. The thing we love about the school here is the breadth of subjects that are studied. There is also a good depth of subjects, including, last year, how to be a good citizen of the community! We are very happy with the values-based education he is obtaining here.

The school year in the States is usually based on two semesters, four quarters. Here they have five “blocks.” The school year here starts in mid-August, and goes through early to mid-July. The length of the school year was a big surprise to us. We expected to have more time during the summer vacation to visit family north of the border. We did find last year that classes often end in late June. There are a couple of semi-“dead” weeks, when kids come to school or not, and there are lots of group activities. Then, in early July, there are awards ceremonies, graduation, and final grades handed out. For those of us eager to get out to visit grandparents and cousins, the end of the year finds us chomping at the bit. Our son, however, looks forward to this low-key time with his friends.

Grades are given each month, and a formal report card is given each block. In the States, grades tend to be A, B, C, D and F. Here the grades tend to be 1-10, with 10 being the high score. In our school 7 or below is unacceptable and considered failure.  It seems to us a much narrower scale than we are used to. Grades for a given class or grade level seem to cluster heavily in the 8s and 9s, with a difference of only a hundredth or perhaps a tenth of a point to distinguish the top in the class from the bottom.

One of the realities that we really dislike here is the constant testing. Sometimes we feel they spend as much time preparing for and taking tests as they do learning anything! The board of education (national and state) requires bi-monthly testing, to ensure that students are meeting minimum standards. While this is no doubt a great thing, the problem we see is that most private schools (or no doubt good public schools) are way beyond those minimum requirements. This then begets a double system of testing. One month the kids do 3-4 days of SEP (board of education) testing. The next month they are tested on the more advanced material that the school is actually teaching them. It’s sort of like keeping two sets of financial records. Our son found this very confusing and difficult to get used to, but now we’ve got it down.

Another interesting phenomenon here is the emphasis on group work. We have been told that the national government has instructed the schools to teach Mexicans to be more collaborative, to work better in teams. Thus, the board of education requires (we have heard) that a certain amount of work be done, not individually, but by small groups (3-7 kids in our case). We were excited about this, and we still enjoy it. But it is definitely logistically challenging. As one might expect, some kids tend to do all the work and others not much; some kids always show up for group meetings and others don’t; large projects tend to be left till the last minute and then panic sets in; kids love to get together and play and school work is the last thing they want to do; etc. As parents we have really appreciated the chance to host the kids’ group meetings in our home, as it allows us to get to know the kids better. It’s just that, in our experience, there is a lot of it.

The PTA was a big deal in our school in the US. In our experience thus far, it is not so important here. I am a “room mother” this year. The duties seem to entail opening official test packages on occasion (requires parental supervision) and conducting the school carnival/fund raiser. We do not feel nearly as connected to the school here as we did in the US. Part of that of course is the difference between primary school and junior high, but in the States it seemed like we were always at a school event. Here we have the school carnival, sports games, and the occasional play or poetry reading, but nothing near the parental attendance and socializing that we were used to NOB.

It is worth noting that many schools here do not have a school library. Those that do frequently have a very small library that is very rarely used. A school library does not seem to be the resource here that it is in the US. Most of the kids here seem to eat school lunch, which is a la carte, at least at our school, and reasonable in cost. Food ranges from tortas (sandwiches) to sushi, raw veggies and burritos or molletes (beans on bread with melted cheese). Our eighth grader attends school from 6:50 am to 2:30 pm, and during the school day he has two recesses/lunch breaks.

A final difference that comes to mind is the ritual of the drop off and the pick up. This can be a major social activity for the Moms, depending on the school, and it can be a major pain in the butt traffic- and time-wise. We have found it MUCH easier to use the school-provided (but expensive) bus transportation, which picks our son up right at our front door, and drops him off there as well. It was pretty funny when we first came to town. Since we live five minutes from school, we asked if our son could ride his bicycle to school. The administrators were horrified we’d even consider such a dangerous activity!

Extracurricular Activities
Our school has quite a broad selection of after-school activities, as do most of the private schools and some of the public ones. This is definitely a good question to ask.

Most schools have after-school asesorías or tutoring in the core subjects (science, math). There are usually several sports teams or clubs (futbol/soccer, volleyball, cheerleading, and gymnastics at our school), and some arts clubs as well (theater, music, choir, guitar).

In addition to the school-affiliated activities, most towns and cities have private sports leagues and clubs, art and music institutes, language schools, and country-club facilities (golf, tennis, swimming).

Providing your children access to another culture and language are invaluable gifts. We highly encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity, and to do so as thoughtfully as possible. Remember that transitions are delicate times, and can be trying for all family members; be gentle with yourselves.

Links to Some Well-Known Schools in Mazatlán
A complete list
Colegio Andes
Anglo Moderno
ICO (Instituto Cultural del Occidente)
Tec Milenio (prepa)
Instituto Británico

Inauguración de la temporada de futbol

Danny has played soccer since he was about four years old. We’ve been through the routine: practice, practice, practice. Hand out the uniforms. Receive a season schedule, as well as a sign-up sheet for parents to bring oranges and drinks to one of the games. Take the group photo. Pay for the photos, and forget to send the photos you’ve purchased to friends and relatives, so that you save a whole pile of years of soccer photos in the drawer, untouched. Attend the games and yell and scream and have a terrific time with the other parents. Play in a tournament or two, and maybe win a trophy or medal. No ceremony for the winners; the medal or trophy is handed out whenever, after the close of the tournament. Have a swim party at a parent or coach’s house to celebrate the end of the spring season.

So, this is our first year in Mazatlán. Danny’s now in junior high. He was psyched to be able to make the school futbol team; he was worried his American skills wouldn’t be good enough down here, where kids have grown up playing street soccer every day. They do have great ball handling, but Danny’s fast, and a sound defender. He’s gratefully on the team.
Last week Wednesday we are told that he needs to be at ICO, the major school in town, tomorrow at 4:30. No other info. Forget that we might have other plans; everything here is always last minute (like hearing on Friday night that the first game of the tournament will be Saturday morning at 8 am, or hearing Tuesday night that Wednesday there won’t be school. People here aren’t big on planning and prior notice). On Thursday at school Danny’s told to bring 20 pesos, a copy of his birth certificate and school ID, and his PE uniform to ICO that afternoon.
So, we drive to ICO. We’ve taken a small camera, just in case. We are not sure what to expect. Sign-up for the soccer season? If so, we expect long lines, and figure that’s why we’ve brought the birth certificate and 20 pesos. Perhaps a scrimmage or a game? Maybe team photos? We have taken Danny’s soccer team uniform, shin guards, cleats and ball just in case—good Boy Scouts that we are, we are prepared for anything as we have no idea what to expect. As usual. 🙂
We arrive at ICO. No parking places, as it appears every car in Mazatlán is at this school. Obviously this is not a simple gathering but something major. We enter ICO for the first time; these Franciscans have some money—it is a huge school with new and well-maintained buildings, a central promenade of palm trees, and numerous gymnasiums, courts and stadiums. They are obviously sports nuts. The facilities are unbelievable and envy-producing. The crowd (hundreds of people, if not a thousand–a huge crowd) is walking down the palm-lined promenade to the other end of the school, which feels about three blocks away. There is a large outdoor covered auditorium, encircled by cement bleachers. We find Danny’s team and wait. We are surrounded by other teams, coaches, parents, cheerleaders, bands, you name it. It is definitely noisy and crowded. It’s a party. Everything here is; any excuse for a party. We love it.

An hour after the appointed time, about 5:30, we file into the auditorium. The kids go under the bleachers. Apparently there is a very large room down there, because there have got to be about 30 or more teams that gather down there. Along with the cheerleaders, pom pom girls, flag girls, drum majors, and bands. Ok, this seems like it’s going to be a big ceremony. We are now told it’s the “inauguration of soccer season,” the ICO Cup Tournament.

There is a head table. A few speeches are given. ICO is exhalted as a wonderful school about 11 times. Come on already. It’s nice of you to sponsor the tournament, but enough horn-tooting and advertising for the school.
A band plays. There is dancing. The teams are announced, and school by school they parade out into the auditorium, circle the main floor, and are seated. Much fanfare. You’d think you were at the Olympics.
Another band plays. There is smoke and a light show. Fire jugglers entertain us. Several dance routines by scantily clad young women and primary school girls. Confetti is dropped from the rafters. Kids cheerfully jump to catch the confetti, amidst another laser light show and dance routine. Just like the start of the recreational soccer season at home. Ha! Not even pro soccer in the US gets this much fanfare. And I only have my little camera. I say about ten times how I wish I’d brought the good camera. Who would have known? We see our friend Bob Gallagher, and Maria Anderson. They both knew it would be the inauguration, but neither of them told us. We didn’t know they’d be here, so we didn’t know to ask them. Oh well, such is life in a new place.

Then, what we’ve evidently all been waiting for: the lighting of the torch. Two men, this year’s tournament heads, are handed a lit torch by last year’s tournament leader. The torch seems to be burning out of control. The two men don’t really want to hold it–it looks dangerous. One of them takes the torch, but seems to want to slam it to the cement floor and stomp on it to put out the fire. But, no, he’s urged to climb the steps, towards the fire pot, to light the large Olympic-style fire container. The man obviously is very uncomfortable. The torch is nearly burning his hand and arm off. He hurries. He lights the main fire container. While everyone cheers and applauds, the out-of-control torch is hurled to the ground and several men try to jump on it to put the fire out. But, burning liquid pours out from the torch, and we now have a fire show: a three-meter-long firefall behind the main Olympic fire. Cool, but obviously unintended. Definitely dangerous. Thank God for concrete buildings!

It’s now about 7:30 pm. We’ve been at ICO three hours. We’ve heard five or six bands, seen about 12 dance routines. We’ve had laser light shows and confetti drops, as well as the intended and unintended fire shows. Everyone’s itching to get home; enough’s enough. Parents start to stand up, walk over and get their kids to take them home. Father Ian, the head of ICO, grabs the microphone to ask people, in fluent Spanish, to please stay just 15 minutes more. No one listens. There is chaos as parents push through the crowd, weaving amidst the marching band and dancing flag girls with no care as to how long these poor kids have prepared for this night. They get their kids and jam the aisles and the performance arena as they attempt to leave. Thank goodness the auditorium is not on fire, as no one is able to get out quickly. Miraculously no one is injured, no ambulances called. By 8:00, the auditorium is empty, the cacophony had died down. A terrific inaugural, for sure. A delicious slice of the cultural life of Mazatlán.