New Skate Park

We are soooo happy about the new skate park that was built late last year right on the beach in Playa Norte, accessible from the malecón. Built with federal funds and after lots of campaigning by the city’s young people, it is a MUCH-needed space for teenagers to gather, stay out of harm’s way, and get some exercise.

Every morning when we take our walk, we’re amazed that there are kids out there fooling around so early. They’re on BMX bikes, inline skates, as well as skate boards. They have their music blasting, and it’s terrific to see all those smiling faces and physically active kids!

We’ve been a bit worried that construction didn’t seem to include reinforcement of the underlying structure, which to us seems really weathered and rusted, but so far the structure seems stable and the park itself, with its ramps and jumps, seems highly successful.

The first major event we know about occurred when we were out of town: Urban Fest on December 17, with break dancers and graffiti artists as well as skateboarders. We heard the turnout was great; a wonderful kickoff to the new space!

One day last week when Danny was running he met a lady who told him that she and her three children had lived for 32 years in the abandoned beachfront building that is now under the new skate park! That space is open to the elements, frequently floods with the tide coming in, and as far as we know there is no running water or sewer nearby, so it must have been quite a tough life for her raising three children there. She makes her living by selling fresh coconuts, and fortunately she told Danny that her business is on the uptake now with the skate park there. The other good news is that, when the government kicked her out in order to build the skate park, they gave her land and a two-room house. Now she has much better living conditions as well as a better income. Sometimes things work out.

Anyway, this last week Friday we were eating at Puerto Azul on the malecón. We were psyched because in addition to the incredibly beautiful view and perfectly sunny day, there was great music coming from the skate park next door. A huge crowd gathered, and it felt like the vibra of the old, pre-economic crash Mazatlán that we miss so much! Luckily for us, that afternoon was the “Reyes de la Calle” skateboard tournament. We enjoyed an incredible show of skateboard and in-line skate tricks, as well as BMX bike acrobatics and spray paint artistry, while we ate our shrimp and fish. Mazatlecos placed first and third in the competition, and there were about 100 kids who participated.

Below are two videos, made by young Mazatlecos, about the skate park. Enjoy! ¡Viva el Skate Park Mazatlán!

Thanksgiving Day Gratitude for Danny’s School

This Thanksgiving, I am so very grateful for Danny’s school. There are downsides, as with anything, such as the large class size. But the upsides!

First came the study of world religions. Yes, this would seem to be tailor-made to make this mother happy. 🙂  A Xaverian Catholic school that teaches the major world religions. As I have helped Danny with his homework, we have discovered what I feel are a few inaccuracies or biases, but hey, he’s got me to help correct those 🙂 And, amazingly wonderfully, the teacher has been open to hearing what Danny has to say!

But today’s homework for his “ethics and values” class was a home run for the whole family! If you have any interest in Mexico at all, or in legal systems in general, you have GOT to see this movie! Called “Presunto Culpable,” it came out back in 2010, but somehow we missed it.

It is a documentary presented by a team of Mexican lawyers, about the Mexican system of “guilty until proven innocent.” The movie follows the story of one young man wrongly convicted of murder, and the saga he goes through to try and prove his innocence. The statistics that are presented in the movie are astounding, including the percentages of verdicts that are convictions (95%) and the percentage of convictions with no physical evidence (92%).

As if the movie weren’t powerful and thought-provoking on its own, the kids were put into pairs and told to summarize the movie in one-half to one page. They were then asked a series of really deep, reflective, valuable questions about democracy, human rights, and the personal traits that make for success. As with any film, I found those who take issue with it. Slant Magazine goes so far as to call it unethical.

Many of you who read this are dynamite educators. Bless your souls. I am very, very grateful this holiday that my son is benefitting from some dynamite teachers and a powerful curriculum, and grateful that throughout his life, each of his schools has benefitted him in wonderful ways! Thanks to the teachers who inspire our children!!!!!

High Schools and Foreign Residents in Mazatlán

 

The most popular post on this blog has been the one about choosing schools, entitled “Moving to Mazatlán with Kids.” It would seem that more and more families are moving to Mexico, and Mazatlán in particular, with families, and there is a dearth of English-language information available to them.

Next year our son will be entering high school/prepa. We have gone through quite the comprehensive process with him, so that we could choose the most appropriate high school for his needs. I therefore thought it might be worthwhile to share with you some of the information we gained, in hopes it might help you with your planning, and spur further conversation/information sharing.

I will write a review of the four high schools that we looked at. Please know there are many more schools than this in town (none currently offer an IB program), including the public (federal) school that is actually the most highly ranked on national ENLACE tests, Vasconcelos. We have several (local) friends whose children go there, and they rave about the education and the caliber of the students at this school. While it is not one of the four I’ll review below, it may well be worth a look. There are also at least two brand-new schools coming to town, though I do not know if either (will) include a high school: Montfort and Rex. We also increasingly meet people who are homeschooling their children, and they seem very happy with their choice.

All the schools below have bus and cafeteria service, as well as after-school sports teams and cultural clubs and activities. All of the schools listed conduct study for the TOEFL test, which most kids will need if they graduate high school in Mexico and want to attend university in an English-speaking country. They all have virtual classrooms, but use them to VERY varying extents. Electives are not offered, other than the specialized tracks offered by some schools third (senior) year.

Colegio Andes
This private school is part of the Universidad Anáhuac system (an affiliation that started in 2010). While it is not owned by the Catholic church, it is affiliated with the Legionaires of Christ. There is a mass once a month, weekly “social participation” (kids volunteer in the community), and a heavy emphasis on values and morals.

The content taught in the classes is of high caliber. Math classes include calculus and science is also quite advanced. Most of the students come up through Andes from primary school (which is bilingual), so they speak English fairly well. French is taught in high school; another advantage of this program.

The high school is fairly new (maybe five years ago they expanded from junior high to include a high school?) and thus still fairly small. It is located next to the University of Durango, behind Sam’s Club. A graduating class currently has at most 20 students. This can be a huge advantage, as the ratio of counselors/advisors to students is an amazing 1:3, and students obviously get focused attention in class. The disadvantage to the small numbers is, of course, on the social side of things: kids at this age end to want friends and lots of them.

Andes is comprised of an L-shaped building, with preschool and primary school on the lower floors, junior high on the middle floors, and high school on the top floor. They have a 3D model for a new high school building to be built on the property, though construction dates seem to keep changing. The facility is noisy as there are usually small children playing on the playground. They have an auditorium, a library, and a science lab. Sports facilities include several basketball courts (maybe half size) and a soccer field (again, maybe half size), though last year they built a full-size field that is still dirt.

Advantages to Andes include that students are automatically accepted to any Anáhuac university worldwide. Anáhuac offers quite a few national competitions as well as scholarship opportunities for students. Students become Microsoft-certified from junior high. During high school they can be certified in 4-6 applications. They can also participate, as of this writing, in Model United Nations; the only school in Mazatlán and perhaps in Sinaloa that participates in this terrific simulation. In senior year Andes has four areas of specialty from which to choose, though they due to low enrollments they have not yet offered all four. Kids have cubbies in the classroom and wear uniforms.

Contact: Miss Carmelita Sapién, Directora, eiramarina@hotmail.com
Costs: Registration: $5200-$6500; Tuition: $3400/mo; Bus: $600/mo (amounts in pesos)


Anglo-Moderno
Also a private school, this one is not affiliated with any church. It seems to have the largest number of foreign children amongst its students; we were told during our visit here that there are two or three in each class, while someone else during this same visit told us nearly 1/3 of their school is non-Mexican (Chinese, Indian, French, American). The facilities are brand new; this was their first year in the new facility, in the marina next to Tec, near the new International Center. The new buildings house the junior high and the high school; primary school remains at their old facility in town.

Content taught here is also of high caliber. Each class at the prepa level has about 30 kids, and there are two salones or groups at each grade level (60 kids each grade). We were told there is a maximum of 35 students per class, and on our visit it appeared that there were a lot more girls at Anglo than boys.

The school includes a science lab (with safety shower), and library (small with few books). Sports facilities include a basketball court with a special floor, tennis courts, and a soccer field with grass (VERY hard to find in Mazatlán). There are plans to build a 3-story gym and we were told they also have plans to build an Olympic-sized swimming pool this next summer (note that plans often are not implemented per schedule here). English is taught at Anglo from primary school, and French language is taught from junior high. Thus, it is the most advanced language-wise, but any kids entering at the high school level who have not taken French will be playing catchup.

Kids here have cubbies with no locks. They wear jeans and a uniform shirt that is quite fashionable (newly designed last year).

Contact: Ms. Sashenka Acosta Palacios, 916-5090/91, PR,  Dir. Prepa: Mrs. Nora Cevallos
Costs: Registration: $6454; Tuition: $3598/mo; Bus: $600/mo; $3000 books; $200 shirt, $250 shorts, $170 sports shirt (amounts in pesos)

ICO
This is the oldest of the schools we looked at, founded by the Franciscans at the request of the city of Mazatlán in 1951. It is huge, feeling almost like a city unto itself. ICO is a tradition in Mazatlán. You will generally find that when locals talk about where they went to school, they absolutely glow with pride when saying they attended ICO. It also hosts primary school, junior high and high school, so always has a lot going on. Class size is large: 50 students per class is common, and there are five salones or classes at each grade level (750 kids total in high school). While there are few if any non-Mexican students here, they do host about five foreign exchange students each semester.

ICO has the most extensive facilities of any of the schools listed here, though they are older and more basic. There is a large amphitheater at the school, and the high school has its own auditorium, built last year and very nice. They have three science labs (including safety showers and an eye wash station!): biology, physics, and chemistry, with extensive equipment and supplies. Definitely the best outfitted of what we saw. They claim to have the biggest library of books in Sinaloa (we saw school libraries that had nearly zero books on the shelves). They have large sports fields and a gymnasium. They even have their own radio station, run by the high school students! There is a large computer lab, but the computers were the most dated of any of the schools listed here. High school students can get Microsoft certified.

Religion is taught two hours per week, there is a “vocational” class one hour a week (focused on living out God’s word, whether you enter the ministry or remain a lay person), and mass is held once per month. Teachers here seem to stay here; they appeared to be the most experienced/longest tenured of those at schools we visited. Thus, teachers here tended to be older than at other schools (they stay till retirement).

In senior year the students in ICO have four tracks or specializations from which they can choose. High school students here have no cubbies or lockers; each student takes home all their books every night, and carries them around every day. They have uniforms. In our estimation ICO is the most socio-economically diverse of all the schools listed here, the others attracting upper-class or upper-middle-class children and perhaps a few scholarship students. Here you will see variations in skin color. Another plus for us with ICO is that they have rooms at school for trabajo en equipo, a SEP (secretary of education)-mandated “group work” for all secondary and high school kids. We are used to running all over town to shuttle kids to other kids’ homes for group work, and the fact that ICO encourages kids to do group work at school was a huge plus, in our opinion.

Contact: Ms. Rosa María Hernández Alvarez, Directora de Prepa, 983-2766, rmhd_54@hotmail.com

Alicia, sub-director, speaks English
Costs: Registration: +/-$3000; Tuition: $2022/mo (amounts in pesos)

Prepa Tec Milenio
This high school was originally part of Tec de Monterrey, but when Tec pulled out of Mazatlán last year, Tec Milenio (a subsidiary) took over the high school. I point this out because Tec de Monterrey has an excellent reputation worldwide; Tec Milenio is not quite the same so should not be confused. This campus is also very new, second only to Anglo.

Classes average about 30 kids per class, with 110 kids in each grade, 280 kids total at the high school. We were told maximum class size is 36. They have plenty of room to expand and are eventually planning to build a separate high school on the campus (university and high school are currently in the same facility). Tec also has more girls than boys, on an 11:9 ratio we were told. There is one tutor for each of the three grade levels of high school.

The positives about Tec, to us, included that they did not have primary school and junior high on site. It is primarily a university, so we felt the high school kids get well-prepared for college during prepa. Many of the teachers teach at the university level as well, and the high school entrance exam is a College Board test, with just a lower cut-off score than for those entering university. The other thing we liked about Tec was, well, how high-tech it is 🙂 High school students don’t carry books; they carry their laptops to school. Homework is online, and submitted to teachers online. Students can be sure what has been assigned and whether it was submitted, and parents can log in and check students’ progress anytime. Communication with teachers is by email, or you can schedule a meeting. Most every classroom had a projector mounted on the ceiling.

Facilities include an auditorium, computer labs (very modern), language labs, a science lab (with safety shower and eye wash) and a library (with quite an extensive collection of books). Sports facilities include a gymnasium (brand new), basketball and tennicourts, and a soccer field. Like ICO, Tec has special rooms at school for trabajo en equipo, which we consider a major plus. Tec also has a “VIP Lounge” exclusively for students on the honor roll. There are no uniforms, which is of course a huge plus for most kids.

Contact: Dinorah: dsarabia@tecmilenio.edu, 182-52-50 ext 7951
Costs: Registration: $4212; Tuition: $4212 x 5; Bus: $2500/semester; After-school activities: $1000/mo; Insurance: $420 accident and $522 tuition/year; Only 3 books or so; No uniforms

It is a challenge to compare high schools by any objective measure. The national ENLACE tests are an objective measure of ability, and I paste those below. However, I think it is important to point out that most of the private schools, at least the ones described in this post, do not appear to teach to the ENLACE tests. Each of these schools test once every other month on their own content, and once every other month on the SEP-mandated tests. In contrast, public schools, notably Vasconcelos, below, are said to target teaching to the ENLACE tests. Thus, the scores below, I feel, are not necessarily an accurate measure of the caliber of the education in the school. It is also important to remember that, according to OECD 2009 data, Mexico ranks 34th (out of 65 ranked countries) worldwide in math and reading (and science) scores (USA ranked 14th, Canada 3rd). I don’t think any of us chose to bring our children here purely on the basis of the quality of in-classroom education.

ENLACE Results
2010
Insufficient
Basic
Good
Excellent
Reading
National Average
10.1
26.7
47.3
16.0
Andes
0.0
25.0
45.0
30.0
Anglo
0.0
6.9
55.2
37.9
ICO
0.4
6.7
53.3
39.6
Tec
0.0
4.0
68.0
28.0
Vasconcelos
0.0
1.0
21.4
77.7
Mathematics
National Average
36.5
36.8
17.6
9.0
Andes
38.9
22.2
38.9
0.0
Anglo
6.9
41.4
41.4
10.3
ICO
6.4
34.5
34.1
24.9
Tec
0
47.6
33.3
19.0
Vasconcelos
1.8
12.3
43.9
42.1

In summary, after three years of living here, we are loving it. Danny has completely changed his outlook: he is now a citizen of the world, and looks at countries worldwide as places he could study or live, perspectives he could learn, rather than looking no farther than the next city (which was his outlook when we lived in KC). He is bilingual and bicultural, and growing more so every day. People here ask him if he speaks English, which brings me true joy (though occasionally I myself wonder the same thing!). We feel that moving here has GREATLY enhanced the quality of his education, his upbringing, and his life. What he has learned, inside and outside the classroom, is good. Not always on a par with what he learned in his (nationally blue-ribbon-rated) school in the US, but sometimes better, and definitely much broader, including world laws, children’s and women’s rights, values and morals, how to be a good citizen, etc.

Anyway, I hope that if you are moving to Mazatlán with school children, or are attempting to choose a high school, that some of the above might serve you.

 

Holy Week and Easter in Mazatlán/Semana Santa y Pascua en Mazatlán

If you say “Semana Santa” and “Mazatlán” in the same sentence, most people think of masses of national tourists crowding the beaches, partying in the clubs, and enjoying banda music.

We took a couple of videos of the banda Las Brisas on the beach at Inn at Mazatlán, if you’d like to see.

But this, the first Holy Week that we’ve actually stayed in Mazatlán, turned out to be quite a sacred event as well, thanks in large part to the young people of Pajuma, the Catholic youth group. This group of young people assembled behind us, in the stadium, from Thursday through Saturday to celebrate Holy Week and to pray for peace.

Most of the photos in this blog post are from the local newspaper, as I didn’t take any photos in church, and didn’t have my camera ready for many of the events.

PALM SUNDAY/DOMINGO DE RAMOS
Palm Sunday surprised me, as we showed up at church to find an entire marketplace of palm frond braiders selling their wares in the little plaza in front of the church. There was quite a variety of these beautiful folk art pieces, many of them very detailed, and very reasonably priced.

Most parishes in Mazatlán seem to conduct a reenactment of Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem. Actors dress up as Jesus on a donkey, as well as as the Apostles. Observers carry their palm fronds and cheer as Jesus comes into Jerusalem. These are some photos from the procession downtown, conducted by the Pajuma kids. They left the Templo de San José to proceed to the Catedral, and then after mass to go on to the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe down at La Puntilla.








































MAUNDY THURSDAY/JUEVES SANTO
Masses on Thursday usually include the traditional washing of the feet. This is of course the night of Passover, Jesus’ last supper with his Apostles. At that Passover celebration, the Bible tells us Jesus washed the feet of his friends. The humility inherent in washing someone else’s feet makes Maundy Thursday one of my favorite religious celebrations. Here, however, they wash feet a bit differently than what I’m used to in the States (I’m used to us parishioners either getting our feet washed or being able to wash the feet of others). Here the priest washes the feet of 12 men from the parish, representing the 12 Apostles, who are seated in front of the altar.

At the end of mass the altar is stripped and communion is stored away until we can celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Parishioners exit Mass in silence, or stay in the church for the Easter Vigil (Adoración al Santísimo), accompanying Jesus during his night of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemene.

This mass, for me, was quite awkward. We were all inside, meditating on the impending sacrifice of Our Lord. Outside, pulmonías (open-air taxis) were going by, music blaring on giant speakers, filled with drunken revelers hooting and hollering. While I felt happy for Mazatlán that people were filled with joy, and that much-needed money was flowing into the local economy, it poignantly captured the “life separate and apart” from larger society that Christians are exhorted to follow.

GOOD FRIDAY/VIERNES SANTO
One of the holiest days in the Christian calendar, today commemorates the day on which Christ died on the cross. Many parishes in Mazatlán conduct a Vía Crucis, or the way of the cross, reenacting Christ’s carrying of his cross to Calvary and, sometimes, his hanging and death. These reenactments can get painfully graphic.

The Vía Crucis usually culminates with a mass, during which parishioners kiss the feet of Jesus on the cross. Again, this is one of my favorite religious ceremonies of the year. Here in Mazatlán they stand and kiss the cross. In the US I was used to kneeling to kiss the feet of Jesus, on a larger cross than what is the custom here.













HOLY SATURDAY/SABADO DE GLORIA
Culminating Holy Week for many Catholics, Saturday evening is the lighting of the pascal fire, or the “fuego nuevo.” I always love this night, because the church is completely dark. Every parishioner brings a candle, which are, in Mexico, conveniently sold in front of the church on Holy Saturday. Fire is brought in from a bonfire outside, and used to light parishioners’ candles. The fire is passed from parishioner to parishioner, and the church is gradually filled with light and hope. It’s a gorgeous sight. A few Easter hymns are sung, during which the lights of the church are gradually turned on as well, and we can again sing “Aleluya,” because Christ is risen.

It is at this mass that we renew our baptismal covenant, renouncing evil and professing our faith. Holy water and sacred images are blessed. We can all go home and eat what we want, because the penance you’ve observed for the 40 days of Lent is complete. Unless, of course, you wait till Easter Sunday to attend mass 🙂

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
International
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.

Bilingual
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.

Public
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.

Parochial
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.

Private
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.

Uniforms
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.

Language
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!

Friends
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