by Michele Kinnon (Oct. 2013)
How do you choose the right school for your family? Once you have taken into consideration the length of your stay and the specific needs of your children, how do you find the best school to best fit your family? If you are lucky, you may find a school in Mexico that is similar to the one your children are leaving behind. Schools in Mexico vary greatly just as they do in Canada and the United States. Some have remarkable campuses filled with state-of-the-art equipment utilizing all the latest technologies. Others are small, child centric and arts oriented. Some boast well-funded competitive sports teams and arts programs while others offer no extracurricular activities at all.
Depending on your chosen location and the diversity of the local demographic, you may be surprised to find a nice variety of educational methodologies and philosophies to consider. Montessori, Waldorf, Piaget, International Baccalaureate (I.B.) and parochial (generally Roman Catholic) schools can be found in all of the larger cities in Mexico. Even the second and third tier metropolitan areas will have a dozen or more schools for you to consider. How do you go about choosing the right one?
Your search begins at home. Chances are, if you have settled on a destination, you have already done a significant amount of online research about your new hometown. You should begin your search for a school in Mexico before you leave home! Message boards and forums geared toward English-speaking visitors and residents will be an excellent resource for you as you plan your move. Here you will be able to find families, like yourself, who have already made the transition and will be happy to share their experiences with you. Perhaps you already have made some personal or professional connections in Mexico. If you have a realtor or have engaged the services of an immigration lawyer, they should also be able to provide you with a list of preferred schools. Education is one of the primary concerns for families relocating to and living in Mexico and you will undoubtedly find some very strong opinions on the matter. All of this information will be helpful to you in your decision-making process.
Prepare your documents. Assuming you or the company sponsoring you will have made contact with an immigration lawyer to prepare the documentation, you will need to acquire your residency and work visas. If you intend to enroll your child in school, there are certain items that will be required by the school and by SEP. Minimally, you will need your child's original birth certificate or an official copy with the raised seal. You will need an up-to-date vaccination record and a certificate of good health from your pediatrician. Finally, you will need to request an authorized copy of your child's school records in their entirety. Some schools may require that all of these documents be translated and "apostiled," a time-consuming process that should not be left to the last minute. Even if you intend to homeschool your children, having this process done before you leave will save you a lot of headaches later should you change your strategy later on.
Start making lists. Fellow expat families will be able to provide you with a list of preferred schools in the area that you are moving to. Many private schools now have excellent websites for you to peruse. This will help you to get familiar with the different campuses, curriculums and educational philosophies of the schools you have to choose from. A school's website may also give you a good indication of the make up of the student body. By now, you will have already complied a list of the specific academic and extracurricular needs of your children. Compare your list to the offerings of each school and rank them accordingly.
Make contact with all of the schools on your list. Using the school websites available to you, make contact via email with each of the schools' administrators. This is no time to try out your Spanish skills. If you are looking for a school with a strong English program to support your English-speaking children, you should expect a reply from an English-speaking representative of the school. If there is no one able to communicate with you in English, this will be the strongest indicator of the school's commitment to English language education. While French-speaking families will find fewer schools with resources for their French-speaking children, an honest attempt to communicate with you in your native language is not an unreasonable expectation for a school hoping to attract a foreign student body. Google Translate works wonders!
Set up interviews and campus tours. During your next trip to your new hometown in Mexico you will want to visit each of the schools on your list. Arrange for an interview with the Head of School or an English-speaking representative. These preliminary visits should be done without your child present. Come prepared with a list of questions that pertain to your child's scholastic needs and unique interests as well as the educational philosophy that your family follows. Take a tour of the school and spend time in a classroom if you can, preferably with the class your child would be entering. If your child is active in a particular sport or artistic pursuit, make sure to keep that in mind. You may be disappointed or pleasantly surprised by the classroom resources and campus facilities. Look around at the student body. Is it a multicultural group? Do the children seem happy and engaged? How does the school make you feel? Take detailed notes but try to reserve judgment until you have seen all of the schools on your list.
Narrow down your list and arrange a visit for your child to each of the remaining schools. By now, you will have a pretty good idea of which schools you feel may be most appropriate for your child and your family. Arrange an interview for your child with the school admissions officers and ask if your child can sit in on a few classes. Not all schools will require an examination for admittance but you should be prepared for that. This is not something your child should study for or worry about. In Mexico, children are generally placed in classrooms by age. Even if your eight-year-old child has the Spanish skills of a toddler, he or she can expect to be placed with students his same age. Experience has proven that children will catch up faster and more easily in a classroom with their peers.
Educating Your Children in Mexico Part 1