Tag Archives: going to school in Mexico

The cost of schooling in Mexico

It goes without saying that private schools are more expensive than public schools in Mexico. However, that doesn’t mean that public education is free.

Enrolling

Private schools require a downpayment called inscripción ( enrollment) at the beginning of the school year. It’s usually the equivalent of a month’s school fee. This holds your child’s place at the school. Should you decide not to have your child attend, you won’t get the inscripción fee returned.

Public schools require un cooperación voluntaria (voluntary donation) which can be as much as $500 pesos. Don’t be mislead by the name. It is not voluntary. You will not be able to enroll your child if you don’t have the bank statement showing you made the donation.

School fees

Private schools require a colegiatura (school fee) every month for 12 months. At schools that charge only 10 or 11 months of fees, the initial enrollment fee is doubled. The school sets this fee and the upper limit can be quite high. Schools in our area typically charge upwards of $2,000 per month. Schools in urban areas can have a colegiatura of more than $4,000 pesos.  

If you have more than one child enrolled in the same school, the school may give a discount to the second child. If you are a teacher at the school, you may also receive a discount. Each school is required to provide a certain number of becas (scholarships). It pays to inquire about those as well.

Public schools do not require a monthly payment. However, there may be additional fees for talleres (workshops) or elective courses. Public schools also give out becas. Our son had a becas of $400 pesos each semester for two years. It really helped out!

Uniforms

Both private and public schools require the purchase of at least 2 different uniforms. The uniforme diario consists of slacks, shirt, vest or sweater with school insignia for boys and a skirt or jumper, blouse, and sweater or vest with school insignia for girls. Both boys and girls must have appropriate dress shoes. Girls must wear medias (long socks) rather than mallas (stockings) unless there is extremely cold weather. The uniforme deportivo is the same for boys and girls, sweatpants, polo shirt and jacket with school insignia. These are only to be worn on days when the class is scheduled for P.E.

Uniforms can be pricey. Unless you plan on washing every evening, you’ll need to buy at least 2 complete uniforms at the beginning of the school year. Private schools often have the uniforms available for purchase at the school itself. Public school uniforms are bought where school uniforms are sold. You’ll be told at enrollment where to go to purchase them.

School uniform inspection is a daily event in some schools. Wearing a dirty or improper uniform may result in your child not being admitted to the school or sent home early. Make sure to bordar (embroider) your child’s name on the uniform or at the very least write his or her name on the tag. Sweaters and jackets are often lost and reclaimed by new owners without this identifying mark. There are places that offer embroidery service. Look for signs that say “se bordan nombres.”

Books

While both private and public schools are required to follow the SEP mandated curriculum, private schools add more books to the roster. It’s rare that the public schools use any books other than the free national textbooks, although not unheard of. In that case, there is a fee for any extra books. Private schools can have book lists of more than $3000 pesos. The English book set that I used as a teacher at the last private school I worked at cost $800 for a student book, workbook, and supplemental book.

Books must be paid for at the beginning of the school year. They are usually available at the school, however occasionally the school didn’t receive all the books and you’ll need to hunt them down at the libraría. With the other school fees, sometimes parents wait to purchase the books. However, the teacher typically starts using the textbooks on the second day of classes and the child without a book will quickly fall behind.

All books are paperback and must be covered in clear plastic contact paper. This process is called forrar and let me tell you, it’s anything but fun. Make sure to write your child’s name on the front cover of the book before you forrar. There are enterprising ladies who offer this service during the months of August and September. Look for signs that say “se forran libros.” Otherwise, you might want to watch this video a few times before tackling the task.

School supplies

Public preschool list

When you enroll your child, ask for the lista de útiles escolares (school supply list). This is the list of notebooks, required number of pencils, and additional material your child will need for class. It will also include things like a document folder, a ream of copy paper, whiteboard markers or chalk, manila folders, pens and other items that are for the teacher. Each school will have a different list of required items. Private schools require more items than public schools. Make sure all notebooks, dictionaries, and pencils have your child’s name on them although that still doesn’t prevent loss or theft entirely.

Public elementary school list

Notebooks are specifically described, so make sure you get both the right type and color. There’s a lot to choose from and it can be overwhelming.

Head to the papelería with your list. It’s easiest to just hand the whole list to the person behind the counter and buy everything at the same place. Many papelerías offer discounts if you get everything from their store.

The papelería will become your home away from home during the school year. Homework assignments will require all sorts of printed worksheets, maps, poster board, paint, styrofoam balls and more. When in doubt of exactly what your child needs, just ask the person working there.

Lunches

Not too long ago, SEP mandated that parents would no longer be permitted to drop off lunch for their children at the lunchtime. That hasn’t entirely prevented mothers and grandmothers from lurking at the gate and tossing a bagged lunch over the wall to their little ones.

Otherwise, you can send a packed lunch with your child in the morning or give them money to buy food available for sale. Most lunches cost about $20 or so. Keep in mind that there is ALWAYS a huge line. Lunch and recess together are no longer than 30 minutes. So if your child is waiting in line 10 minutes, then eating for another 10, he or she may only have 10 minutes for recreational activities.

Events

School events can be expensive. Schools almost always have events to commemorate Independence Day, Day of the Dead, Revolution Day, Christmas, Children’s Day, Mother’s Day, Teacher’s Day, and Father’s Day. The cost associated with these events varies from school to school with public schools requesting fewer donaciones (donations) than private schools. Depending on the event, you may be required to buy a special outfit for your darling child to perform at school or march in a parade, donate food items for a school-wide kermes (fundraiser) or alter, or participate/attend certain events yourself.

Field trips are rare at public schools but expect at least one trip during the school year with private schools. Transportation, food, lodging, entrance fees, and souvenirs are things you should be prepared to pay for.

Cleaning

Public schools have a required cleaning fund and cleaning rotation. You or your child will be expected to stay after school for a week every few months (depending on the number of students) and clean the classroom, public areas, and bathrooms. This is called aseo (cleaning). Yep. At the beginning of the year, the materials list will include a certain number of rolls of toilet paper and a quantity of cleaning supplies. Private schools typically hire a cleaning person for this function, although they may still require toilet paper or tissue donations.

Graduation

Every level of education has a graduation ceremony which requires a special outfit, certain fees and a mandatory event with optional misa (mass). Fortunately, here you can parcel the expenses out to a variety of madrinas/padrinos (godparents). Just keep in mind that if you are asked to be a madrina/padrino of a graduation, you’ll be expected to pay for a section of these expenses.

And that’s what to expect when your child attends school in Mexico.

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Secondary Registration

My son's back to school picture for 2016.

My son’s back to school picture for 2016.

Barely a week after the last day of the school year, it was time to register our son for his third and final year at the secondary level. We were given two sets of days to do the registering, July 21/22 and August 15/16. Over the years, experience has shown that when it comes to registration, most Mexicans choose the latest date possible, which creates lines out the wazoo. Thus, in order to beat the lines, we determined to get it done the earliest possible on the first date given.

To register, we needed to present:

*copy of the report card from the previous year

*two telephone numbers (house and cell)

*copy of proof of residence–recent

*evidence that the “voluntary” fee of $500 pesos had been paid

Not on the list, but also requested, copy of the IFE of a parent or guardian

Ok, well, we had a few problems with this list. First, we didn’t have a copy of the report card. I attended the final parent/teacher meeting the previous week and signed the report card, but as the director had yet to sign off on them, I wasn’t allowed to take it with me. Since my son was a student at the same school last year, apparently the office had a copy it, so we slid past that requirement.

Then there was the issue with the two phone numbers. We have no house phone, so it had to be two cell phone numbers. There were ok with that too.

Another issue was the proof of residence. Remember, our home in La Yacata does not have water, sewage or electricity, thus no bills to prove we live there. We presented our title certificate and a letter from the president of the association verifying that we live there. They always put up a big fuss when we present this, but in the end, they had to take it because we have no other proof of residence.

That $500 “voluntary” fee was brought up during the parent/teacher meeting. Most of the parents understand that it’s a necessary evil. However, they did want the powers that be to give an accounting of how the money was spent. In some schools, the fee pays for the water for the bathrooms or the electricity for the computer room. In others, it buys paint so that the classrooms can be painted over the summer or is used so that desks can be repaired. At this school, the supposed purchase was didactic material. It just seemed a little vague to most. So a formal request was made by the parents in my son’s classroom for a declaration from the school board, specifying what was purchased. I doubt we’ll see anything, though.

In previous years, we paid the fee at the school before getting in the registration line with the receipt. This year, we were given an account number at Bancomer to make the deposit. At the bank, we were not asked for any sort of identification, and no identifying name was written on the receipt. Whose to say that one receipt could not be used for multiple students? Guess that’s not my problem.

My husband is the “official” parent for this type of transaction because nobody seems to like my permanent residency card. We hadn’t made a copy of his ID because well, it wasn’t on the list. But they requested one. There is a papeleria (stationery store) across from the school, but their copier was out of order. So it required a quick trip to the farmacia (pharmacy) for a copy.

In return for this pile of papers, my son received a list of utilies (required school supplies) for the coming school year.

On the first day of school, he needed to bring:

*2 professional size notebooks, either lined or with big squares (like graph paper)

*6 lined professional size notebooks–lined

*1 pencil, eraser, and sharpener

*some pens in black, red and blue (doesn’t specify quantity so we decided one of each color would be good enough)

*1 glue stick, ruler and a pair of scissors

*1 Spanish language dictionary

*1 flute (actually a recorder)

*1 art book to be determined the first week of classes

*1 geometry set

*1 scientific calculator

The following materials will be turned into the office or teacher for use during the school year.

*1 broche baco (I had to look this up to see what it was. It’s a butterfly clip for documents.)

*3 plastic folders –legal size

*100 sheets of white printer paper

*20 sheets of various colored letter-size paper

*5 folders, color and size to be determined (We bought 5 letter size yellow folders and called it good.)

As the notebooks cost upwards of 40 pesos each and the scientific calculator doesn’t come cheap, it was quite a list. Plus, my son, at 14 is growing at a phenomenal rate. He needs a new gym uniform ($500 pesos) and a new daily uniform ($400 pesos) plus shoes for each outfit. The uniforms can only be purchased at a few retailers, and the prices are set. We ended up with 1 gym jacket and pants set, 2 gym shirts, 2 daily pants, 3 daily shirts and a sweater.

And we had a whopping 4 weeks to get everything together. We managed to get everything on the list except a new pair of dress shoes and the art book which has yet to be determined. Thank goodness for my new online teaching job!

The first day of school was August 22 this year and the school year is extended once again. We finish on the far-away date of July 18.  Well, I’m mighty glad that this will be the last official school year.  Once this is done, the sky’s the limit baby!

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Why we chose to send our child to elementary school in Mexico

first grade

Then there was the decision to send our son to elementary school. We live in an isolated rural area so small that it doesn’t even qualify as a village. Although there are inhabitants in La Yacata despite the difficult living conditions, there were not any children our son’s age. He is also an only child, so socialization was one reason we opted to travel the 20 minutes to town every day.

A secondary reason, although somewhat related to the first, was the fact that we felt that schooling would help him learn what was necessary for successful interactions in the community. Although my husband is Mexican, he is not from this area, and his difference in speech and custom is often remarked negatively upon. I am not Mexican and would therefore not have been the best teacher in this regard for my son.

Registration for Primaria (Elementary school) takes place in February before students finish preschool. There are often long lines of parents waiting to register since there are always more students than cupo (available seats). In most public schools, there are two turnos (sessions), matutino (in the morning) and vespertino (in the afternoon.) Everyone seems to want the morning classes insisting the students learn better and the teachers are more qualified than the afternoon classes. However, the morning teachers are just as likely to be the same as the afternoon teachers since many teachers teach 2 turnos (sessions), teacher pay being what it is in Mexico. Furthermore, studies have shown that students actually perform better and retain more in the early afternoon than in the morning.  The morning class typically begins between 7:50 and 8:10 am and ends at 12:30 pm. The afternoon session begins between 2 pm and 2:10 pm and may end at 6:30 pm or as late as 7:30 pm depending on the school. Private schools have somewhat extended hours and only one turno (session) which runs typically from 7:50 am to 2:30 pm.

We opted to send our son to the afternoon session. Why waste the best part of the day cooped up in a stuffy classroom? Therefore, while I went to work at a private elementary school teaching English, in the mornings, for 6 years, my son stayed with his dad, taking care of the animals, working on the house, or just riding his bike. Then when the day became too hot for outdoor activities, (this is Mexico after all), he went to school. He spent 4 1/2 hours in the classroom with perhaps 15 minutes of homework each day.

Primaria (Elementary) begins when about half of the students are just 5 years old since the same age requirements apply as preschool. Half enter reading Spanish, and half are still learning their letters. The pressure for reading and general learning eases off in primaria (elementary) since teachers are not allowed to fail students unless they make a personal appeal to the school board in Guanajuato. This educational reform has only been in practice 3 or 4 years. It is now just fine for students to finish second grade without being able to read, write their names or do simple mathematics. It seems that the shame in failing a grade outweighs any educational rationale although the debate still wages as to whether failing a grade does more harm than good.  Perhaps if there were more resources and support available for teachers in Mexico, more children would be better educated. But then again, maybe the government isn’t interested in having well-educated citizens.

Schools are required to teach Spanish, Mathematics, History, Exploración de la Naturaleza (Earth Science), Formación Cívica y Etica (moral values), art, music, physical education, English, and Computer Literacy. Yes, English is now a required course even in the public schools. However, there is a decided lack of qualified teachers. Many teachers have been certificated as English teachers on the basis of being able to pass the TOEFL exam. (See Getting Legal–Working Papers) Unfortunately, there is a world of difference in knowing a language and being able to teach it effectively.  But fortunately for my son, I am a licensed English teacher, so no problem there!

elementary school

Grading is done on a scale of 10, 10 being the highest grade and 6 being the lowest passing grade. A 5 indicates the student has not passed, although, with the ban on failing students, it is rare that any student receives a 5 anymore. Each classroom has anywhere from 24 to 40 students, making it a challenge to meet every child’s learning needs.

Up until 2014, students were required to take a standardized end-of-year exam called ENLACE. The current president, Peña Nieto, has disbanded the ENLACE exam. However, his educational reforms have been clearly modeled on the current U.S. standards, and now teachers can be dismissed on the basis of their students’ grades. I think that there will be another exam issued nationally to take the place of the ENLACE in the very near future despite fervent protests and marches by the teachers’ union.

The extended school year is interspersed with random vacation days. Every month, teachers are required to attend a meeting, and school is canceled. 2014 marked the first year that these required work days were tacked onto the student calendar, which meant summer vacation didn’t start until July 15, well into the rainy season in our area. As the 2014-2015 school year began on August 18, that left less than 5 weeks of summer break. The academic year currently runs 200 days.

elementary school inside

There is an extensive Christmas vacation in December, that begins December 19 or 20, but since Las Posadas begins on the 16th, the vacation isn’t nearly long enough. School starts back up typically on January 7th, just one day after Los Reyes Magos deliver gifts. Seems a bit unfair that the kiddies only get one day to enjoy their gifts after having waited the entire vacation period, but, hey I didn’t make the rules. Semana Santa is also a long vacation and actually lasts 2 weeks in March or April. May is the most tiresome month to get through as a teacher, but fantastic for the students. Not only is it the hottest month in our area, but there are a number of special days commemorated. Beginning with April 30 there is El Día de Los Niños. (See Cultural Apathy) Then May 1 is El Día del Trabajo (Labour Day), May 5 is the commemoration of La Batalla de Puebla (The Battle in Puebla day), May 10 is El Día de la Madre (Mother’s Day), and May 15 is El Día del Maestro (Teacher’s Day).

Exams are administered bi-monthly and are usually taken over the period of a week. Early on in this segment of schooling, we discovered some issues. My son’s lowest grades and highest frustration levels were in Formación Cívica y Etica, which is something along the lines of Mexican Moral values. Even the kids that weren’t passing any other subject were getting 8s and 9s in this subject, so why not my son? Upon examining the exams, I discovered that many questions had to do with Mexican dichos (sayings). For instance:

Lo que empieza con gran coraje termina

1) con gran orgullo

2) con gran vergüenza

3) con gran ventaja

The answer is 2, but I wouldn’t have known it, not being a Mexican and all. My husband had no formal schooling to speak of, so wasn’t much help in exam preparation either.

How about this one?

In Mexico la muerte nos…..

The answer is …pela los dientes.

Come again?

So it stands to reason that Formacion civica etica was a trial for my son throughout his elementary years.

Since this sort of schooling was not enough for a well-rounded education, we augmented part-time unschooling. (See Homeschool variation) There were and continue to be so many opportunities for learning in our area, or perhaps we just look for the possibilities. My son also often accompanied me to my private English classes, sometimes as an additional student to the class, other times with his own activity book. After all, he may decide that this place we call home is not for him and set off on his own adventures one day, English might be beneficial when that time comes.

school days

My son did well in the traditional classroom and besides being in the honor roll all 6 years was part of the escolta (honor guard) in sixth grade. As only the best and brightest are chosen, (See Independence day) it was quite an honor. He was also selected by his teachers to read a despidida (farewell) poem during the graduation ceremony. His high achievement led to his being recommended into the better of two secondary schools in the area, and a shot at the matutino (in the morning) session.

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Why we chose to send our child to preschool in Mexico

parade marching

Marching in the Kinder parade for Independence Day.

Before you get all up in arms, our choice in formal education was made with the idea of finding what was best for our son. We live in rural Mexico, and the educational system is a bit different here. Not better, just different. Our ultimate goal has been and continues to be adequate life-learning for our son, and that has included sending him to school.

In Mexico, kinder (preschool) starts at 2, yes 2. The little tots typically attend school from 9 am to 1:30 pm Monday thru Friday, with no nap time. Children must be the minimum age for a grade the December of the year they begin school. This means that children born on January 1 are more than 12 months older than their classmates born December 31. Talk about classroom diversity!

We arrived in Mexico when my son was 4 years old, which was just as well because starting school at 2 was not in my plans. I kept him at home with me until August, so he actually was 5 when he began school. We opted for a private, bilingual kinder, mostly because I was able to get a position there and teach my son half a day, along with 20 other 4 and 5-year-old Mexican children. Overall, it was a good experience for him (though not so much for me). (Learning and Teaching Year 1) It allowed him to improved his Mexican Spanish in both formal and informal situations and keep up his confidence in the process since he was the top English student.

Kinders (preschools) typically offer music, art, some sort of physical education, math and reading. Students are given homework daily in the hopes that it will instill a sense of responsibility in them. It seldom does. There is an almost unholy quest for students to be able to read before they finish kinder. Fortunately, Spanish is a bit less complicated than English in regards to reading (The Easiest Language to Learn) and most children are able to master basic Spanish language reading skills.

kinder parade

Marching in the kinder parade!

Quite a lot of time is spent on events, Grandparent’s Day, Christmas, Day of the Dead, Children’s Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Carnival, Independence Day, etc.. Most of these events require the little ones to learn some sort of dance and memorize some poem or song. There are several parade marchings as well. The kids usually ride in floats, but it’s hard on the teachers and parents marching alongside.

tree planting

Planting a tree on Father’s Day.

There were some worthwhile activities as well. For Father’s day, dads and kids went to Los Areas Verdes and planted a tree together. For Children’s Day, several parents and teachers took a collection of toys to the remote villages of Los Amoles and Santa Gertrudis, then a clothing donation to La Ciudad de Los Niños (a local orphanage) and another children’s shelter in Uriangato. As the trees were donated, the toys were used, and we volunteered to drive, it really wasn’t much of a sacrifice on the part of the well-to-do parents whose children attended this kinder, but hey, something is better than nothing.

graduation

Kinder graduation

When the 5 and 6-year-olds are ready to leave the kinder, there is a graduation ceremony. At the private school we attended, the boys wore a little tux and girls wore mini-prom gowns to perform a bas (formal dance). They received diplomas and shook hands with the mesa directiva (school board). It seems quite excessive unless you take into consideration the comparable hoopla for first communion ceremonies.

despidida

Saying goodbye to the Kinder.

During this school year, we found a little bit of land to purchase, and my husband began working on our home. My son and I would head to school in the morning, then out to the construction site in the afternoons. Saturdays he and I would make the private English class rounds on the moto. He had his own “English” activity book and was an incredible incentive to students just starting out. It was an exciting, but exhausting, period in our lives with all the planning and building and just getting adjusted to the way things go here in Mexico.

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