Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 02/05/15
Personal Experiences from Bogota, Colombia
1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?
2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?
3. During what years were you affiliated with this school?
4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
5. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
I wanted a school where my son would be happy and fit in. We move around so much that I decided that no matter what, I wanted my son to be in a safe space where he would be comfortable. We also wanted an English-language education (not bilingual).
Admissions & Welcome:
1. Are the admissions and placement procedures clearly stated to prospective families, either on the school website or through other means of communication?
Admissions seemed open and honest and we felt that it was very thorough. I liked that they interviewed my son and he really was happy to have the school visit. I know that some families have been able to get Skype interviews, when necessary.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
Like every school my kids have ever attended, communication needs improvement. However, I saw improvement even though we were only there a year and some months. The school is aware of the needs and trying to make changes and I felt listened to when voicing concerns.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. Describe the general climate of the grade level that you teach or your child attends:
CGB is a comfortable place. No school is perfect but CGB works hard to make sure that it is a great environment for all and that students' needs are met to the extent possible. Bullying is not tolerated and is an open, on-going discussion among staff and students.
2. For the following attributes, down to the next blank box, grade your experience at the school on a scale of A (excellent) to F (unacceptable/terrible) and provide comments:<br><br>Overall fair and equitable treatment of all students and families:
Being Americans, we weren't sure about going to a British school, but my son fit in just fine and loved the international community. I haven't met anyone who didn't feel like they were an equal and appreciated part of the school.
3. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
Some teachers are great and a few are not-as-great. Thankfully, the Head of Secondary was always there to step in and help if there were any issues with the teachers. I'm a pragmatist and I don't expect perfection, but on the balance I felt that I had good communication with my son's teachers and I felt like most of them were open to my questions and concerns and kept me informed. There are no perfect schools with all perfect teachers but CGB tries and listens and tries to help when problems arise.
4. Aside from school fees, are there required expenses such as uniforms, laptops/tablets, musical instruments, or field trips that parents are expected to cover? What are the approximate costs?
Lunches are required but it is not a "hidden" cost. Uniforms are de rigueur in Colombia.
5. Services for gifted students who need academic challenge and students with learning difficulties:
I have heard that primary and middle schools have specific programs for gifted students. At the high school level, it is harder because the IGCSE program is more-or-less fixed. That said, the IGCSE program allowed my son to really do a lot of science and math, which he loves. At the IB level, there are both HL and SL courses to meet kids' needs. With special education, my good friend's son, who has Down's Syndrome, was warmly welcomed and accepted into the school community. I know they can't take every kid with special needs but CGB does try to make accommodations and really does care that they have a well-rounded student body.
6. Availability and variety of after-school activities for various ages:
This one is difficult as the school cannot really offer too many after school programs because of the realities of living in Bogota. Traffic issues mean that the buses really have to get the kids home early. However, the Co-curricular program tries to make up for this by providing after school-type programs during the school day. There are sports teams that do have to have after-school practices and games.
7. Maintenance of appropriately high standards for all students:
I always felt like the standards at CGB are high and all students are required to hold to them. It is a school, like any, so it is not perfect, but they do try and CGB is trying to work within the fact that it is an international school with a constantly in-flux student body.
8. Homework assigned (quality, quantity):
For the most part, homework was reasonable and appropriate. As always, teachers vary and some can give too much and some too little. Being a teacher myself (not at CGB), I know that homework is a balancing act and I haven't always agreed with what I've seen my son bring home but I feel CGB is no different than all of the other great schools my kids have attended--there are always great teachers and not-as-great teachers--but CGB attracts well-qualified teachers and does a good job listening to parents when they have concerns.
9. Administration-parent communication:
My communications with the Head of School, admissions, the counselor, and the program coordinator were always answered quickly and I felt like I could address issues frankly, when necessary. Things always fall through the cracks but having had my kids at so many schools has allowed me to recognize that while improvement is needed, things are generally good and CGB tries. Because CGB is located in Colombia, there are some staff members who don't speak much English (security and maintenance staff mostly and some of the office help), however, there just aren't that many fluent English-speakers in Bogota and I know that finding and employing English-speakers is difficult (my husband has a hard time finding them when he needs). I also assume that I am a foreigner in someone else's country so I don't think I can expect that everyone will speak English (as a previous commentator mentioned). It is easy to find translation, if needed, and aside from a couple native-Spanish and Sociales class teachers, all the teachers and the upper-level staff speak fluent English.
10. Teacher-student communication:
Some teachers are better at this than others. For the most part, the teachers at CGB did a good job with my son. I had a few problems with teachers and their communication with my son (who misses a lot of announcements, etc, from distraction) but we spoke and worked it out. Always, we were able to work things out when there were issues.
11. Academics, answer the following questions "yes" or "no" with an explanation if appropriate:<br><br>Are there any classes or subjects where students are not appropriately challenged?
No. The classes were challenging and the IGCSE program is a good program. My son would have liked more HL IB course choices but he was generally satisfied and had to put in good work.
12. Does your child receive any special-needs assistance or instruction at this school? If yes, what types? Who provides services and where:
The math teacher let my son work on extra math problems and work ahead in class. The daughter of a friend has been encouraged to work ahead in the Math IB class so that she can get to more advanced math. The teachers do try to give the kids more work if they need it so that they will stay engaged and excited. I can't speak to the other side of the spectrum.
13. Do you believe the special-needs assistance is appropriate and fills your needs? Explain:
14. Does the gifted and talented program meet the needs of students? Please explain:
I cannot speak about this one. My son was only in the high school program which doesn't have a specific gifted program but does have a variety of classes.
15. Does the school offer a wide variety of elective or non-core classes such as art, music, and drama?
There is some art, music, and drama. It is not what would be available in a large school but CGB does try to make these options available. My son took music classes outside of the school in addition to his keyboard class at CGB.
16. Please describe any classes or programs that you believe are missing:
A band class would be nice but CGB isn't big enough to support a strong music program. It was the same at my boys' previous school so I can't say that it is any different. Thankfully, Bogota is a really large city so the opportunities outside of school have been sufficient to make up for it.
17. Are there academic requirements such as trips or other activities that cost money in addition to school fees?
Only the degree program tests (IGCSE and IB) and the class trip.
18. What activities do you feel are missing?
Just some clubs and after-school activities but my son took swimming near our house and the piano teacher comes to the house and he has a good group of friends that has a weekly game night. This is just the reality of Bogota. Many of the good schools are north of the city and the size and location makes it hard to have at-school activities outside of the school day. We adjusted and my son has really been happy here.
19. Have your children participated in the activities offered? If no, please indicate why:
20. Does the school provide appropriate assistance to new students?
Yes. They were warm and welcoming and my son fit in seamlessly (even though he tends to be a quiet outsider who tends more toward geeky pursuits).
21. Please describe any problem areas or challenges in social interaction at the school:
I can't think of any. There have been times in the past where my son has had issues with being bullied but never at CGB. I have really appreciated this.
Academics & Resources:
1. What personal or academic counseling resources are available at this school? Is there a dedicated college counselor at the school? Is he/she familiar with universities worldwide?
I think that there could be improvement in the college selection/application area but I have heard that steps are being taken. I can't speak to the Counseling program but I do have friends on the Advisory Board and they have said that they have been pleased at how well the school listens and considered their opinions and suggestions.
2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
I thought the library was fine. I didn't go there very often but my son did bring home books to read.
3. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
The IT program is constantly improving. CGB has a fantastically enthusiastic IT coordinator and he has been implementing big changes. My son was able to take computer science courses which are offered from middle-school on.
4. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
Standard PE classes like all we've ever encountered. However, with the co-curricular program, my son was able to branch out and do sports activities he enjoyed more than just PE (rugby, tennis, swimming).
5. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
Anywhere from 5-1 to 20-1 depending on the class. My son's classes were rarely over 17 students.
6. Are Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses available in upper grades? If this is an IB school, is the full diploma required of all students?
IB courses... Reasonably good opportunities. Being a smaller school, it is difficult to offer as many HL classes as they would like but they do try and they will open some special classes if they have a couple students who really need/want it.
7. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
For the most part, yes.
8. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
Unfortunately, CGB is a small school so there aren't as many opportunities as we would have liked in music. However, there are opportunities for each of these areas. The Co-Curricular program tries to incorporate opportunities in the arts and my son was able to take keyboard the entire time he was there.
9. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
Most teachers are required to speak English fluently. As far as I know, only the native-Spanish class teachers and the Sociales class teachers might not have spoken fluently. My son, being a non-native Spanish-speaker, did not take Sociales and was in a special SSL (spanish as a second language) class, which he enjoyed. My son did not have any classes where his teachers were not fluent in English. When I was at the school, everyone spoke English fluently. I was comfortable speaking with all the teachers.
10. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
At the high school level, it was as possible to offer a larger variety of class levels but my son was mostly engaged and pushed. In math, he was allowed to work ahead and work on special problems.
11. What extra-curricular activities (including sports) are available at this school? Have your children participated in these activities? What activities do you feel are missing at the school?
They have the Co-curricular activities program which is pretty good. My son was able to play rugby, which he never had the opportunity to do before.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
My son has a small, international (including Colombian) group of friends. Generally speaking, as a parent I am wary of the social scene here in Bogota as there is often a lot of alcohol involved. However, I count myself lucky as my son has a small, close group of friends and they are always at our house or another parent's house who we know well.
2. Are there are any problems with exclusionary behavior, cliques, or bullying at this school? Please describe any problems your children may have experienced in this area.
My son never felt this. There is a small group of Colombian students at CGB who have been there long-term but the number of continually-rotating international students has kept this group reasonably open and accepting of new students. I think it is a much better situation at CGB than at other schools here in Bogota and better than other international schools my boys have attended.
1. What is the greatest strength of this school?
The school is small and they are committed to fostering a comfortable, bully-free environment for students. This is why we chose CGB. We heard so many bad things about the bullying and clique behavior at the American school that we knew that wasn't an option. We made the right choice and our son was happy at CGB.
2. Greatest challenge?
It is a small school so my son wished he could have had a little more choice in his classes but it worked out and he was satisfied and got a good education.
3. Would you choose this school again? Why?
Yes. My son was happy at CGB. Having had so many school experiences, we knew that our son's happiness was the most important things. CGB offered a good balance between education and experience and if you are coming to Bogota, I think you must give CGB consideration.