San Salvador, El Salvador Report of what it's like to live there - 11/14/16
Personal Experiences from San Salvador, El Salvador
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?
4, 6, 8. The kids also attended for grades 3, 5, and 7.
3. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
4. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
Yes, there are several good schools in San Salvador. Over the years, embassy families tend to send the majority of kids to either the American school or the British school. When we arrived two years ago, most families sent their kids to the American school. We chose the British school because we liked the curriculum and approach to education better, because it was somewhat smaller than the American school, and because we thought our kids would have more opportunities to learn Spanish. We also heard reports that other schools place heavy emphasis on homework, even at young ages. We have been very happy with our decision.
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?
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
This, I think, is one of the school's weakest points. We were unprepared for the difficulty our older children had making friends. As a third grader, the youngest made friends readily because friendship at that age is based mostly on physical play. But the older kids' friendships needed to be based mostly on communication . . . in Spanish. Their Spanish simply wasn't good enough to make friends with locals at first, and the local kids are so content with their current friends that although they were nice, they just didn't make much of an effort to befriend my kids. Even my gregarious 5th grader struggled to make friends--that had never happened to him before.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
Fantastic. There's a weekly newsletter, and teachers can easily be reached by email. All of the staff and administration have been very responsive whenever I've contacted them.
2. 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?
My 8th grader occasionally needs to bring in a laptop from home, but students who don't have their own laptop can borrow a school laptop. Starting this year, almost all school materials are included in the cost of tuition (especially in the lower school). Uniforms are provided by parents, but the cost is reasonable. Field trips cost extra, but again, it's reasonable.
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?
We used personal counseling for help with getting my kids more integrated socially, but it didn't seem to helpful. My oldest child's head of year made great efforts to integrate my daughter, but it just didn't work for her. I don't know anything about the academic counseling resources.
2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?
I think so, but I don't know anything about costs.
3. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
Yes, both the upper and lower schools have well-appointed libraries. The books are new and nice, and students can borrow them to read at home.
4. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
Great. Yes, there's a computer lab.
5. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
Swimming pool, gym, and lots of play area on the fields.
6. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
I think it's about 20-1.
7. 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. I'm not sure about the requirements, but I think that almost all eligible students at ABC at least attempt the IB diploma.
8. Are students generally challenged appropriately by the curriculum? Please describe any particular strengths or weaknesses in this area. Do you have any thoughts how the curriculum is applied and implemented at this school?
Yes. I have been really, really impressed with the competence of the teachers--especially math, geography, and science teachers. In the lower school, the curriculum incorporates art and music and involves lots of active, physical, child-directed learning. I absolutely love it. In the upper school I understand that the art teachers are not very good (not good enough to inspire my artsy daughter, anyway). But the music program is probably better than that of any other school in the city.
9. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
Yes. Lower-school students have an assignment once a week maybe, and they are asked to read daily. Starting in about 6th grade, homework starts feeling heavier. My 6th grader does maybe 3-4 hours of homework a week. My 8th grader does 5 or 6, maybe.
10. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
Orchestra, strings ensemble, choir, piano/guitar, drama, visual arts, film making, etc. Foreign languages include French, English, and Spanish
11. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
Yes. Not all of them are very good at it though. My kids struggle to understand some of the teachers.
12. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
I'm not sure. My kids are generally at the top of their class academically, and when the teachers feel that they need extra challenge, they provide it. I haven't had any problems or concerns about this. My kids seem to be appropriately challenged.
13. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
I know there is some support for disabilities like dyslexia, but I can't speak to their quality. I know of some students who have ADD/ADHD, but again I don't know how they're handled at school. The parents of those students seem happy enough. In general, schools in San Salvador are not very good at handling kids with serious disabilities.
14. What services are available for students with physical disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
15. What services are provided for speakers of English as a second language at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Separate classes for speakers of English as a second language take place during the native-Spanish classes. These are offered daily or twice daily. I have been happy with my kids' Spanish teachers; the first year we were here, the kids took Spanish classes twice a day, in groups of 1-4 kids.
16. 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?
Tons, and they're all free! My kids have taken archery, wall climbing, sewing, cross-stiching, track and field, rugby, Minecraft world creation, choir, crochet, and others. Some of the extras they haven't participated in include swimming (ABC has the best swim team in the country), underwater (diving) games, basketball, cricket, Catholic religion, Chinese, bicycling, golf, movies, homework hour, cooking, math games, science experiments, etc.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
It depends on how good the expatriates' Spanish is. The lower Spanish skill they have, the less they socialize with locals. This can be a real problem socially if there aren't many expats in the school while you live here.
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.
Last year my oldest daughter didn't make any friends. At all. But I think that was mostly because of her own social immaturity and her so-so Spanish. This year her best friend (an expat) moved into the school, and with that added confidence boost, she has made dozens of friends and is having the best year of her life. Even during her first year here, the local kids were very kind to my daughter and made many efforts to befriend her. The language and cultural barrier was just too much for my daughter.
1. What letter grade (ranging from A, excellent, to F, fail) would you assign to this school based on your overall experience? Would you choose it again?
A. We would absolutely choose it again.
2. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!
I really believe that school administration has everything to do with the kind of experience you have at a school. Right now the ABC has some fantastic administrators in both the lower and the upper schools. I have heard other families say that the previous administration was much more difficult to deal with. Always check out the administration when you're making your school decision. This administration seems very responsive to parent concerns and is just generally competent.
Also, consider the length of your stay here. The British school is a great option if you will be in San Salvador for several years and are likely to continue with the British system afterward. Especially as kids get older, the system is more differentiated from the American system, so if you're going to be in El Salvador for only a year or two and then go back to the US, it might be better to stay with the US system (American school). Adjusting to the new system takes some time, and there are inevitably gaps in what the kids have/haven't learned. That said, we came from a mostly American system and will go back to a mostly American system next year, and I don't for a minute regret putting my kids in this school for two years.