Mexico City, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 06/05/14
Personal Experiences from Mexico City, Mexico
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?
J4 or 4th grade.
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?
Out of all the English language schools in Mexico City, this school had the most positive reviews.
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?
F - Not that I am aware. I had no idea my child was accepted until the day before school started when we sat down with the head of school for an interview and a placement test.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
F - There isn't any. The Parent Organization, like the school, has no transparency in what it does with the money it raises. The school does not send out information or acceptance letters to families. Communication prior to the first day of school is lacking.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. Describe the general climate of the grade level that you teach or your child attends:
There was a huge turnover in teachers at the school this year. There were upward of 25 new teachers across the lower and upper schools. All teachers in J4 were new, except for one who taught J3 the previous year. Teachers are personable and the school seems to recruit classroom teachers from England with some local teachers for specialist classes.
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:
F - The administration's attitude is, "If you don't like it here, we have a waiting list, the door is right there."
3. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
C - There are two parent teacher conferences per year. The head of school requires any appointments with the classroom teacher to be made through him. Teachers are available through e-mail but there is no proactive teacher communication and the impression we had from discussing this with other parents is that the administration discouraged it.
4. Services for gifted students who need academic challenge and students with learning difficulties:
F - There is no effort to accommodate children who are gifted and a no "if's-ands-or-but's" position in allowing your child to be academically challenged by moving up a grade. Children are kept with their chronological peer groups no matter their ability. There was no evidence of small group instruction to meet the needs of students who need academic challenges. The administration response was for me to provide greater academic challenges at home after the school day.
5. Availability and variety of after-school activities for various ages:
A - This is one of the positive aspects of the school. There is a wide range of activities for the elementary grades and they are included with the tuition. Children can take up to three classes per week.
6. Maintenance of appropriately high standards for all students:
F - Academic standards are low. My child has never written more than a paragraph of text all year. My child has been taught little to nothing regarding the writing process. Reading is not taught and students in J4 read books whole class. My child read a book during math lessons due to boredom and was academically unchallenged. There seems to be no academic standards whatsoever. The school is tossing out the IB curriculum in the elementary school and bringing in the IPC program which is similarly deficient in core academic subjects.
The school views elementary education as a holding pattern. "Real learning" occurs in middle and upper school.
7. Homework assigned (quality, quantity):
D - Barely any at all really. Weekly spelling homework that was terribly inadequate and at a first or second grade level. There can also be project homework with little to no guidance or information from the teacher as to what is expected. There may also be handwriting homework assigned intermittently.
8. Administration-parent communication:
B - There is a monthly newsletter from the school with information about policy changes, events, etc. If there are any health concerns ( ie. lice and a salmonella outbreak), separate e-mails are sent.
9. Teacher-student communication:
B - It's a bit hard to say really. I think the communication is there. My child always seemed to provide the impression that all the teachers are approachable and friendly. There just is't very much teacher-student communication of academic instruction.
10. 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?
Yes. There was no challenge in any subject and the core academic work (math, language arts, etc..) done in fourth grade was almost without exception something our child had done the previous year and sometimes two years back. Our child was only challenged in Spanish to which there was no prior exposure before coming to Mexico.
11. Does your child receive any special-needs assistance or instruction at this school? If yes, what types? Who provides services and where:
12. Do you believe the special-needs assistance is appropriate and fills your needs? Explain:
13. Does the gifted and talented program meet the needs of students? Please explain:
It is non-existent. When we asked to meet to discuss the lack of any challenge for or learning by our child, I was actually asked if I had brought my concerns about my child's advanced ability to the head of school at the time of admission and if I attended the back to school meeting for parents. What this had to do with meeting my child's academic needs within the first six weeks of school, I do not know. Nothing came of our requests and we were advised that we might find some challenging activities on the internet for her at home.
14. Does the school offer a wide variety of elective or non-core classes such as art, music, and drama?
No. While there is some music, it is singing only, not instruments and is only offered during the school day once a week. All other classes are after school in the elementary school.
15. Please describe any classes or programs that you believe are missing:
Weekly art specialist class and instrument instruction as part of music are two areas where I feel the school has room for improvement. Well, I suppose you could add math, literature, and writing to that list as they are practically non-existent but I already mentioned that.
16. Are there academic requirements such as trips or other activities that cost money in addition to school fees?
There is a yearly excursion at a fee of about US$500. There is no parent orientation/presentation before the trip and the expectation, clearly and repeatedly stated, is that all students attend. My child loved the experience but it is only later that I learned from her that there was a shooting range available to the children. While I have nothing against firearms in a safe controlled environment, I think the parents should have been at least advised of this.
17. What activities do you feel are missing?
None that I can think of at the moment.
18. Have your children participated in the activities offered? If no, please indicate why:
19. Does the school provide appropriate assistance to new students?
Generally speaking there wasn't any new student orientation or guidance that I am aware of. That being said, they did have what they called a "friends corner," I believe, where a teacher and students would meet to introduce themselves to new children and those who hadn't found a group of friends yet.
20. Please describe any problem areas or challenges in social interaction at the school:
None that we know of. This is, honestly, one area where the school excels. For example, students are free to sit and eat and play anywhere on the upper field and lower patio. This has an inclusive feeling when multi-grade levels are out at the same time and broadens the pool of available friends.
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?
B - While there is no family support to speak of, I will say that one of the positive aspects of the school is that my child says the weekly meetings in her year group with the deputy head of school who navigates the personal, social, health education program and well being of students has been a plus. There is an "incident book" where students who have transgressed the rules, especially at recess, have their names written. It is a big deterrent for most students. Generally speaking, they do a good job of creating a safe and enjoyable atmosphere for the children. I am unaware of any counseling etc in the middle and high schools.
2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
B - The library is average in comparison to any U.S. public school.
3. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
C - My child has used a Macbook and the classroom has a SMARTboard but there is no organized curriculum.
4. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
A - There is a PE program with classes twice a week. This also includes swimming in two/twice yearly, six week blocks of time. They cover gymnastics, basketball, track and field and other games and activities - all-in-all pretty good.
5. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
F - Very high. The facilities are small and cramped inside the classrooms. The physical size of the classrooms can not accommodate the 26:1 ratio in my child's class. For a private school, these are high numbers. I expected a smaller teacher to student ratio. Let's face it though, this is a money making institution, lining the owner's pockets.
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?
B - There is an IB program in the high school. I feel the IB program in the elementary grades (PYP) is very rarely implemented well. Greengates is moving away from the PYP, so I see the future lack of IB as a plus, though unfortunately their chosen replacement appears to be similarly flawed.
7. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
No, not at all. That said, I am not a big fan of homework, unless it is given to help my child if my child is struggling in a subject area. It is great that my child's Spanish teacher gives regular homework, once or twice a week, which includes reading.
8. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
F - There is a weekly music class however it includes no instrument instruction. There is after-school though, in band.
9. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
Yes, but if the teacher is a local hire, Spanish will creep into instructional time, especially due to the fact that better than 60% of the students are local or Spanish speaking.
10. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
No. This is one of our main concerns, the lack of academically challenging instruction and lack of curriculum, materials, and standards for teaching and learning. There was a laissez-faire attitude in meeting my child's needs. Repeated efforts to remedy this has lead us moving our child to a new school next year - not a decision we take lightly as, due to a transfer to Mexico last year, this will be the third school in three years.
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?
Yes. Each trimester there are many from which to choose. Students in the elementary school can choose up to three and they are included with the tuition and this was one of the highlights for my child. There is bus service home afterward as long as your child already has daily bus service.
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 upon where you live. This is a huge city with horrible traffic so children tend to socialize with others in their neighborhoods or on weekends.
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.
Our child indicated that some of the local children could be rude and generally unpleasant but this was not a uniform occurrence by any means and probably is a reflection of the apparent sense of superiority and entitlement among some of the wealthy in this city as much as anything else. Generally speaking, my child feels that this is a non-issue at this school and has made friends of all stripes.
1. What is the greatest strength of this school?
After-school activities, and the personal, social, and well-being of students. Holiday celebrations organized by the parent organization. Behavior expectations of students.
2. Greatest challenge?
Lack of transparency. Low academic expectations. Lack of leadership. Attitude and inflexibility of administration. Not meeting individual learning needs of students in the classroom/no differentiation/one size fits all education.
3. Would you choose this school again? Why?
Not a chance! All schools here cater to the local population and each has its own problems. There are no true international schools here and most are businesses focused on the bottom line, not the educational welfare of the children they "serve." If I had known then what I know now about schools in el D.F., I would not have chosen this as a post. There is no perfect school and schools everywhere will have their share of shortcomings and teachers that you don't want your child to have, but when it's endemic in an entire city, especially one of this size, there is a bigger problem at hand.