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Friday, April 16, 2010

Mex Ed

Our clock is running out on our time here in Sayulita (pesky clock - always running). We have just 10 more days. So sad. But, while it's all fresh in my mind I want to document our experience in the Mexican public education system both for posterity's sake and for anyone who care's to know the details. Here are my observations and comparisons. Prepare for a long post...or just skip to the pics.

The kids have been in the public schools in Sayulita, Nayarit for 5 months now. Evie and Emerson are at the Primaria (1st and 4th respectively) and Cole is at the Secondaria (7th). The primaria (primary) goes from 1st - 6th grade and the secondaria (secondary) goes from 7th - 9th grade. Preschool (called kinder and pronounced "keen-dair") is for 3, 4 and 5 year olds although the public preschool here in town doesn't have a  3 year old program. After the secondaria kids here in Mexico have the opportunity (if they're lucky) to attend a preparatoria or prepa which is the equivalent to high school, although I get the impression that it may be more like a tech school. And for a lot of kids this step from secondary to prepa is like our step in the U.S. and Canada from high school to college. Not all of them go on to prepa and many kids enter the work force after completing 9th grade. The nearest prepa to Sayulita is in La Cruz (I think) which is a 20 minute bus ride away.

Our experience has been surprisingly positive. I have been impressed with the education available to students should they choose to take advantage of it. Each student receives about 6 textbooks, 1 for each basic subject. The textbooks here have soft covers and look very similar to thick workbooks. The basic subjects are math, history, Spanish (language arts - a reader and an activity book), science, and geography. The information is quite good. For example, Emerson just finished up a section on African Bees (previously know as Killer Bees, but they prefer to be called African Bees. It's pc, you know). It was actually a language arts activity. So he had to read a 5 paragraph passage in his reader and then in his corresponding l.a. activities book he had 3 or 4 pages of activities. One was to discuss the main topic of each paragraph. Another was to discuss the "job" of each type of bee in the hive. Another was to identify the title and subtitles of the passage and discuss what could be deduced about the succeeding paragraphs. Now he's an expert on African bees and bee hive management (and I am, too). Again, I believe the education available through the Mexican public schools to be quite good should a student and his/her family take advantage of the education available. The same is true in the States. If the students do the homework and study for the exams and the families encourage those efforts then education will happen. I can only speak from our experience here and in public schools in CA, but I think the biggest difference in educational opportunities between "here" and "there" is the involvement of the families and the overall importance put on education. In the States many communities and families (not all) have the luxury of prioritizing education very highly for their kids. Here, many kids have to work in order to help provide for the basic needs of their families and education is secondary to that, rightfully so. I know that's not an original discovery or anything. Again, the education is quite good if families are able to take advantage of the opportunities.

Now, don't get me wrong. Things are, of course, different than what we would expect of an educational setting in the States. For example, at the primaria and secondaria the classrooms are pretty barren. There may be alphabet placards above the dry erase board, but that might be all of the decor adorning the walls (except for scuff marks and scribbles and peeling paint). But all of the classrooms have dry erase boards. As in CA, my understanding is that public schools here receive a small amount of money from the government and the parent groups supplement. There are continuous fundraising efforts for the public schools. For example, the secondary school had a fundraiser selling calenders with pictures that some of their students had taken at a photography camp last summer. But, most (if not all) classroom supplies are provided by the parent co-op of each class (called a salon). There is a parent meeting once every couple of months and the "room mom" collects money for things like drinking water, plastic cups, and any thing else needed in the classroom. Also, during these parent meetings the teacher discusses anything pertinent to the class like behavior issues and homework deficiencies. For example, one time Emerson's teacher mentioned that one of the girls in his class who wears glasses was being picked on by the boys and asked if we could all talk to our kids and remind them to be kind. A typical parent/teacher meeting. Also at these meetings the teachers pass out the trimester exams and progress reports. So it seems that there are finals at the end of each trimester and grades (calificaciones) are based on the results of these exams as well as behavior, attendance, and class participation.

As with every school, teachers have strengths and weakness, schools have areas in which they can improve and the dynamics between the students sets the tone for the work environment of a classroom. For example, Emerson's salon has a large number of high energy boys. You know the ones. And, apparently, they have been that way since first grade when they were originally put together. Even though there are about two classes per grade (1st - 9th, with 25 kids per grade), the kids stay together in the same group as they move from grade to grade. So this class is the "high energy" class. Anyway, they have burned through teachers since their start together, and the teacher they had in November was a sweet, docile gal who had absolutely no control over the class. It was always totally chaotic and ear-piercingly loud. (p.s. Everything is louder in Mexico - music, fireworks, cars, kids, everything). Their new teacher is very strict and keeps very good order in the classroom - a much better learning environment. The same means of discipline are used here as in the States, ie; name on the board, staying in at recess, etc. Although, it seems to be acceptable for teachers to shout at the kids and tell them to "Callense" ("Shut-up") when necessary. Whatever works. Another difference (which is cultural as well) is that the kids throw trash on the ground, inside the classrooms and out in the school yard. Needless to say, by the end of the day the classrooms look like pigsties. Then at the end of the day they are responsible for doing "el aseo" - the cleaning. At least in Emerson's class each day there is a group of kids assigned to sweep out all the trash and put it in the trash bucket and then mop and clean the windows and the dry erase board. Brilliant, I say. No custodial engineer on campus at all (isn't that what they like to be called these days?). Emerson does the aseo on Mondays. In Evie's class, because the kids are so little, the parent group of that salon pitches in and has hired one of the moms to come every day or so to do the cleaning. Also, Evie's teacher doesn't seem to tolerate (as much) the throwing of trash on the floor. Their classroom is usually tidier. But, again, part of that is cultural (throwing of trash on the ground is somewhat acceptable in Mexico) and part of that is how the teacher runs the classroom. Certainly, in CA there are a couple of teachers that come to mind at our elementary school, that by the end of the day their classrooms are pigsties. Right?

At both schools the kids have P.E. (phisica) once or twice a week with a special P.E. teacher. Evie goes once a week and Emerson and Cole go twice a week. They do fun P.E. activities like in the States, ie; dodge ball, around the world basketball, etc. The kids love phisica and on those days they get to wear their blue shorts or skorts. The secondary kids have special P.E. uniforms.

Substitutes are a funny thing down here, because...there are none. If a teacher can't make it to school there's simply no school that day for that class. So I learned quickly, especially for Evie, that it is imperative to get a visual on the teacher during the morning drop off. Otherwise the director will dismiss the class and the kids are expected to walk home. That's fine for the older grades, but not so much for the youngers. I suppose the up side of no subs is that it cuts down on the expense of what often amounts to be a wasted day in education.

The schedule for the primary is 8-12:30. The secondary goes from 7-1:30. All three kids have homework pretty much everyday including Fridays. Cole will usually have a math assignment and then something from language arts, history, or geography. There are significantly more big "projects" assigned for homework than what we are used to in CA. For example, one day for "tarea" Emerson had to build a model of the earth out of clay and a styrofoam ball on a stick. Evie's class is studying animals and they recently had to build a model of a zoo using a foam board and clay, etc. Cole had to do a report on ethnic languages in Mexico and make a map of the locations of the different native peoples on a big poster board. Often times for homework the kids will have to collect (or buy) the items needed for a science or art project for class the next day. If a kid doesn't bring in their supplies they either can't participate (which down here, there is no shame in that) or they will buddy up with someone and share.

There aren't many field trips to speak of (of course we only have field trips in CA because of our parents' group) although the kids did do a beach clean up before the festivities of Semana Santa (free). They were also invited to go and hear the president of Bahia de Banderas give a speech in the plaza (free). And, of course, there are the parades (free). Half of the school marches in the parade for the Dia de la Independencia in November and the other half marches in the parade for the Dia de la Bandera (Flag Day) in February. Each school has a little color guard who wear special uniforms on Mondays when the schools do their formal flag ceremony on the basketball courts. The color guard also has a special place in the parades.

At the secondary I have been very impressed with the amount of, what I would call, extra education opportunities available. They have a huge computer lab with Wi-Fi. The kids have art once a week where they create lovely masterpieces (one of which I have framed in our casita) and everyone gets English. At our middle school in CA we have a tech lab the same size, no art, and Spanish is optional (and every year our language program is on the chopping block). The kids at the secondary here also have a class called Opcional which seems to be a class in life skills and manners. They learn how to set goals and attain them. They teach the kids the importance of being respectful to others. They remind them to use their own good judgement and not follow what their friends do, etc. I like it. I'm not really sure about organized sports at the secondary. I know kids can play soccer and baseball on organized league teams here in town. And a few months ago there was a volleyball tournament at the secondary and teams from other towns came to participate.

As is true when comparing two schools from any two different places (districts, states, countries) I found some aspects of the Sayulita public education to be better than our CA district and some aspects to be not better. But in the end I found them to be quite comparable. And I'm so glad our kids were able to have such an enriching experience.

Cole and Dave

Evie doing P.E. with her class.

Emerson and Evie with cousins Savannah and Sienna. They went to school for a day during their visit check it out.

Parading down Revoluccion.

Cole doing "tarea".

Emerson and his model of the layers of the earth.


math jedi said...

That was interesting to read given my career background... I think you hit an important nail on the head, so to speak. No amount of throwing money at a problem can substitute for parental involvement in education. You can have the prettiest facility with all the latest technology, and if the kids aren't encouraged and aren't in an environment at home where education is valued, they aren't going to want to learn. But of course it's politically incorrect to say that.

And, once again, good for you for giving your kids an experience in another culture. That's something most of us don't get.

Nick said...

Can't you guys just set the clock back? You are leaving too soon!!!

Tina said...

I loved catching up on your family via your blog. Do you keep in contact with Jodi Nicauld? Thinking of you... Tina