Mexico is known for its rich culture, beautiful vistas, and quite possibly the best food in the world, but before your family crosses the border, there are some things to consider especially if you have school aged children. Their education is an important part of your relocation and should not be overlooked. If you’re unsure where to start, we’ve got some tips to help you find the best schools to meet your family’s needs.
The Mexican schooling system has had many challenges over the years including battles with the Catholic Church and the influences of socialism. Luckily, the quality of the schooling system has increased in recent years since being regulated by the SEP (Secretary of Public Education) and is now mandatory until 18 years of age in most urban areas. Much like other countries, the Mexican school system is divided into several age groups starting as early as 1 year old. Maternal (Daycare – ages 1 to 3), Pre-escolar (Preschool ages 3 to 5), Kinder (Kindergarten – ages 5&6), Primaria (Elementary – 1st through 6th grade), Secundaria (Middle School -7th through 9th grade), and Preparatoria (High school – 10th through 12th grade).
When choosing a school for your children, there are a few things you may want to consider which include their age, their level of familiarity with the Spanish language, and the intended length of your stay in Mexico. Preparing for a two-year assignment with intent to return to the US afterwards will be very different from planning to immigrate to Mexico permanently. Additionally, your family’s lifestyle and whether you’ll be paid in USD or MEX can determine if your budget will allow for private or public education while abroad.
If your children are already bilingual or familiar with Spanish, Mexican public schools will welcome your child to some extent, but will not offer additional support for non-native speaking children. Because of this, a child between the ages of 3-7 (the language acquisition age) may strive and easily adapt to the full-day Spanish curriculum while older children may find it difficult to keep up with their native speaking peers. Public schools are generally free of cost for enrollment in a school year, however students are required to purchase their books, supplies, and uniforms out-of-pocket. If your stay in Mexico is temporary, you may not want your child to lose his/her native speaking capabilities as reintegration to the US school system could prove difficult.
If your child is not bilingual, private school or homeschool may be good options. Homeschooling is a great alternative for older children or if one parent will be available during the day to assist the child. Homeschool programs online can be curated to accommodate the interests and strengths of the student and can be more cost conscious in some cases. If your family are traveling nomads and move quite frequently, homeschool courses like Calvert Education (www.calvereducationonline.com) offer accredited online curriculum for grades 3-12 and can provide your learner with the necessary resources to continue their education regardless of their location. Calvert offers course bundles starting at $1311/year or individual courses at $399/year.
If you opt for a private school, you can choose between English immersion schools (100% English) or split Spanish/English schools. Private school is a bit pricey if you’re earning your paycheck in Pesos, but well worth the investment to ensure that your child is advancing in their native language and getting the best education that Mexico has to offer. Private school will cost you on average $300 USD a month not including the cost of books, materials, and uniforms which are all mandatory extra costs. If you’re strictly interested in an international school, you can search the International School database (www.international-schools-database.com) for schools available in your area. Alternatively, you can also search using the phrase: “Mejores (Insert age group) escuelas bilingües en (ENTER YOUR CITY HERE)”. Private school is an especially good option if your assignment is only temporary.
If you are not able to communicate in Spanish and want to ask for more information about a school or to schedule an in-person tour, you can ask for the English teacher to accompany you during your visit. They’ll be able to translate your questions and make sure that you receive all the information that you need to make a decision about the school. Alternatively, you can also ask your relocation services professional to connect you to a specialist with experience in area tours for your new location. These professionals are usually bilingual and can help you with setting up school tours and also a variety of other area services like getting utilities connected or negotiating rental agreements on your behalf.
Whatever you choose for your children’s education, be sure to offer tons of support and let them know that you recognize that this transition is difficult for them. When possible, let them help with the decisions for their education (especially for older children) and have them make pro/con lists of what they liked about each school. As a family, you’ll get through this exciting new time in your lives and with a little help, your children will be back in school and learning in no time!