Finding the Right School for Expat Kids in Puebla
This is a guest post by Patricia Patton, who lived in Puebla with her family from June 2012 to July 2013. She wrote it to share their positive experience at the Instituto Mexicano Madero with other parents who may be considering a similar move.
Our family headed south from Pennsylvania to Puebla in the summer of 2012 with a few goals for the school year. Developing our children’s fluency in Spanish was high on the list. So, instead of sending them to the Colegio Americano (aka the American School), which caters to English-speaking expats, we wanted to enroll them in a local school where they would be fully immersed in the language and culture.
Our boys—who were 7, 11, and 14 years old at the time—were understandably nervous about spending the entire school day in Spanish, a language that they struggled to understand and speak. Enrolling them at the Instituto Mexicano Madero was our compromise. As a private bilingual school, IMM would offer them some instruction in their native tongue. However, the fact that almost all of the other children were Poblano ensured that, in addition to taking their classes in Spanish, our kids would almost certainly have to speak Spanish with their new friends outside of school.
The structure of the school day was somewhat similar to school in the United States. Our two younger sons, who attended primaria (elementary school), had two teachers—one who spoke English and one who spoke Spanish. They spent half their day with each teacher, with a lunch/recess time between. Students usually pack a lonchera, or light lunch, but there is also a “cafeteria” that offers snacks for sale. As in almost all Mexican schools, students wear uniforms to class each day.
My oldest son was in the third year of secondary school (equivalent to ninth grade in the States). He was assigned to a group and a room, with teachers who rotated in and out with each new period and subject. Students in secundaria were given two breaks a day of about 20 minutes each to eat and relax with friends. The IMM has basketball, soccer, and volleyball courts available to the students along with plenty of open space. (With as much energy as young teens have, I think that twice-a-day recess for junior high students would be a great idea to adopt in the U.S. as well!)
Overall, our experience with the IMM was amazing. The academic standards were impressive and challenging. The English portion of the day was more than an extended language course: It was content-based with grade-level classes in specific subjects, such as health and computers. The lessons were interesting and varied, and the teachers were kind and caring. Perhaps most importantly, everyone at the school, from the front office staff to the parent organization, was ready and willing to help us and our kids figure out how to succeed in a Mexican school. Administrators answered our endless questions — mainly in Spanish, but they brought in the English coordinator to help my husband (whose Spanish is spotty at best) understand when I couldn’t be there. They even accompanied us to the Secretary of Education (SEP) offices to register our children.
Of course, we also experienced our share of challenges along the way. Often this involved situations in which we understood all the words in Spanish but couldn’t figure out their intended meaning. The school supply list asked me to send in a bolsa de alegrías—a bag of happiness—and I had no idea what that could possibly mean. (Turns out, it’s a popular candy made of puffed amaranth seeds.) The teachers reminded me to add dots to my youngest son’s notebooks. Dots? What kind of dots? Where? WHY? We made not one, not two, but three separate attempts before my son’s science fair poster was completed correctly. At times, the cross-cultural challenges were slightly overwhelming!
In the end, we had an incredible experience that was well worth our extra efforts. My kids are now fluent in Spanish, and we experienced Mexican culture in a way that never would have been possible if the boys had been homeschooled or had attended a U.S.-style school for expat children. I would highly recommend IMM to any parent considering bringing their children to Puebla.
The Instituto Mexicano Madero is located at 19 Poniente #503 at 7 Sur in Puebla’s historic center. It also maintains a satellite campus, known as Zavaleta, on the Camino Real a Cholula. Both offer classes for children from preschool through high school. As with most Mexican private schools, the IMM requires children to complete a series of admissions and placement exams before enrolling. These comprise questions in both English and Spanish, with parts that focus on knowledge as well as aptitude and learning style.
Want to read more about the Patricia’s experiences in Puebla? Check out the Patton family’s blog at ourmexicanyear.tumblr.com. There you’ll find a post about IMM’s graduation ceremonies, its spelling bee, and a science fair. (The photos depict the elementary school’s science fair (top left) and the sixth-grade color guard (bottom right) performing the national flag ceremony at an assembly.)