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The International Schools Option in Mexico

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The international schools option in Mexico can be a good choice for many expats.

International schools cater mainly to the education needs of students who are not citizens of the country and implement a more universal curriculum, such as the International Baccalaureate or the Cambridge IGCSE. They are a pricey option but ensure a quality education for your children.

But what about schools like the American School of Puerto Vallarta, which is a private, independent school offering a bilingual, bicultural education to both Mexican and international students? Can it also be classified as an international school?

The answer is yes because it offers a curriculum different from the public schools in Mexico. In this case, the curriculum is geared mainly toward providing students with an American education, but the Secretariat of Public Instruction (Secretaría de Educación Pública, SEP) also recognizes the school.

Scenic view of Puerto Vallarta
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Founded in 1986, the American School of Puerto Vallarta is located just a few miles from the city’s international airport in the Marina district of Puerto Vallarta. This highly regarded small, private international school has about 350 students enrolled with a mix of 60 percent Mexican students, 24 percent American students and 16 percent other nationalities.

The school has a unique dual academic program that meets both U.S. and Mexican education standards. All students receive bilingual instruction and receive both a U.S. diploma and a Mexican bachillerato (high school) certificate. Students take at least 24 Carnegie units required for a U.S. high school diploma taught in English, as well as Mexican program requirements in Spanish Literature, Mexican History, Geography, Law and Civics, all taught in Spanish.

The American School of Puerto Vallarta is the first in the country to offer a dual credit program through a university in the United States. In addition to that program, they still offer some Advanced Placement (AP) classes in Economics and Studio Art approved by the U.S. College Board. Students are accepted into a dual credit or AP course based on their MAP scores, grade point average and teacher recommendations.

Interestingly, the American School starts students in first grade one year later than normal. You can enroll you child at age 3 in the early childhood program. At age 6 they must spend one year in what the school calls the Pre-First level as their first year of primary school. This special Pre-First year is used to develop dual language proficiency.

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“We think parents would be wise to look for U.S. accredited schools like ours when considering where to educate their children,” said Lisa Langley, the American School’s General Director. “Our school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS-CASI, now known as AdvancEd). All U.S. universities and most others around the world accept transcripts from U.S. accredited schools without having to go through the long and difficult process of re-evaluation of studies. Additionally, we are also accredited by Mexico’s Ministry of Education and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).”

Brock Squire, managing director of Puerto Vallarta’s La Costa Coldwell Banker real estate firm, has lived in PV since 1984 and educated two children at the American School.

“Our daughter Chanel graduated a few years ago and we could not have been happier,” he said. “Of the 24 students who graduated that year, about 15 were offered at least a 25 percent scholarship at recognized universities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico or the United Kingdom. Two received full scholarships to Cornell University. Over 90 percent of all American School students go on to college.”

Squire’s son Julian also attended the American School, but left after eighth grade to attend a U.S. private boarding school.

“I think the Pre-First program is especially beneficial for the kids,” Squire said. “It was created to ensure that all students have the required fluency in Spanish and English when they start out, since the curriculum is based on fluency in both languages. I also like the idea of delaying primary school because it ensures that students are a bit more mature at each grade level.”

New students are required to take placement tests when they enter the school so they can be placed in the right academic level.

Image credit: Brian McEntire | Thinkstock
Image credit: Brian McEntire | Thinkstock

“My wife and I never really considered local public schools as an education option,” Squire

said. “The local school system has quality, discipline, class size and other issues that made it an unacceptable option for us. We also did not consider homeschooling because we wanted our kids in a school environment. That left the local international schools to consider, which included the American School, the British American School and a few others. We decided on the American School because it had such a great track record of student success. I was so impressed that I served on the school’s board of directors for about six years.”

Squire also liked the school’s plentiful extracurricular activities, which include tennis, soccer, basketball, baseball and swimming. School teams compete within the American Schools of Mexico (ASOMEX) league and against local leagues.

“Teachers at the school also are very impressive,” Squire said. “Most are either American or Canadian teachers who have graduated from recognized universities in those countries and are fluent in Spanish. About half of them hold a graduate degree. Frankly, the school does not have much of a problem attracting top talent because of our beautiful location.”

Like most international schools, an American School of Puerto Vallarta education comes with a steep price tag, but it has gotten less expensive thanks to the devaluation of the Mexican peso. The three early childhood levels (Kinder 1, 2 and 3) average US$6,000 for enrollment fee, materials and annual tuition each year. Primary school fees and tuition average about US$7,000 annually, and middle school and high school are about US$8,200 each year.

International schools are usually located in Mexico’s major cities. International schooling is provided for students from elementary school through post-compulsory school. American college entrance examinations (SAT, ACT and AP) and/or British GSCE A-level examinations are available through most international schools. Many international schools also offer either the globally recognized International Baccalaureate (IB) Program or the Cambridge IGCSE and instruction generally is conducted in English and Spanish. Certification from these schools is accepted worldwide for university entrance.

A list of international schools in Mexico can be found on this U.S. Department of State website.