All year, I've suffered from a wee bit of stress and a wee bit of guilt about a decision that I put into effect aroundabouts August.
I didn't enroll my daughter in school. *gasp*
Nationwide, in Mexico, school starts at the tender age of 3. Every day. All day. (OK, for preschool it is just 4 hours a day.) But 4 hours a day for 5 days a week? To me, that just seems like a lot for a three-year-old.
So I made the executive decision and said, "nope. She'll start school when she's four."
Clearly, this is not a terribly radical idea. The first year (I think the first two years) of preschool aren't obligatory. My niece didn't go to the first year of preschool. Nor did my comadre's kids. And most of my friends' kids here are homeschooled. But every now and then I'd feel a little bit ribbed that she wasn't in school yet.
And the older she's getting, the more I'm sure she'd enjoy preschool. She's really interested in other kids. She loves drawing, pretending to write, stories--all things academic. I have no worries that she'll do well in school. But this first year just felt like pushing it.
But it is now February, and February is the month to register children for the following school year. So we took the plunge, pounded the pavement, and checked out the schools near us to make a decision. I limited our school choices to those schools within walking distance. That left us with four options: two Catholic schools; a secular, bilingual private school; and a public preschool.
For years, when walking past this bilingual private school, I was always secretly in love with it. I dreamed that I'd send my kids there (and perhaps would eventually work there). The grounds are just beautiful and visible from the street. It's a sweet, small school. They advertise that the have a pool. In addition to English, the students also learn French. I was sold even before talking to anyone about the place.
However, in the bottom of my heart, I did hold some misgivings. Those beautiful grounds reminded me a lot of the last school I taught at. Those grounds and play equipment were also beautiful--until one was close enough to realize that most of the play equipment was broken and the kids were not allowed to use it. The students in this school (including my preschoolers) were meant to pound out workbook page after workbook page. They failed to pay me the entire month of May and still owe me 2000 pesos. Clearly, I do not want my children to go to such a school.
And one interview with the director--who I'm sure will tell me anything I want to hear--will not be enough to sniff out what the school is really like.
But we went and interviewed with the director. We came during recess time for the preschoolers. The playground equipment was usable. The students were well supervised. Both Clara and I were in love with the place, and the director just reinforced my good opinion of the place. I was ready to sign her up.
Until I saw the price tag. Monthly, it wasn't much more than I expected. But the registration fee was 7500 pesos! That's two months' rent! I was about to pee my pants about that, but Mexico City Man wasn't too put off by the price. So we could still consider it.
Catholic School #1 was nice, and about half the price of the beautiful school. However, we didn't get to see the kids in action and the walk from our house is up one VERY steep hill. I'd be Iron Woman after climbing that hill with a stroller twice a day. Still worth considering.
Catholic School #2 scared me off on their website by hanging pictures of Mary over every classroom's blackboard. Had they hung a crucifix, no problem. I may be Catholic, but I grew up Protestant, so Mary and I have a bit of a strained relationship. They may be fine, but I don't think I want them teaching my kids religion. And this school was farther away. No dice.
The public preschool is on the way to the park where we go running, and last year when Mario was working second shift we'd be coming back from running when school was getting out. The kids seemed happy enough. However, neither Mario nor myself have any experience with public schools in this country. Being educated in public schools in the United States, I want to believe they work. But public opinion here is against me. That being said, having worked in private preschools in this country, I know that it's not necessary for private preschool teachers to have any kind of training in teaching at any level (let alone preschool). However, public school teachers--even preschool ones--have to be trained to be teachers. And the preschool ones are trained specifically for early childhood education. There's a plus for the public school!
Furthermore, friends of mine who still have their kids in private schools (as opposed to pulling them out for homeschooling) complain about the teacher turnover. A friend's daughter in first grade has had--as of February, only halfway through the school year--four different teachers. Yikes. While many people may (rightly or not) complain of Mexico's teacher's union as being the scourge and shame of education in this country, I think I'm pretty well guaranteed that teachers in the public schools stick around for the entirety of the school year. And I've seen it that when parents complain in private schools that that teacher's job may be at stake. Let me tell you, when the administration has the tuition-paying-parents' back rather than the teacher's back, it makes for pretty inefficient teaching. I'm quite confident that parents don't have that kind of clout in the public schools. Ironically, as a parent, that really does make me happy.
Now, don't get me wrong--there are some very good private schools out there. I've worked for one of them (it wasn't my last job). I do think that all the schools we looked at would give our kids a good education. But this is preschool. And my only two goals for my kids in preschool is that 1) they get some socialization and 2) they perfect their Spanish. Given the facts we know about our options and the pricetags attached to each school, we decided that the public option will fulfill those goals at least as well as any of the private options. Possibly better.
So we signed up Clara on Tuesday. Let me tell you--forking over 300 pesos (for parents' association dues) instead of two months' worth of rent--that felt pretty good.