- I lived in Chiapas, Mexico, from 2002 to 2020 while teaching English.
- My oldest daughter went to public school there during those years.
- Even in a public school, she had to wear a uniform, which I appreciated.
I taught English in Chiapas, Mexico, from 2002 to 2020 and raised my oldest daughter in the public-school system there.
She started elementary school in 2007 in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Later, she attended junior high in Playa del Carmen and went to high school back in San Cristóbal.
Schooling in Mexico is different than it is in the US. I appreciated some differences, while I found others challenging.
She wore a uniform
In Mexico, students in public schools wear uniforms. School uniforms can be controversial in the US, but I embraced school uniforms; for a busy single parent who relied on the laundromat, the simplicity of the uniforms was a relief. There was no morning stress about clothes.
At the beginning of every school year, I received the school-supplies list that included normal items such as markers, paper, and glue. But the list also included office supplies and things such as toilet paper, soap, and lightbulbs. The school struggled with a lack of funding and required parents to donate building and bathroom supplies. When the rainy season came, we often had to chip in to repair leaky spots in the roof, too.
Students left at 2 p.m. to have lunch at home
There were no school lunches because students went home at 2 p.m. The school had a snack break where kids could eat something from home or buy snacks at the privately run snack shack. As a working single mother, I missed the ease of the school providing a hot meal.
While students in both countries get a similar number of instruction days, they’re distributed differently. In Mexico, summer break is only about four weeks, with holidays sprinkled in throughout the year. Without the long summer, my daughter didn’t lose any academic progress or connections with her peers, and I didn’t have to entertain her at home all summer.
Schools in Mexico embrace both secular and religious holidays and celebrations such as the Day of the Dead, which is about honoring those who lived before us. Each year, students made elaborate alters of flowers, candies, and sweet bread.
Some students leave school after junior high
Students in Mexico can leave school at 15, right after junior high, so many junior highs have vocational classes in addition to academic curricula. In the US, there isn’t an emphasis on vocational programs in junior high.
My daughter’s school in the tourist town of Playa del Carmen offered classes in hospitality. One class had the students making mixed drinks and learning bartending skills; my daughter was 12 at the time. She assured me it was fine because the bottles had colored water, not alcohol.
High school emphasizes relationships
In high school, the curriculum was similar to that in the US, and the key difference was that she was with the same students throughout the year. She loved being with the same peers, and it fostered stronger connections and friendships. She finished high school in the US and missed that cohort-style learning. In the US, the importance placed on sports and extracurriculars surprised her. Her schools in Mexico did not offer either.
As a parent, I never worried about school shootings in Mexico. My youngest daughter started school in the US last year, and she has already been on lockdown several times. She’s only in the first grade.
I am grateful my oldest daughter experienced school in Mexico. She is bilingual, has made lifelong friends, and has empathy rooted in her experiences.