San Salvador, El Salvador Report of what it's like to live there - 03/11/22
Personal Experiences from San Salvador, El Salvador
1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?
I’m a parent.
2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?
My kids are in elementary. They’re at the school currently (2022)
3. What years did you live here?
4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
5. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
Yes, there are a bunch, most prominently the British school (ABC), the German school, I believe there’s a French school, there are Montessori schools for younger kids. A few local private schools have partially English instruction. Almost all the kids from the U.S. Embassy go to EA or ABC. We were delayed getting to post so I chose EA virtually; they were more communicative, and I had heard there were problems at the British school and a bunch of families were transferring to EA.
Admissions & Welcome:
1. Are the admissions and placement procedures clearly stated to prospective families, either on the school website or through other means of communication?
Yes. At the elementary school they pretty much just put your kid where you tell them to, there isn’t any testing, I had one of mine repeat a grade and nobody noticed.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
To be fair, we arrived during COVID and everything was virtual, so nobody was positioned to do this. When they reopened, they did not allow parents on campus, so I really have no idea who anyone is.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
Not great. It’s up to the teacher; there doesn’t seem to be a policy. We’ve had one who was extremely communicative and proactive about informing me of every possible issue. Then we’ve had three who are essentially inaccessible to me except for parent-teacher conferences, which last about five minutes. The administration creates Q&A sessions just for U.S. Embassy families, so they are making an effort there, but it would be great to hear more from the teachers. They’ll even have random class projects and the kids need to bring in something obscure, like a can of shaving cream, or one sock, or three empty cereal boxes, and I only hear about it through other parents in a WhatsApp group.
2. Aside from school fees, are there required expenses such as uniforms, laptops/tablets, musical instruments, or field trips that parents are expected to cover? What are the approximate costs?
Yes. At the elementary level, it’s uniforms and school supplies; there’s more in the upper levels but I’m not familiar with them. The uniforms have to be bought from the school’s store, and they are expensive and poor quality. You have to get a formal uniform and a PE uniform and each has to have certain shoes. I spent probably $250 per kid, then I’ve had to sew them a million times after they fall apart.
Academics & Resources:
1. What personal or academic counseling resources are available at this school? Is there a dedicated college counselor at the school? Is he/she familiar with universities worldwide?
I’m aware of college fairs, but I don’t know if they have a dedicated college counselor.
2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?
Not now. In normal times there were after-school programs, I’ve heard.
3. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
They have a pretty good library, and kids can check out a certain number of books at a time.
4. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
There is a computer lab, and the kids have one class in there every eight days. I’ve never seen it since parents are not allowed on campus.
5. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?
All schools in El Salvador are still prohibited from being 100% in person, so EA is doing a hybrid schedule. Of course, kids need their own devices for virtual school. When I asked whether a tablet or a laptop would be better, they said, “You need both.” Our cheap laptops died and we’ve been fine with tablets. They don’t have much homework (for better or worse) but again, it seems to depend on the teacher.
6. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
They have a fine gym, but they want to build a new one and they are constantly harassing parents for donations. My kids come home begging for money because there’s some fundraiser for the gym and they can’t participate in XYZ activity unless they bring a certain amount of money. It’s pretty off-putting. Yes, there are tennis courts and a swimming pool and excellent spacious fields. They have a good amount of land in a prime location.
7. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
8. Are students generally challenged appropriately by the curriculum? Please describe any particular strengths or weaknesses in this area. Do you have any thoughts how the curriculum is applied and implemented at this school?
I have heard a lot of complaints about this from both sides — that kids are not challenged enough, and that kids are too challenged. I guess that’s typical for most schools, but it seems extreme here. The teachers just double down on their curriculum and don’t seem to care about helping kids on either end of the spectrum. Consequently a lot of kids are disengaged in class. Unless you’re a middle of the road student, you’re at a disadvantage.
9. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
Music, drama, art. They aren’t elective, they integrate them into the schedule. Older kids seem to resent this, but I think having those classes and that exposure to fine arts is pretty important. I only wish they had these classes more often than once every 8 days.
10. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
11. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Nothing. I have a kid who is smarter than me and craves a challenge, but she’s too far ahead of her class and therefore pretty much on her own. I have to provide her with extra work in the afternoon to keep her stimulated.
12. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Again, nothing. I am aware of one family having had a really, really bad experience with this recently. It seems to me that the culture surrounding learning differences is stuck in the ‘50s mentality. There are counselors but nobody is sure what their purpose is.
13. What services are provided for speakers of English as a second language at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Classes are taught in both Spanish and English, then as the kids progress through the school, they phase out the Spanish. This is probably great for the locals, the Salvadoran kids graduate with excellent English, but it is frustrating for non-Spanish speaking kids in the lower grades who don’t know what’s going on. Since it’s all informally mixed together and not differentiated, it’s not exactly an immersion experience and they don’t pick up Spanish like you’d hope.
14. What extra-curricular activities (including sports) are available at this school? Have your children participated in these activities? What activities do you feel are missing at the school?
Extracurricular activities for the younger kids have still not resumed. I’ve heard they’ve resumed for the older kids, but nobody knows how to sign up for them, so most families just seek out extra activities outside the school. There are swimming, dancing, yoga, soccer, tennis classes that are common choices.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. What is the climate for LGBT+ kids at this school? Are there resources they can draw upon? Does there appear to be any exclusionary behavior?
I don’t have personal experience, but Salvadorans are generally not known to be the most inclusive when it comes to LGBT+, so I’d look into this carefully if you’re considering this school… or this post.
2. What is the climate for children with special needs? Is there a general attitude of inclusion for children with special needs?
There are no resources to my knowledge and we have heard of instances of bullying related to that among very young children.
3. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
Local students generally begin school in Pre-K (age 3 or 4) and progress through the school together, so they are very tight knit. This gets more intense the higher up you go. My Pre-K kid has a bunch of friends but my older ones have had a very hard time socially. In upper grades, the expat kids seem to try and stick together.
4. Are there are any problems with exclusionary behavior, cliques, or bullying at this school? Please describe any problems your children may have experienced in this area.
In our experience, cliques and bullying were common. Some parents (including locals) are trying to get together and find a way to dissuade this because it’s such a persistent issue.
1. What letter grade (ranging from A, excellent, to F, fail) would you assign to this school based on your overall experience? Would you choose it again?
D. I would not choose this school again and will caution others about the issues I’ve experienced and seen.
2. Please describe some of your child's/children's highlights and challenges during their time at this school.
My kids have had a very hard time as they’ve been either too advanced, or too far behind. You need to be part of the herd if you’re going to get an education here, or you’ll be left by the wayside. Socially and academically it has been a really bad experience for us.