San Juan, Puerto Rico Report of what it's like to live there - 01/24/14
Personal Experiences from San Juan, Puerto Rico
1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?
2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?
3. During what years were you affiliated with this school?
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?
When we moved to Puerto Rico, we had two choices: Baldwin School or St. John's. We chose Baldwin because we didn't want to live downtown and felt that St. John's had more "issues" (however, I do know it is also a good school). Baldwin has green space and room to move and we liked that. I was not a teacher at the time we chose the school so it was motivated purely based on what our children needed.
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?
The admissions process was great and our kids were really allowed to move forward in their academics. The admissions officer is the kindest, most helpful and supportive admissions person I've ever met.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
There were new student orientation meetings and information. The only suggestion I would have for improvement would be on-going information that clarifies more some of the things new families wouldn't know as far as protocol (spirit week, ring ceremony, etc). There were a few things that we just didn't understand because of a lack of experience.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. Describe the general climate of the grade level that you teach or your child attends:
We were so happy with our choice. Both kids found a group of like-minded students who really accepted them. As with any school, there are cliques and social groups but I've never been at a school where students are so generally supportive of each other and of themselves as a class.
2. For the following attributes, down to the next blank box, grade your experience at the school on a scale of A (excellent) to F (unacceptable/terrible) and provide comments:<br><br>Overall fair and equitable treatment of all students and families:
While I know there were issues and cliques, I never personally experienced it and I felt that the administration and teachers worked hard to make Baldwin a place where every family and student felt like s/he was part of a community. Grading was fair and taken seriously (with the exception of one teacher with whom I had major issues) and there are on-going efforts to keep improving.
3. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
For the most part, communication is good. Problems tend to be with a few individual teachers but beyond that I was happy.
4. Services for gifted students who need academic challenge and students with learning difficulties:
This was my favorite part of Baldwin School. Students are actively encouraged and there are teachers who are really willing to go out of their way to push students to excellence. There is a lot of support for academic competition and many high-level classes. As far as learning difficulties, I only have knowledge about elementary school where they make a great effort to help students and give them the support they need.
5. Availability and variety of after-school activities for various ages:
Many, many options!
6. Maintenance of appropriately high standards for all students:
Baldwin School takes great pride in its high standards not only academically but also with behavior. Students are expected to treat each other and school staff with respect and courtesy and problems are always addressed quickly. The new school director has made this a priority.
7. Homework assigned (quality, quantity):
There can be a lot. At times it can be overwhelming but I think that the upper school is really working hard to make sure it is a fair amount and that students are not overburdened. For the most part, my kids were fine.
8. Administration-parent communication:
Very good. The administration was very supportive, even when I knew they thought I was stopping by too much.
9. Teacher-student communication:
With most teachers, teacher-student communication is good. Like I said, problems tend to be with just a few individual teachers.
10. Academics, answer the following questions "yes" or "no" with an explanation if appropriate:<br><br>Are there any classes or subjects where students are not appropriately challenged?
11. Does your child receive any special-needs assistance or instruction at this school? If yes, what types? Who provides services and where:
12. Does the gifted and talented program meet the needs of students? Please explain:
I know it does in the upper grades.
13. Does the school offer a wide variety of elective or non-core classes such as art, music, and drama?
Yes. Music is the only area I would say needs a lot of improvement.
14. Please describe any classes or programs that you believe are missing:
15. Are there academic requirements such as trips or other activities that cost money in addition to school fees?
Just a class fee which pays for trips and activities.
16. Have your children participated in the activities offered? If no, please indicate why:
Yes. My children did both sports and academic activities.
17. Does the school provide appropriate assistance to new students?
For the most part, yes. As I mentioned earlier, there are some things that pop up that we didn't understand until our second year which made it a little awkward (spirit week, ring ceremony, graduations, etc) for my children.
18. Please describe any problem areas or challenges in social interaction at the school:
Social challenges that my children had were not unique an had more to do with my kids being generally socially awkward. However, they really did feel accepted and the child who had been bullied in previous schools was the happiest and very content at Baldwin. I give a lot of credit to the staff for creating an environment where my child was allowed to be himself and was just fine. It could also be the Puerto Rican environment. My kids were so happy at Baldwin!
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?
Excellent! I cannot say enough about how knowledgeable and personalized is the guidance office. Every single thing about my son's college application experience was amazing. The guidance counselor knew every, single student's situation and met with them multiple times and was so focused on the process. I'm sure it had a part in my son's ivy-league university acceptance.
2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
The library is adequate but there will soon be a larger and more functional library. There is a lot of building happening in the near future.
3. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
This has been improving with the new director. He has been pushing an overhaul of school IT and big plans are in progress.
4. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
The sports programs are very well supported and there are lots of offerings. The PE program is also good and students are quite active at the school. (The green space helps encourage this.)
5. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
6. Are Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses available in upper grades? If this is an IB school, is the full diploma required of all students?
Many AP courses available and encouraged. The school will eventually be an IB school with the same or better high-level courses.
7. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
It really depends on the grade level and the teaching teams. However, the new school director is looking at everything and doing a lot of overhaul and I have no doubt that this is being addressed.
8. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
The music program really needs support and expansion. Otherwise, I thought art and drama was good.
9. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
Yes. They all speak English very well.
10. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Yes. There are many honors and AP offerings in the upper grades.
11. 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?
Yes. There are many options in both sports and academics.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
Yes. My children were very comfortable and accepted by the Puerto Ricans. It is a Puerto Rican experience, which I loved. The teachers and students are largely Puerto Rican and it really gives the school a nice feeling. I had a hard time really knowing who were expat and who weren't because it all seemed to flow together. I really appreciated this experience for my kids who have had both international and local schooling and Baldwin was a great combination.
2. 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.
These issues had very little to do with expat or not expat. Any issues of bullying or teasing were dealt with swiftly and are taken very seriously. I did not see much of it both as a parent and as a teacher.
1. What is the greatest strength of this school?
The teachers. The teachers are close and happy and enjoy being there. I appreciate them more than I can say and I loved that my kids spent every single day after school in someone's classroom hanging with their friends and learning more. The teachers at Baldwin go out of their way to encourage students to enjoy learning.
2. Greatest challenge?
Like I said, figuring out the protocol for certain events or long-standing traditions was difficult at times. We managed and I think that the school is working on this. As in every school, there is one or two teachers who are more difficult or didn't fit with my kids but we managed this. To me these are small things when compared to how much Baldwin did for my kids. When I started teaching, I had my own set of challenges but for the purposes of my thoughts here, I'm approaching it with my "parent" glasses on.
3. Would you choose this school again? Why?
I would recommend Baldwin without hesitation. No school is perfect and neither is Baldwin but it was the best schooling experience my children ever had and they've attended a lot of different schools. Baldwin has a new director who is fabulous and really working to make the school exceptional.