Caracas, Venezuela Report of what it's like to live there - 07/07/13
Personal Experiences from Caracas, Venezuela
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?
Grades 5 through 8
3. During what years were you affiliated with this school?
2011 to 2013
4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
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?
A: The admissions office is extraordinarily helpful, and the school takes great care in classroom placement in the elementary school.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
D: Upon our arrival in 2011, support of new students was very poor. Communication was weak, and our children were not supported adequately as they attempted to integrate into the student body and recover from their transition.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. Describe the general climate of the grade level that you teach or your child attends:
The general climate of the middle grades felt stressful and challenging for our children. A large Latin American population that speaks primarily Spanish and Portuguese outside of class can make socializing hard for English speakers and other-language speakers.
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:
C: It appears that local students and families are offered preferential treatment. Discipline and selection for special opportunities shows some favoritism. Expat students, especially those who will only be with the school for a short time, are not provided the same encouragement and positive response as local or long-term students.
3. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
C: Again, this depends on the teacher. The great teachers were communicative and responded within reasonable time limits. The teachers who were struggling to maintain professional standards were very spotty in their communication.
4. Services for gifted students who need academic challenge and students with learning difficulties:
F: There are absolutely no services for gifted students. Furthermore, this is not a good fit for gifted/talented students if they have tendencies toward being emotionally sensitive - which is common among that group. The academic core classes are challenging, but there are very few opportunities for extension. Additionally, the heavy emphasis on technology is hampered by unsupportive technology staff. Our T/G kid was not a happy camper in this environment, and his gifts were not developed as they would have been in a proper T/G program. Our student with T/G characteristics and mild learning needs also struggled. Only the most mild special educational needs can be met.
5. Availability and variety of after-school activities for various ages:
B: There is a solid program of after-school activities. The program manager, a contractor for swimming, and the AD staff did not return most of my emails this year, though, so it was difficult to get help signing up for these programs. These programs have high rates of participation and provide very necessary options in a city that continually offers less and less to expat families.
6. Maintenance of appropriately high standards for all students:
D: Favoritism was a major problem. In the classrooms of the stronger teachers, in which standards were consistent and expectations were high, classroom management was solid and academic expectations were high and uniformly maintained. That accounted for about 40% of the faculty. Unfortunately, in the classrooms of the less-professional teachers, standards were not consistent and children were treated very differently. Some of the poorer teachers (30%) had quite low standards -- both for academic progress and behavior -- and were openly biased toward some groups of students.
7. Homework assigned (quality, quantity):
B: This really depended on the teacher in the middle grades. Better teachers had excellent homework practices. Weak teachers did not communicate regarding homework, didn't assign homework, or assigned homework that was not well-aligned to the curriculum.
8. Administration-parent communication:
A: The administration was very attentive and responded quickly to calls and emails. But they were not able to hold the faculty to the same standards.
9. Teacher-student communication:
B: Some teacher-student relationships were excellent. Other relationships were poor. Our children were critical of teachers who displayed obvious favoritism, could not control their classrooms, or did not provide a challenging curriculum.
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?
Yes - Spanish language and some science classes.
11. Does your child receive any special-needs assistance or instruction at this school? If yes, what types? Who provides services and where:
Yes - minor support in language arts. Support was provided by the general education teachers.
12. Do you believe the special-needs assistance is appropriate and fills your needs? Explain:
No. Both of our children had social and emotional needs and T/G needs that were not met.
13. Does the gifted and talented program meet the needs of students? Please explain:
No. There is no program, and the school culture and training of the staff are not suited for T/G children.
14. Does the school offer a wide variety of elective or non-core classes such as art, music, and drama?
Yes. Art is an excellent program with a wonderful teacher. Music will have new faculty next year. Sixth-grade drama is fantastic! Seventh and eighth-grade drama is taught by a person who has significant problems teaching that age group.
15. Please describe any classes or programs that you believe are missing:
Additional options for foreign languages would be great, as well as sporting opportunities that last longer and provide for more skill development. Additionally, a guidance department with experience in managing middle-school students and female bullying is missing.
16. Are there academic requirements such as trips or other activities that cost money in addition to school fees?
YES! THE ADDITIONAL COST OF ATTENDING THIS SCHOOL IS SIGNIFICANT. If your child participates in sports, you will pay for away trips. There are also trips in the fall and spring that are expensive. It seems that nearly everything that happens at the school costs additional money - so the $26,000 (with an additional $15,000 capital fee the first year) only covers basic school and transportation. Everything else is an additional cost to you. I don't know if other expats can have these expenses covered by their employer, but some families are stuck with either paying the additional fees out of pocket or forcing their children to miss participating in part of the curriculum that is included in some of the away trips.
17. What activities do you feel are missing?
It would be great to see track and field offered in the middle school. Occasionally a child will be allowed to participate with the high-school team, but this brings us back to the favoritism that is prevalent. The opportunity was not afforded to middle-school children.
18. Have your children participated in the activities offered? If no, please indicate why:
Yes, they participated in many activities. In Caracas you have to treat the school as your neighborhood. Most children are isolated in their apartment buildings when they come home from school, so staying at school to participate in activities is one of the only ways for them to have an outlet outside of class.
19. Does the school provide appropriate assistance to new students?
No. it is generally accepted that most english-speaking expat children will be pretty miserable for about a year, then they'll finally get used to the way things are done at this school and settle in.
20. Please describe any problem areas or challenges in social interaction at the school:
Spanish is the functional language at school. Our children were admonished by both peers and adults for not learning Spanish fast enough to be able to function both socially and academically in Spanish. This situation made normal assimilation slow and painful and got them off to a very rocky start.
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?
D: We attempted to work with two counselors over two years. Neither had sufficient experience working with middle-school students to permit them to be effective.
2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
A: The school has an excellent media center!
3. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
C: This is a very advanced school in terms of technology. Each middle-school student is issued a mini laptop. For most of the curriculum it is very helpful. Sadly, getting the bugs out takes quite a bit of time and some help from uncooperative and unkind school staff at the middle school level. Also, some of the technology push caused academic and elective projects to seem much more about making the sometimes-difficult technology work -- and less about the content that was being taught.
4. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
C: PE teachers are generally excellent, although some of our favorites are departing the school this summer. The coaching staff can leave quite a lot to be desired, depending on who is coaching which sport. Several long-term coaches are weak and prone to favoritism toward popular children. Other coaches provide excellent opportunities for middle-school kids to develop skills and provide good leadership to help the kids develop socially.
5. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
A: This is excellent. In the classes in which excellent teachers are teaching, the quality of instruction could not have been better.
6. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
7. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
C: Art, music and drama are offered, but there are no other elective options in the middle grades. No foreign languages are provided - students have to study Spanish and have no other language options.
8. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
No - some locally-engaged teachers do not speak English fluently, and occasionally substitutes would not speak English while teaching in core classes. In core classes the students sometimes speak only Spanish while working in groups and are not reminded to work in English.
9. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
No. We needed T/G support and it was not provided. The school will communicate that these programs are not provided - please take that response at face value and do not expect that your child's T/G needs and characteristics will be understood or considered.
10. 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: Do not expect that a student-athlete will make progress in a sport here. The sport seasons are short, and teams do not practice together long enough to develop significant skills, with the exception of swimming. Sports are more along the lines of intramural-level in the middle school. Other extracurricular activities are available.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
No: This is largely a linguistic issue. Expat students are not generally invited into the homes of locals. Expat kids generally stick together in subgroups. If your child is the only (or one of a few) English speakers in a grade level, it can be very lonely.
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.
YES! Under new leadership, the school is making some attempt to get bullying and exclusion under control. Sadly, though, due to the high number of local students who have other good schooling options available, it appears to outsiders that the administration is unable to enforce consistent discipline standards. There is a perception that expat students are sometimes disciplined more severely than local students. Bullying and exclusion -- including linguistic exclusion, is common.
1. What is the greatest strength of this school?
This school offers good academic preparation. It has some excellent teachers who are very good at what they do.
2. Greatest challenge?
There are some really mean kids who are not given sufficient leadership, guidance, and discipline. And there are some teachers and counselors who either prefer local and long-term students or are unwilling to lead an unruly student body to good citizenship and develop an emotionally safe environment.
3. Would you choose this school again? Why?
No - we would not return to this school, even though it has a stronger high-school program. The problems with the student body and some of the faculty members were not balanced out by good academic preparation. If you come to ECA, have realistic expectations. It is a school, similar to many other schools. In the past it has had the reputation of being something of a superstar among international schools, but that reputation may have lead some folks to have unrealistic expectations. It has some great teachers, some middling teachers, and some really awful teachers, just like all other schools. It has some great programs, and some fair programs, just like all other schools. Some kids do fine if they can deal with exclusion and bullying or can speak Spanish or Portuguese - other kids are just miserable. If you have children who are sensitive to bullying, injustice, or exclusion, this may not be a good fit for your family.