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Balancing act.

Local private schools seek to open up students' university options in the United States and Mexico

Students attending private, bilingual (English-Spanish) schools in Mexico have a distinct advantage in today's world. Not only do they study two languages and learn to adapt to two different cultures, they are also eligible to enroll in either Mexican or U.S. universities when they graduate. The challenge for these private schools, however, has been to decide which curriculum and accreditation process they should follow to best serve their students, whether they plan to go to college here or in the United States. The answer, more often than not, has been to attain accreditation by the governments of both countries. This may mean twice the workload for students, but it also gives them more options once they graduate.

NEW ACCREDITATION

In 1993, former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari made middle school, known in Spanish as secundaria, obligatory in order to improve education levels in Mexico. As a result, private bilingual secundarias that had previously been accredited by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, were obligated to seek accreditation from the Public Education Secretariat (SEP) as well. While this change came under the Salinas administration, most of the country's bilingual, bicultural schools are only now going through the SEP accreditation process (which varies from state to state) because accreditation hadn't been enforced until recently. Since many private schools want their students' education to be recognized in Mexico as well as in the United States, they are now applying for SEP recognition for their secundarias.

One example of a private school that has faced the accreditation question is the American School in Mexico City. Since opening its doors in 1888, the American School has historically catered to the U.S. community in Mexico. The importance of learning English and understanding U.S. culture has grown, however, and many Mexican parents interested in providing their children with a U.S. education have started sending their children there as well.

The American School thus found itself serving students with different interests and intentions. In order to ensure that its program would be accepted in the United States, the American School received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). With SACS recognition, students have no problem transferring to U.S. schools or applying for college in the United States and other countries. This accreditation also benefits Mexican students who are interested in studying in the United States.

Not all students want to further their education abroad, however. Many Mexican, American and international students want to study a U.S. program in elementary and secondary school, but prefer to attend a Mexican university.

As a result, the American School offers two programs, one from the United States and one from Mexico, and many students opt to take both. Maria Teresa Olavarrieta, Spanish Coordinator and Technical Director at the American School, says that in the American School's elementary school program, students must strictly follow the SEP curriculum. Once they reach middle school, the American School has a special agreement with the SEP that considers it a foreign body with SACS accreditation and allows it limited autonomy.

The program has been so successful that several other English-language private schools in Mexico are following their lead in an effort to provide students with as many educational options as possible.

SERVING DIFFERENT INTERESTS

Having achieved dual accreditation, private schools try to maintain a balance between their Mexican and American programs while showing an equal respect for both.

"We live in both worlds," says Dr. Robert W. Trent, general director of the American School in Guadalajara. "We can't ignore Mexican [curriculum] because it is important to our students, but we also need to deal with our U.S. constituency."

Westhill, another private, bicultural school, faces the same challenges.

Jerry McGee, headmaster and chancellor of Westhill, says, "giving courses such as Mexican History in Spanish (in K through 12) makes it difficult for our international students who don't speak the language. Still, we are doing the best we can to satisfy both SACS and the SEP."

For parents who wish to send their children to private schools, it is worth studying the accreditation plan of each institution to ensure that students have all options open to them when it comes to furthering their education. Students who take on the challenge of completing a double curriculum graduate with the advantages of being both bilingual and bicultural, something increasingly important in today's business environment.

Rhona Statland de Lopez is the education columnist for The Mexico City News and Mexico Correspondent for The Chronicle of Higher Education.
COPYRIGHT 2001 American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico A.C.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:private schools in Mexico
Author:de Lopez, Rhona Statland
Publication:Business Mexico
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Words:771
Previous Article:Mexico in transition.
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