Thursday, June 17, 2010

Schools in the Lake Chapala Area

Joel and I decided to raise our children in the Lake Chapala area and as a result we have had a lot of experience with the schools here. Some great and some not so great. This is all based on our personal experience and that may not be your experience, so it is important to do your due diligence to find the best fit for you and your child. When you meet other people with children here ask them where their children go to school and why they didn’t choose a different school. The information below is just intended as a guideline to get you started.

Most people choose to put their children in a private, bilingual school while they are here in the area. The reality in the public schools is that most of them are over-crowded, having up to 50 students in one classroom. That just wasn’t an ideal situation for us while our kids were younger, though some foreigners here have had very positive experiences with the public schools here.

Mexican schools are on the British school system and are typically two years ahead of American schools. Surprised, aren't you? The reason for this is that, historically, many Mexican children never finish school past Jr. High and they go onto help with their family business, get a job to augment the family income or apprentice somewhere. This resulted in giving kids as much education as possible in the shortest amount of time. Children in Mexico start Kinder (pre-school) at age 3 and they are required to have a certificate showing that they completed their third year of kinder to enter first grade. Sometimes, if the child is from the U.S. or Canada, these rules are relaxed a bit if the child can keep up. Children are expected to know how to read and write, including penmanship in cursive to enter 1st grade. 9th graders here are on their 3rd year of Physics and if they are adept at mathematics, they are already taking calculus.

It is interesting to note that for children born in Mexico, a college education is free at any of the government universities, such as the University of Guadalajara provided that they can pass a very rigorous entrance exam. As a result of the difficulty of the exam only the best students can get in and there is a very low drop-out or failure rate and it is highly competitive. After 4 or 5 years students have their degree and then must “donate” a year to social service. For example, my daughter is interested in being a doctor and the University of Guadalajara has the best reputation of any college in Latin America for medicine. She will be given her GP license upon completion of college at the University of Guadalajara and then she will have to serve for a year at a clinic, such as the Red Cross, typical in rural communities working with families there, in addition to a year for her residency. The University will supply her with room and board and a small stipend during that time. Another benefit to Mexicans is that depending on their specializations in their chosen field, the University of Guadalajara has partnered with other colleges all over the world for exchange programs. For example, again drawing on the medical field, top students studying neurology have the chance to study in Germany. There are also a number of excellent private Universities here with top recognition in other countries, including Canada and the U.S., and they are much less expensive than schools in the U.S.

In 2009 the law in Mexico changed to make high school attendance compulsory. This is a great step for Mexico but one that I’m not sure how they are going to enforce.

The ideal time to register for the new school year is in February. If you can register in February, most schools will give you a significant discount for the registration fees.

There are a number of great private schools here that run the gamut from $50 USD a month to $300 USD a month to attend.

All of the schools in the Lake Chapala area require uniforms. That’s just the way its done here and it is meant to help the children and their parents to not have an economic burden with school clothes and heads off teasing or superiority among the children.

Preschool Options

  • Don Bosco
  • Instituto Loyola

  • Instituto Terranova

  • Octavio Paz

  • Tohui

  • >Primary grade Options:
    • Instituto Loyola
    • Instituto Terranova
    • Mocel
    • Octavio Paz
    • Roosevelt School
    • Terranova
    Jr. High options:
    • Instituto Loyola
    • Instituto Terranova
    • Octavio Paz
    • Terranova
    • Roosevelt School
    High School Options:
    • Instituto Loyola
    • Instituto Terranova
    • University of Guadalajara high school in Chapala
    • University of Guadalajara high school in Jocotepec
    I have added the University of Guadalajara Charter high schools, even though they are considered public, because there are fewer options for high schoolers here.
    I will go into the schools in more detail below, including the two public high schools here.
    Kinder Don Bosco
    Pre-school, East Ajijic
    This is a bilingual, private pre-school. It is fairly strict. If you have a child that is quite bright and would fit comfortably into a very academic setting then Don Bosco is worth taking a second look at. They teach reading and writing, in English and Spanish in print and in cursive. Ages are 3-6 years old. They require uniforms. This is run by a bilingual Mexican lady in La Floresta, in a beautiful neighborhood. They have a clean school with a great playground. They will require you to bring supplies, such as glue, paper, etc on a fairly regular basis. They do have a teacher turnover rate every year.
    Tuition runs about $100 USD a month. Uniforms required. 376-766-0970 Paseo de las Canoas 4-A La Floresta, Ajijic
    Intituto Loyola de Chapala:
    K-12, San Antonio Tlayacapan
    Once known as Oak Hill School, this is the oldest private, bilingual school in the area. Once when talking with parents about the three most popular private schools here (Loyola, Roosevelt and Terranova) it was said that Loyola is more free-spirited. More the “hippy,” laid-back school compared to the other two. Loyola actually has school dances for the high school, which is something no other school in the area does besides Terranova. They also participate in cultural and traditional events here, such as the Nutcracker Suite Ballet performed every year and the Dia de los Muertos exhibition as well as being in involved in some Lakeside Little Theater productions. They also have a robotics program and occasionally an astronomy event where the students and their parents can view the stars through a telescope at night. They are also partnering with the new Media Center here that will be producing movies and have classes in animation, video game design and cinematography.
    Fees are about $250 USD a month. 376-766-0676 Allen W. Lloyd 151, San Antonio Tlayacapan
    Grades 1-6, West Ajijic
    A new school here that is part of Tohui. They seem to be the first school that is prepared to help kids with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. That is not to say they are proficient at it but they are the first school to be looking at this and getting up to speed. They demand a LOT of parental participation. You would have to participate in class parties and maybe help make a meal or costumes, etc. They have a nice campus with a big yard and work closely with a pre-school, Tohui, next door. They school goes up to 4th grade right now and will go as high as 6th grade probably within the next year or two.
    Fees are about $250 USD a month. 376-766-4646 Rio Lerma 19, Rancho del Oro, Ajijic
    Octavio Paz:
    Pre-K-12, Riberas del Pilar
    A school with fairly small numbers of children in their classrooms, they typically have no more than 20 students per class. They have had a problem with keeping teachers. They teach karate all the way up to advanced levels and even have the kids walk on coals and glass. I know that sounds alarming but no child has ever been burned or cut. Sometimes they perform their martial arts in parades and at other community events.
    Tuition is about $150 USD a month. Uniforms required. Tel 765-6266 Santa Margarita #138, Riberas del Pilar.
    K-9, West Ajijic
    This school is supported by its main campus in Guadalajara.  It is located on the west side of Ajijic. Something to consider is that parents are not allowed to come on campus, except the first time when you have a look around. That didn’t work for us as a family but Roosevelt has some of the highest academic rankings after testing of any school, except Terranova, in the area. They have a nice campus, smaller class room sizes.
    Cost is about $250-$300 USD a month. Uniforms required. 376-766-2252 Carr. Chapala-Jocotepec 530, Ajijic
    Instituto Terranova:
    Pre-K-12, West Ajijic
    a highly structured, strict Jesuit school in West Ajijic with a lot of after school activities including arts, dancing and sports. It's a beautiful campus. The cost is about $250 USD a month and that doesn't include the inscription fee, uniform, etc. This is a great school if your child is already fairly disciplined and quiet. My oldest did very well there. They have a high academic standard. Your child would have to take and pass an entrance IQ test to get in. They have a student exchange program that is in its second year and they are just beginning a bachalaureate program. They have traveled to San Luis Potosi and Puebla in Mexico as well as Quebec in Canada. Among its achievements are a first place ranking in the national school exams known as ENLACE, given by the Secretaria de Educacion Publica(SEP).
    Fees are about $250 USD a month. Uniforms required. 376-2401, located at Rio Lerma #19, Rancho del Oro, Ajijic.
    Pre-K 18 months-6years, West Ajijic
    Tohui is by far considered the best (and most expensive) pre-school in the area but from what I have seen it is absolutely worth every penny. You will find a welcoming and very progressive staff of teachers and administrators there. They are the sister school of Mocel Primary school and located right next door. Expect to be extremely involved in your child’s education at this school but the standard for excellence is impressive. They work very hard to make it special experience for the kids. Most of the children who leave Tohui are well on their way to being bilingual.
    Fees are about $250 USD a month. Uniforms required.  376-766-4646 Rio Lerma 17, Rancho del Oro, Ajijic
    University of Guadalajara Preparatorias (high schools) There are two University of Guadalajara high schools here. One is located in Chapala at the east end of the lake and the other is located at the west end of the lake in Jocotepec. They are public, though an entrance exam is required. Both are considered very good high schools, though mainly just in core curriculum until students choose a career path. At that point, if a student wants to become a doctor, for example, they would begin to study more math and science courses. There are after school sports and activities. There is a morning session and an afternoon session. These high schools aren’t bilingual so children who don’t yet speak Spanish would be more comfortable in one of the other high schools mentioned.
    Fees: about $100 a year. Uniforms required. Enrollment goes through the University of Guadalajara here:
    This information is not exhaustive and new schools open from time to time or things change. If you have more current information, please contact me:

    1 comment:

    Amber Pfeffer said...

    Hi Kristina,
    My husband and I are planning to move to Mexico for 6mths while he sets up business in the States. I stumbled across your blog and think that the Lake Chapala area sounds absolutely perfect for us. We have two small children and think it would be a great experience for them. We will only be staying on holiday visas - will my son be able to attend kinder at one of the schools you mentioned? Are there rules about who can and who cannot attend if you are a foreigner? Are you able to help me understand the system a bit better or point me in the right direction.
    I am so pleased to have found your blog. It is very interesting and helpful.