Saturday, August 27, 2016

Private and Public Schools

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I work in a private school and I wanted people to know what goes on in the Mexican system.  My school is a Catholic school and has a town trust that owns and operates the school.  I am not on the teaching staff but an external consultant and my work is not just in English but working towards creating a bilingual environment.  If you were to walk into the school it looks like another Catholic school except we no longer have religous teaching staff except for religion teachers.

There are a total of 36.9 million students in Mexican schools from Pre-K through university including both public and private  (2016-2017).  953,760 teachers support these schools with 240.000 working private educational institutions.  Out of the 263,000 schools there are 46,000 are private.  

The number of private schools continues to rise and has doubled since 1990.  Why the increase in private institutions versus public?  Number one reason is that the Mexican economy and the Mexican middle class has grown by leaps and bounds.   Another big reason is the quality of education and the teachers union.  As I am sure you've been reading, we are going through an education reform issued by the federal government and created by individuals who were chosen based on their research and investigation in the Mexican system.  The reform has pitted government, unions and teachers against each other for one very simple reason.  Teachers are now being evaluated based on performance, professional development, and overall knowledge.  There is also an additional test for English teachers.

Starting on Monday, August 22nd, many schools in four states didn't open for classes.  Students are being denied public education because of the teachers and the union.  Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacan and Chiapas.  Those just happen to be the country's four poorest states.   Very sad.   In many cases, the maximum educational level achieved is 6.5 years or just exiting primary.  Why is that?  At 14, a student in Oaxaca has missed so much school due to striking teachers that they no longer see the value of education and go to work.  Last year alone, students in Oaxaca missed 100 days of classes.  How will they ever make them up?  They can't and they won't.

I have worked with both the private and public sector training English teachers.   I have to say that the attitude of many public teachers is, "I really don't care, just pay me".   In the private sector, depending on the economic and educational level of the school you will find all kinds of teachers.  Keep in mind that English has been in the curriculum since 1929 but is still not considered an official subject.  Because of that, English is never taken seriously even in some private schools.   Private schools can cost $150 (u.s.) a month to $5000 (u.s.) a month.   Trust me, there are many that fall into the $1000 (u.s.) per month level.   High tech, all English schools with one hour of Spanish and some teach a third language in secondary or high school.  A large percentage of private schools offer classes from Pre-K though secondary or high school.

With that said, there are many very good public primary and secondary schools.  What makes one better than the other?  The answer lies in the culture created by the school principal.  It takes a lot to run a public school.  A new public school receives; the property, the buildings, new furniture, and a set of teachers.  After that, the school is on its own.  It (the PTA) is required to raise funds to maintain the school building, provide air conditioners, technology tools, paint, gardening tools, etc.  

There is always fight about public schools not being free in Mexico.  The school cannot force a parent to participate in the above.  We call them quotas and the parents are required to pay an amount for each student at the beginning of the year.  There are also fund raising events throughout the year.  Don't think that a good public school is always in an upper-middle class neighborhood.  Again, it depends on your principal.  Some of the best maintained schools are in some of the poorest areas.   New schools being built in this decade are also some of the highest quality that exist today.  

Many people have a plan.  They send their kids to a private school in Pre-K, primary and secondary and then return them to a public high school so that they can save money for university studies.   Public universities run approx. 3000 pesos per month and our state university in Monterrey has 130,000 students and over 50% receive some type of scholarship and many of those pay nothing.  All private schools, by federal law, are required to provide X number of scholarships to the public.   

Our most expensive university, which happens to be in Monterrey, costs 65,000 pesos per semester.  I finished my studies in English there in 1994.  It wasn't that expensive then.  They also have a scholarship program but once a person finishes their degree, they have signed a contract to work it off at the university in administrative or teaching positions.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Hmm . . . I Guess I'm Back! (For Awhile)

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It has been a long summer and I haven't blogged much since we headed back to Monterrey.  It's been all work, travel and too many hotel beds to count.  We made good money and Friday was my last day for a few weeks before we start our weekend road tours.   

I met a lot of teachers, worked in two schools a day.  Private schools run the gamut from small family owned and operated schools to campuses that make some U.S. schools seem relatively small and insignificant.   I had time to read while I was riding high in the sky and I chose to read pedagogy and methodology materials since I hadn't done so since April.  You can never stop with professional development and that included materials about presenting and use of technology.

Here are a few pics that describe the last month.

Airports . . .


Hotels . . . 


An occasional splurge meal . . .


And the winner of all schools on this tour was in Guadalajara.  The owners purchased what was left of a farm in a now semi-industrial area.   The maintained as much of the farm as possible including lots of green areas.   The picture isn't the best but in the back are the classroom buildings.  I don't see many schools like this in the U.S. or Mexico where all of the staff are well-paid educational professionals.   The farm also came with what are now two older dogs, a German Shepard and a Gran Pionero (can't remember in English right now) that are allowed to roam the school.  I hit it off with one that followed me both days and sat next to me while we worked.  I guess he loved my presentations and activities.   Anyway, it was a refreshing experience to know that excellence in education still exists.


The worst were the days like this last Thursday when I had worked four days straight and took a late flight home arriving at the house at 11 p.m. only to get up and 5:30 and head back to the airport.  However, that's part of what I do.

September I will be heading to Pennsylvania and Tennessee working with the SAT/ACT and then head to Kansas City where I will visit with my family for a few days.  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

You Need To Replace It! Oh Yeah!

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Whenever there is a problem at home or with the cars the answer is always the same.  "Replace the part".  Well, not necessarily true.  Here is a good example and I have more.  A lot has to do with the country or area you live in.   

Recently we had a decrease in water pressure in the house.  The outside water hoses worked fine.  We called a plumber thinking the worst, such as a leak, and he responded, " We need to open the walls and change out the shower faucets.  They are stopped up with sediment".   When you open a wall in a concrete house it is a mess and very expensive to repair not to mention the fact that you will have little luck finding matching tiles.

My mind works in mysterious ways.  We use vinegar to clean just about everything.  It's natural and it's cheap.  It works wonders on glass and chrome faucets.   So, I disconnected the water inlets to the house and attempted to pour vinegar into the lines.  We waited 24 hours and turned things on.  Sediment poured out of the faucets along with rust and it seemed to help.   The showers didn't change.   While I was in San Miguel de Allende, Juan got the idea to put vinegar directly into the shower head outlet.   

I've never seen so much water pressure in all my life.  We now have wonderful showers that once were a trickle to the point I was ready to shower outside with the garden hose and that's not an exaggeration. 

The same goes with car parts.   The starter doesn't work, we change out the magnets inside.   A motor loses power, we have the motor rewound if that is the correct word.  There are shops in Mexico called bobinadoras, that redo the copper wire on the motors.   Everything can be fixed instead of replaced.

I remember when I worked in the pioneer years of computers.   We didn't replace boards and parts.  We repaired them down to the diode.  That can still be done today in Mexico.  I've mentioned that before with the small inverters.  We have blown a few only to have them repaired for a few bucks.  I'm not an electrician or a mechanic, so I went on line to YouTube and found a video that explained that inverters have a regular auto fuse inside.   Now, if it happens, I open it up, pull the fuse and replace it.

It's been a difficult return home.   We both have two weeks of intense teacher training and travel.   We have reviewed, written presentations and trainings for over 25 different textbooks that we will use in the coming weeks.   Pooped is the word but then again, that's what we do twice a year to make money.  Did I mention that we will be making a promotional video for the university and we will be well-paid for the one-hour show?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Camping In Sierra de Organos, Zacatecas

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As you can see from the pictures, this is truly a beautiful place for a long stay.  The temperatures range from 25C during the day to 8C at night during the summer months.  

There is a visitor's center and a person who is on guard day and night.  The fee is 40 pesos per person so it's 80 per couple per night no exceptions.  For a two-week period, it is 1120 pesos or at the current exchange rate, or roughly 62 dollars.  Great camping.  What do you get for that?  Pit toilets, picnic tables and BBQ.  The areas are open and there is enough room, depending on the area you choose, to get a large motorhome into a comfortable place.  

Excellent roads. Very few rough spots.  A large Class A can make it to most of the camping sites.  We stopped several times and walked ahead and then, depending on the conditions, contined with the rv.   Today before leaving we found several large parking areas with camping facilities further up into the hills with even better views.   We only saw two cars.  I think most are locals who come for the day.   I think we had a bear around our site last night based on the grunts that a bear makes.




A beautiful fungus.  Another area to study and investigate.


There are plenty of hiking trails and they are paved with laja or flat rock.  The rules state clearly that you have to stay on the paths.  I will tell you right now, there isn't a map per se of the trails.  They are clearly marked with the distance.  This is still a national park in the rough and there is still much to do.  

Total amount of trash collected in a seven kilometer hike.  Most located in the same spot mostly by kids based on the wrappers.  Not bad for Mexico or a national park. 

The amount of litter is almost not existent.   Here is a picture of what we collected on a 5 km (one way).  It is minimal and they have limited resources.  I asked the person in charge if they invited schools from the area.  There are small towns with secondary and high schools.   He said that only university students come once in a great while to do research.  I had meant to say that teachers should be bringing their students to do community service; cleaning, hiking and picking up litter, cleaning out drainage ditches, etc.   It has caused me to write an editorial piece for the newspaper in Sombrerete, Zac. that I hope to submit this month.

Typical camping area.  There are four that are this size and all off the main road.  No issues.


I ran across several types of lichen while I was in San Miguel de Allende.  I did a little research and ran across an article about a guy who had been home schooled and wanted to get a degree.  He ran away from home, got his degree and did his post-graduate studies with a emphasis on lichen.  After the original discovery in the 1800s this guy found that lichen are made up of two algaes and one fungus.  The different combinations create the colors, shapes and sizes.  Some brown or rust colors are confused with iron ores in rocks.



It is truly the beginning of what we consider in the U.S. a national park and it has all the makings.  It's just a matter of getting involved.   

On our way home, too much work to do now that Juan has been accepted as a consultant and we will be traveling in different directions starting next week until the 20th of the month.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Sierra de Organos - Organ Pipes Natl Park Durango Mexico

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I'll post more later because we are on the road and in a ciber cafe.  Too much to tell about this jewel on the border between Zacatecas and Durango.   A truly well-preserved national park with great walking trails, campgrounds with room for rvs that include fire pits, picnic tables for each site and porta pottis.  Cabins are two-bedroom houses for 650 pesos a night.  The camping is 40 per person per day.

We want to come back and spend a couple of weeks. It's very quiet, not a lot of visitors and the stars at night really put on a show.





Saturday, July 30, 2016

Zacatecas International Folk Festival

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With limited places to park for the festival we are at the Hotel Baruk.   I'm not thrilled paying for a place but it's level, has good power, and believe it or not, the best wifi signal we've ever had in any part of North America.   We have a good view of the city from our spot and the showers and hotel services are pretty good. 

We left San Miguel de Allende on Thursday morning.  We stayed another nother day because a friend from Monterrey was in town with her friends.  We went out for drinks and stayed up until 1 a.m.  We left Thursday morning late around 11 a.m.   I've never done that unless it was a short trip of an hour or so.  Great scenery.  We passed through Guanajuato, Jalisco and into Zacatecas.

Yours truly taking a mirror pic at the theater of the city.


Yesterday was spent walking around town, finding a place for the laundry and wonderful 35 peso breakfast that consisted of huevos rancheros and coffee.  The best salsa and refried beans I've had on this trip.

The Alameda park where we met the dancers for the callejoneada.


In the afternoon we went to the Alameda to wait for the arrival of the dance groups.  Groups from Panama, Nicaragua, Estonia, Argentina and Luxembourg showed up in time for the callejoneada.  We walked through the streets with a wonderful band drinking small cups or jarritos of mexcal.  The dancers from the other countries took tons of pictures and we did too. 

The groups from Panama y Nicaragua.

We like to do crockpot cooking while we're going down the road.  This dish was easy.  Two large chicken breasts, potatoes and brocoli.  The brocoli sat on top for the last hour and it turned out beautifully.  Everything is tender and tasty and with the potatoes it makes its own gravy.



Tomorrow morning I'll be making cinnamon rolls in the crockpot.   Great thing is, you can do this while going down the road or on solar.  One pot for easy clean up without using a lot of water.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mexico City and Back In Three Days

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A quick three-day trip to Mexico City for work and it was great!   We started out taking Little Bit to the cattery out on the ranch at a place called Creature Comforts.  He loved it.  The cattery has a small house just like home with a sofa and furniture.   All the cats have their own carriers to take refuge if they want a taste of their own place.   We came home last night and I picked up LB first thing this morning.  Very happy to report he was well-acclimated, made friends and was well-taken care of.

We took a more expensive touring bus to D.F.  This one was a doble piso (double decker) and I have waited for two years to take one.  The experience was top drawer.  Only 25 seats on the the bus.  3 on the lower deck, and 22 on the upper deck.  One seat on one side of the aisle and two on the other.  The seats recline into full beds, television with movies, video games, television, music and most importantly internet that truly works while in route.

Lower deck, great for sleeping.  Has a reading light as well.

Staircase to the upper deck.

Great for nighttime travel, bring a blanket though.  Sandwiches, cold drinks and a sweet are included along with hot coffee during the whole trip.  I guess you could slip in your own cocktails.

Meetings are meetings but this was a good one.  A great team, downsized but even better.  More work for us and a more knowledgeable and experienced group.   I will be working for two weeks, starting August 8th, in D.F., Guadalajara, Tampico and Reynosa.   More air miles on AeroMexico.


It was raining when we left the office Monday night, it was raining cats and dogs and we didn't have the umbrella with.   We darted over to the World Trade Center to wait along with others hoping the storm would die down.


That's when I got the idea to go to the top of the tower to the revolving restaurant for some pictures.  We ordered one drink, I'll never tell what it cost but it was worth it.  I've stayed there for years and have never been to the top.   It was nice.   We watched the storm pass along with a jet passing every two minutes during rush hour.


We made our way up to the 45th floor to Bellini's Restaurant.  Very nice place and the service was the best.   





The trip home was equally enjoyable.  We watched a good movie, Saint Vincent, with Bill Murray.  Great scenery on the way home.

Turns out that a friend of ours is here for the night in SMA so we are leaving tomorrow for Zacatecas and the festival.