I’ve been volunteering at a Colombian school since August and over the months I’ve compiled several notes on the differences between my school in Chicago and the school here in Colombia. The following are a few of my observations.
It should be noted that everything in this list may not be typical of every school in Colombia. Just as my school in the U.S. varies greatly from neighboring school districts. But hopefully, it will give you an idea on some practices. This particular school is located in a rural area in the coffee region of the country.
The School System:
Primary grades: Kinder – 5th
Secondary grades: 6th – 11th
Students in the primary grades attend from 7 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. Secondary students attend from 7 a.m. until 1:30 pm. Each class is one hour long.
At 10:00 students have a “recreo” or recess in which students eat a snack. Many bring chips and a drink or purchase at the school anything from a hot dog, arepa con cheese, salchipapa (cut up hot dog with french fries), suckers, ice cream treats, potato chips, or candy.
Here is the schedule for the 10th grade class:
Schedule for 5th Grade Schedule for 11th grade
You can use these schedules to compare and contrasts schools in the US and ask students questions such as ¿Cuántos días estudian inglés? ¿Cuál clase tienen el jueves en la tercera hora? ¿Cuándo tiene la clase de tecnología?
Most students live close to the school in this small town and walk to school. However, some come from the fincas (farms), a bit further away. There are of course no school buses, but students do take public transportation in the form of a jeep. At some points, you will see over 20 people on a jeep, sitting on the top or hanging on the back.
The jeeps are especially full on the weekends when people come to the town center to shop the markets. You will then see huge bags tied to the side and boxes, bags, eggs, and other purchases stored on the hood.
Class sizes are between 20-40 students. Sometimes more. The students stay in the classroom and the teachers come to the classroom. This means that students are with the same classmates all day long. In this particular school, there were 2 (or 3, in two cases) classes per grade level. Here is a video tour of a classroom. As you can see the students have their backpacks with them, as they do not have lockers.
You can see a 5th grade classroom here. What do your students notice about the room? How is it different from their classrooms?
As with most of Latin American, students wear a school uniform. This is typically blue pants and a white polo.
You will not hear a student call a student by “Señor” or “Señora” plus their last name. Instead, they usually just call the teacher “profe”, short for profesor(a). Although students will actually use the teachers first name as well. “Jaime, cómo se hace número tres?” However for the principal or coordinators (deans) they will use the formal “don” o “doña” and the first name, for example don Jorge, or doña Gloria. Teachers might pass each other in the hallway and greet each other by saying “Hola, profe”.
The school year starts in late January and runs through the end of November or early December. Students who passing their classes are dismissed a week before those who are failing, who attend remediation classes an extra week to try and pass the year (ganar el año). Students who fail one class will perder el año and be held back and have to repeat the year. For this reason you will find a large age group of students in the same grade, including 14 and 15 year olds still in 5th grade.