Mi cole

girlsMy school is different from a lot of Madrid schools where American friends of mine work. For one, the student population (somewhere around 260 children aged 3-12) is 90 percent or more immigrant, or children of immigrant parents. Also, a substantial number of children at school reside at one of three nearby homes: either the one for abused mothers or one of the other two for children of parents deemed incapable of taking care of their children. The teachers at school like to say that we have “special” students. I like to think that my students are the face of the new Madrid.

plantsOne might think that a bilingual public school in a central neighborhood would act as a magnet, drawing in the neighborhood children to reap the benefits of a bilingual education. Not so in the case of my school. We are one of four bilingual elementary schools in the immediate vicinity. In addition, just three blocks down the street from school lies a colegio concertado, or semi-private Catholic school. This school receives some money from the government and has become a “refuge for middle-class Spanish parents” who fled with their children from our school when they saw it filling up with immigrant children. In turn, our school has become a sort of immigrant ghetto while the government subsidizes an escape route for Spanish parents who don’t want their children schooled with the frequently more disadvantaged immigrant kids. Where’s the logic?

blue teamIn the meantime, enrollment at school is getting lower and lower. In some ways this isn’t a bad thing: my second graders are just 14 per class. But perhaps one day the school, in its lovely old building, will have to close? One of the problems with the student population is that it is constantly changing. The kids from the home for mistreated mothers leave when they receive a new house. We’ve had students return to Ecuador for several months or forever. One of the boys in my second grade class spent a month in Colombia this year. We also receive new students throughout the year. Several months ago we had an influx of Paraguayan children and a few Bolivians. And many families leave the center of Madrid (and the school) as soon as they earn enough money to live in one of the housing complexes on the outskirts of Madrid.

danielaIn addition to some instability about where they live, the parents of these children are often working so hard to make money that the children spend lots of time on their own. And in general, because they have lower income, they don’t have as many resources at home as other children. One of the questions for the Trinity exams is about what the child’s parents do for a living. The parents of my kids work cleaning houses, as security guards, and selling lottery coupons. I got used to practicing with the children and avoiding asking some of them about what one parent or the other does because some parents just aren’t in the picture.

Thus, the auxiliares at my school really play an important role. If we can get these kids speaking English well, they’ll have an advantage for the rest of their lives that they maybe wouldn’t have had otherwise. The tricky part is ensuring that this happens.

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4 Responses to “Mi cole”


  1. 1 Margaret Saturday, 29 November, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    Katie, I’d love to learn more about your school and the projects you do as a teacher…I too am a teacher and have always been amazed at the lack of socially integrated schools…your view points are very valuable because you have first hand experience. Write more about it! It’s wonderful….If you can in Spanish so the locals can learn!

  2. 2 Katie Wednesday, 3 December, 2008 at 12:32 am

    Hi Margaret, thanks for reading. I’m not at the school anymore, but still get regular updates from the teachers and feel pretty strongly about education in this city.

  3. 3 catalonia blog Wednesday, 11 November, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Nice article Katie, Catalonia would do well to follow these examples of intergration.


  1. 1 Casa de Campo es la leche « España Profunda Trackback on Sunday, 26 October, 2008 at 2:19 am
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