How to Find a School in Spain for a Tween and Teen

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a book called, How to Find a School in Spain for a Tween and Teen in three easy steps? Surprise, that book doesn’t exist, so el esposo and I have had to ride the struggle bus to find schools for our kids here in Spain. I am happy to say, however, that as of yesterday, we have finally found a school for both the teen and the tween.

The Mad Dash From the United States Was for the Children

Let me begin by reminding everyone that we left the United States at the end of May in a mad dash of chaos and crazy. The main reason we left so quickly, is because we wanted to give ourselves time to tour and apply to schools before they closed for the summers. We wanted to see the school in action, see the types of students in attendance, and hopefully have time to check out the neighborhoods around the schools for possible housing locations. One thing we were clear about was that we really wanted to find schools where the kids could easily walk or ride the bus. No more long commutes.

The Problem(s) with Finding a School in Spain for a Tween and a Teen

When we finally decided on the neighborhood we wanted to live in, here in Malaga, we were delighted to discover that there were many public and private schools all around us. In fact, the unbelievable selection of schools was a selling point that all the real estate agents we spoke to liked to share with us. What they failed to mention, however, was that it is darn near impossible to find a good school, public or private, with openings for a child entering the fifth grade? Why, because once a child enters the school in kindergarten, they don’t leave! Meaning good luck to the poor kid trying to enter in at any other grade level before middle school or high school. Everywhere we went and called, pretty much everyone told us that there was no room at their school for our daughter. I was seriously starting to feel like Mary was looking for a manager.

And for our son, the problem wasn’t finding space. There are plenty of bachillerato programs (the last two years of high school) available because school is only obligatory through age 16 in Spain. The last two years of high school are optional and are generally geared towards those students who want to continue on to university…in Spain. And there was the problem. Even though our son speaks Spanish, he doesn’t read or write at the level of a high school senior. And he certainly isn’t prepared enough to start studying for the college entrance exams which is what the last year of Spanish high school is all about. So, we were tasked with trying to find a school where our son would be able to catch up, keep up, and be ready to apply for college. We were hoping to find an “international school,” but the only school that bills itself as international in our area, is really just a British school that preps their students for attending school in the UK.

Finding a School High on a Hill

By the end of June, all the schools were closed for the summer and we hadn’t found a single school for babygirl. Not a single one. I was seriously contemplating worldschooling my daughter when we were given a tip to check out some nearby public schools. The Spanish government guarantees it will find a place in a public school for all children registered in the system, but we didn’t want some random assignment for our daughter, we wanted to find the school that was right for her. So, I got a list of all of the public schools in our area and started checking them out online, one by one. There were only about five or six schools on the list, so it didn’t take long to narrow it down to one that sounded promising. El esposo called the school and the principal informed him that they did indeed have space in the fifth grade. Hallelujah!

We soon discovered why this particular school had openings when nobody else did. This lovely little elementary school, that goes from kindergarten to sixth grade, sits high on a hill mountain. So high, that two weeks after visiting, my calve muscles are still sore from the perilous climb up to the front door. But we all loved it at first sight. Because of it’s position on top of a mountain, the view from the school is breathtaking, the ocean on one side and a mountain peak on the other. The school has it’s own vegetable garden which the children tend and use the produce for the cafeteria meals. The children start the day with a dance break. And there is a gorgeous outdoor library where students can spend their recess reading. *swoon*  Although it’s technically a neighborhood school, students come from all over the region, and there is a healthy handful of foreign students. We were given a guided tour by the principal who was so kind and had my daughter laughing and excited by the end of our visit. I knew we had found the right place for babygirl, and now my only concern is finding the right sneakers to help me scale a mountain for morning drop off.

High School Redux

After contemplating everything from enrolling my son in an online American school, to sending him back to the United States, we decided to have my son repeat 11th grade so he could catch up and gain some confidence with his Spanish. It’s still going to be a challenge for him, but having the extra year, we believe, gives him a chance to find his groove in a new learning environment. Plus, after a year of pandemic learning in his bedroom, we figured it would be nice for him to be in a classroom again and have a chance to socialize and experience in-person learning again. We were lucky enough to have two schools accept him into their programs, one that was religiously affiliated and one that is not. After touring both places and meeting with the principals, yesterday, my son made the decision to go to the school that is not associated with a religious order, even though that means a longer walk every day. He liked the school and so did I.

Finding a School in Spain Takes Patience and Perseverance

Whew, now that both children have a place to go come September, I feel so relieved. We really made this move so that the children would have a chance to experience Spanish culture. If the school experience sucked for them, this would definitely be a failed experiment. Of course school is going to be hard for them in the beginning, making new friends, adjusting to the language, etc., but I hope that all of the work we put in trying to find the right school for their personalities and situations, pays off. Check back in the fall and I’ll let you know how it’s going.