AP Spanish Guest Speaker Compares Education Systems Among Spanish-Speaking Countries

Mariel Martínez Álvarez, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, had a virtual visit with Spanish Teacher Dorotea Lechkova’s AP Spanish class recently to talk about her experience living and studying in Mexico, Spain, and the United States. This guest visit forms part of the Families and Communities Unit in which students learn about models of education in different communities in Spanish-speaking countries. «By hearing about Ms. Martínez Álvarez’s personal experience and seeing authentic photos of school uniforms, celebrations, and diplomas, students deepened their understanding of the role of education in Mexico,» shared Ms. Lechkova. «They also got to engage in a lively discussion with a native speaker – all in Spanish, of course!»

Native to Tampico, México, Álvarez described her educational experience to our MICDS Spanish students. Through the age of 18, she attended Félix de Jesús Rougier, a school much like MICDS in that it was both private and covered primary, secondary, and college prep grade levels. In Mexico, she shared that there are three levels: «primaria» for ages 6-12, «secundaria» for ages 12-15, and «preparatoria» for ages 15-18. Some schools like hers, focus on all three divisions while others focus on just one or two divisions.

Álvarez went to a religious school where the administrative staff practiced Catholicism although it was not a requirement of the teachers. On Fridays, she’d attend mass and sing in the church. Besides focusing on religion, the other main components of the school day centered on academics, culture, the arts, and athletics. She and her siblings wore formal uniforms complete with a bow for the girls; short hair was required for the boys. There were three classes of 40 students each per grade and she described the school as strict and where she learned discipline.

Sprinkled throughout the presentation, Álvarez showed photos of her and her siblings at school. They dressed up on cultural days and performed together with special costumes made by her mom. Throughout her talk in Spanish, our AP students got to ask whichever questions came to mind, all while practicing their own Spanish-speaking skills. They asked her about her favorite teacher (her 4th grade teacher, who also taught her mom), her academic passion (writing), the school schedule (7 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. with a few breaks dispersed), how far school was for most students, and more.

Álvarez also described her experience in studying at three universities: La Universidad de las Américas Puebla (near Mexico City), Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain, and the University of Michigan. Students were amazed at how little college cost at her public Mexican university with some classes requiring only 42 pesos (three American dollars!). The cost depended significantly on if the school was private or public and if the student received a «beca» (scholarship). They also found out that most students at the universities in Spain and Mexico don’t live in residence halls or dorms; they live at home while commuting to and from school each day.

After the presentation, students reflected about what they learned from speaking with Álvarez. «It was very interesting to see how even the most spontaneous experiences inside and outside of the classroom can fuel such profound academic passions,» shared William Giles ’21. «In the case of Mariel Martínez Álvarez, her interest in maintaining a diary as a kid catalyzed her interest in writing and linguistics. As alluded to in her presentation, our academic passions can be found very early in our educational career, especially through experiential learning.»

As she gets back to writing her doctoral thesis, we want to again say «muchas gracias» for taking the time to share your personal educational experience with our AP Spanish students! ¡Gracias, Mariel!