Differences in Schools in the United States and Puerto Rico

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Although Puerto Rico is a part of the United States, there continue to be numerous important differences between Puerto Rico and mainland United States. Besides the language differences, one of these differences is in the education system, which can be quite shocking for a newcomer expecting a mainland U.S.-style education experience. It is important to remember that Puerto Rico is much, much poorer than even the poorest states and this is reflected in the infrastructure of schools and the available education supplies.

Preschool and Elementary

  • Preschools in Puerto Rico are typically private and small, while public elementary schools in Puerto Rico tend to be small and very poor. Unlike their stateside counterparts, you are not likely to find computers (although this has slowly been changing since the mid 2000s) but all students receive free breakfast and lunch provided by the school, which is nothing like the pizza and chicken nuggets typically serves in U.S. schools. Typically this lunch is creole-style food such as rice, beans and stewed meat or fish. Another thing to keep in mind is that unlike U.S. schools, nearly all Puerto Rican schools require school uniforms, which can be found in mall stores. Uniforms are advertised by the school, so to get a particular uniform you should look for a sign with the school's name.

Middle School

  • Middle school in Puerto Rico runs from seventh to ninth grade. Unlike many stateside schools, students are not allowed to choose classes, and there are also few individualized or skills-based programs. There are a few programs for gifted students but the average middle school has negligible creative or advanced educational curriculum. Puerto Rico does offer sex education with instruction on use of prophylactics, videos of abortions and accurate information on sexually transmitted diseases instead of abstinence-only education. If your child has a special talent for music, sports or art you should begin preparing their application into a specialty high school by eighth grade.

High School

  • Puerto Rican high schools vary greatly in quality and students must pass tests to get into the prestigious specialty high schools. Puerto Rican public high schools do not offer computer-based classes, and teachers typically have a low computer literacy level. It is also extremely common and easy for students to cut class and leave the school grounds but the campus violence so infamous in the United States is virtually unheard of in Puerto Rico. Bullying is rare in Puerto Rico, where divisions are along music taste, not by cliques, and it is common to see students mixing between different groups. Some Puerto Rican schools participate in the Advanced Placement (AP) program, offering AP Spanish, English and math unlike the 20+ classes offered in the United States. Puerto Rican college entrance exams and AP test results are generally accepted by U.S. colleges, with the first half of the Puerto Rican college entrance exams considered to be equivalent to the SAT.

Private Schools

  • As a general rule, anyone with any money in Puerto Rico will send her children to private school -- the exception being the specialist schools such as the Escuela de Musica. While many claim that their children receive better education in private schools, testing has proven this to not be true. As in the United States, quality of education comes down to teaching ability. Puerto Rican private schools are almost all religious unlike private schools in the United States, which can range from secular to charter schools. They also require a number of extremely expensive books to be bought each semester, unlike public schools, which usually have ancient books or too few books for their students. Private schools in Puerto Rico are considered safer than public schools and typically have better English programs.

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