School Days, Panama-Style
Two friends making plans to relocate within the next few months to Panama City with young children have reminded me of another of Panama’s advantages: It’s home to a great number of international-standard schooling options, including three internationally accredited bilingual schools.
These three top-tier schools with international accreditation aren’t cheap. The International School of Panama (ISP–www.isp.edu.pa), the Balboa Academy (www.balboaacademy.org), and the Oxford International School (www.oxfordpanama.com) charge US$8,000 to US$10,000 per year for elementary-level enrollment. This on top of one-time capital fees of as much as US$10,000 per child.
ISP offers the International Baccalaureate program at the diploma level.
In addition, though, you have about four-dozen private school choices, most of which offer bilingual instruction, plus three Hebrew schools and, we were delighted to discover when we got serious about relocating from Paris to Panama City two years ago, a French school. These options are all more affordable than the three top-level choices I mentioned earlier. Tuition can be as little as US$100 a month for each of the nine months of the Panamanian school year, which runs from March through November. Summer vacation starts in December and continues through the dry season.
Our son Jackson was 8 years old when we moved from France to Panama. He’d been attending public school in Paris since the age of 4. His French was and remains better than his English.
Plus, we intend eventually to return to Paris, perhaps before Jackson is finished his elementary-level education. In that case, we’d want him to be able to slide back into the French system.
The Paul Gauguin French school here in Panama City where we’ve therefore enrolled Jack is administered, not by the Panama Ministry of Education, but by the French one. The teachers and the administration come from France, and the curriculum, the calendar, the extra-curricular activities, and all the annual events are the same as they would be at any public school in France. All classes are taught in French (save English and Spanish, twice a week each, and Sociales, or Social Studies, which focuses on the history, the geography, and the culture of Panama).
What about a kid’s life in Panama outside school?
Jackson has a private guitar tutor (at a cost of US$20 per hour-and-a-half lesson in our home). He plays in a basketball league managed by the Kiwanis Club of Panama using the gym at the former U.S. military base called Clayton. And he’s going to begin taking horse riding lessons offered by another group also using facilities at Clayton.
Ten-year-old Jack has sleepovers, goes to birthday parties, and was invited last Saturday afternoon to his first boy-girl party at a karaoke club downtown. (He’d be horrified to know I told you that.) He’s been watching World Cup soccer games this month and trading the team collector’s cards with friends at school.
My point is that, here in Panama City, we believe Jack is getting a solid, international-level education. He has learned to speak Spanish fluently, making him fully tri-lingual. And he has made friends from all over the world.
He and they have happy, peaceful, well-rounded little lives. And their community of internationally minded children is growing all the time.
P.S. While we’re on the subject of life in Panama, I take pleasure in reporting that this month we welcome new Panama Letter Editor Lee Zeltzer. Lee, a four-year resident of Boquete, has embraced his new life as an expat retiree and brings that enthusiasm to his research and his reporting, starting this month with his report on David, Panama’s other boom town.
Lee’s first Panama Letter issue will be in subscribers’ e-mailboxes within the next 24 hours. If you don’t yet count yourself among them, here’s your last chance to join in time to read this special report.