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  • Writer's pictureBennett International

Schooling in Miami (Webinar Highlights)

On March 28th, 2023, Bennett International hosted a lively conversation between two international education consultants, presented to an audience of mobility managers and families with school-aged children preparing to move to Miami. We called the discussion "Hotspot Spotlight: Schooling In Miami."

Leticia G. de la Rasilla and Kim McWilliams, both highly regarded international education consultants and school placement specialists, covered several topics regarding schooling in Miami:

1. An Overview of Schools in Miami

2. Student Ages & School Stages

3. Types of Schools: Public, Private, Charter, and Magnet Schools

4. English Language Support

5. Special Education Needs

6. Takeaways

Below are highlight clips from the conversation, along with a text transcript lightly edited for reading clarity.

1. An Overview of Schools in Miami

Leticia: So, let's start with the core. What can you tell us about the curriculum that is available in Miami?

Kim: Firstly, I want to thank you for allowing me to talk about my two greatest passions – Miami, and education!

Let me start by giving you some background information about the schools in Miami. The number of public schools make us the third-largest district in the nation. We are rated as an “A” school district based on criteria developed by the state, and that is very hard to obtain. We offer some charter schools, which are free as well, but are independently owned by private companies.

We also have some top private schools in the area that include Pre-K through 12th grade and include religious and non-religious options. There are some entrance exams and interview requirements, so you do have to apply to attend those schools.

School here starts in August and runs all the way through May or the first week of June, which I know is a little bit different from other US states.

We offer a variety of different curriculums in Miami, including Montessori (a self-directed, hands-on learning approach, offered Pre-K through 8th grade), the Reggio-Emilia curriculum (where the teacher becomes a facilitator, allowing the students to be curious and challenge themselves), and of course, the “traditional” school setting (children in their seats, the teacher teaching, etc.). We also offer many global citizenship activities and curricula that allow the students to think globally, rather than just about within their community.

Miami schools incorporate a lot of technology in diverse settings. In the public and private school classrooms, students are one-to-one with digital devices.

2. Student Ages & School Stages

Leticia: We are working more and more with families who move with very young children (younger than 3 years old) that want us to find some sort of educational setting for them – not just daycare or a nanny; they do want them in school. So what would be the starting age? If I bring a child who is also only 2 years old, will there be any alternatives for him/her?

Kim: In Miami, we have several schools that start the academic setting at 18 months. That may sound very young, but they start with learning how to grip a pencil, or they'll start learning their letters and their numbers. Miami is a very academically challenging area, so we do start our children young!

Now, the traditional setting for students to start in, let's say, a public school, is the age of 5. So, they’d have to turn 5 by September 1st to enter kindergarten. We do also offer Pre-K in some public schools, but most private schools will offer a placement for 18-month to 5-year-olds, and then they do start kindergarten at the age of 5.

Leticia: So now let's move to the other side, which I also think is a challenging age: students who are 15+ years old. In different curriculums, we find that at least the last two years, like for example, the IB curriculum, or the four last years with the British curriculum where we have the IGCSEs, and then the A-levels, are very tricky for relocating families. What happens if we move with a child who is 15+ years old to the Miami area?

Kim: We do offer some excellent public high schools. So, at age 14 your child would start 9th grade – that is your typical entrance point for high school. We do have a lot of clients that come with kids aged 15 and 16, which would be 10th and 11th grades, and they're more than welcome to enroll in that neighborhood public school. When we have families that want to enroll in IB schools or some of the private schools, it gets a little more troubling, because those schools want the students to have already taken certain courses. If the student has taken those certain courses, the schools might be more open to enroll them, but 11th grade might start for them at 16 or 17 years old.

So, it just depends – does the family want a neighboring school for public school? Do they want to go into a private school instead, and if so, what openings might the private school have? Would they want to consider a magnet school? Most magnet schools do not take students past the 10th grade. So, we sometimes have to kind of shuffle around, you know? Talk to the counselors and the principals, and see what would be best for the student.

3. Types of Schools: Public, Private, Charter, and Magnet Schools

Leticia: You mentioned private schools vs. public schools – knowing Miami just a little bit, I would tend to believe that the type of lifestyle and the location a family wants will have an impact on if they choose a state/public or private school, is this correct?

Kim: Yes, this is correct. Because Miami is so large – going from the south to the north would probably take about an hour and a half [to drive], if you want to live, let's say, in the north, and you’re not happy with your public school choices, you do have many private school options all over the Miami area. It just depends mostly on the neighborhood that you would want to live in, and beyond that, seeking out your best-fit public schools, private schools, or even charter schools that offer certain grade levels.

Now, there are many public schools that, I guess you would say, have private school settings, because of the parental involvement, and the grades that are being achieved. So, you don't have to automatically consider private schools – I would recommend looking at your neighborhood schools first, and then going forward from there.

Leticia: Now, for someone coming from Europe, like myself, you've mentioned, you talked about magnet and charter schools, and I have no clue what they are! Could you in a couple of sentences, try to help me to understand those two concepts?

Kim: Of course. So, charter schools are free private schools that offer specialized programs, such as the Arts. So, if your child is into dancing, or languages, charter schools offer specific courses for those subjects. In a neighborhood where no public schools are available, for example, a private company can create a charter school offered only to the students in that neighborhood.

Magnet schools are free as well, and they are public, and they also offer specialized subjects such as the Arts, Global Citizenship, and Cambridge curriculum. For the magnet schools, you do have to apply; the application process starts in October and ends at the end o`f January. So, if you're moving here, that would be a very good timeframe get your applications in and maybe visit the schools, as it is a very selective process. They are looking at former grades, attendance, school recommendations… so, it's kind of like the private school application process, where magnet schools do want top students. Now, not top students academically – they just want to know that the students are willing to work hard. For example, a dance magnet would want students to be working 10 hours a week just on dance, and that sort of thing.

Leticia: Here are two questions at once: what is Global Citizenship, and are there any international schools in Miami?

Kim: Global citizenship is a new initiative that Miami-Dade County has taken on because of technology and access to the internet. Instead of teaching the students to memorize facts or vocabulary, they want them be able to utilize this information in a global setting, and solve real-world problems around the globe (and not just in their community). That's a curriculum that a lot of Miami schools are now using.

We do not have any international school settings in Miami, but within the magnet schools and the private schools, we offer international programs. So for example, the IB degree (which starts in 11th grade), or, starting in kindergarten, international education, where the students will learn a language, ranging from Portuguese to Italian, Spanish, or German. We also offer international studies – this 0is where students are immersed in a language, and they take classes such as mathematics in that specific language.

So, while we don’t offer international schools, we do offer the programs of those schools – and they are excellent programs; indeed, the top in the nation.

Leticia: It seems that you call them different things, but the offers are there, as you say – it’s not the typical “international school” setting that we would find in another country, but it does feel that at least students can get those international studies, along with the international student body.

So, this leads me to my next question…

4. English Language Support

Leticia: …about language. How difficult is it for an incoming family or a student who doesn’t speak English, and probably doesn't speak Spanish either? Moving to Miami to study, what would that integration look like?

Kim: Well, we must remember that children are resilient – if you will place them into a classroom, no matter what their age, they will learn the language. It might just be the communication of the language, maybe not the reading and writing, but that will come with time.

Our teachers must be certified with what we call ESOL (teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and the strategies to teach students for whom English is a second language – every teacher, not just the ESL (English as Second Language) teachers. Also, every single teacher has to be certified in special education. So, we have very well-rounded teachers who are used to having students who speak other languages in the classroom – everybody knows that Miami is diverse. We have all kinds of people here, which is another beautiful thing about Miami. And the teachers are used to it. They have certain strategies that they use to immerse the children in the language, and it's amazing to watch them grow so quickly and learn the language.

5. Special Education Needs

Leticia: You've already touched on my next question: this is an area that you know very well professionally. What happens if a family moves to Miami with a child that has either special education needs or is a gifted and talented student? What would be the process to apply for a space and get the necessary support to make this work?

Kim: Our public school system is excellent when it comes to special needs. We have a whole department that works with families, from the second they enter the school, that helps them to find the right school public school for their child. Now, K-12 public schools in Miami-Dade County typically follow a movement called Maximum Inclusion. Research has shown that when you have a child that is placed in a general education classroom (with, of course, proper support outside the classroom), they show much higher gains, both academically and socially.

We do have other schools that have special needs teachers for those that need more than just inclusion. We have many private schools options are focused on supporting students with ADHD, autism, learning, disabilities, and dyslexia, and as education consultants, we can recommend those places to families.

Additionally, if you already have what an IEP (Individual Education Plan) from another country or state, schools will work with you to convert that plan into a format that fits Miami-Dade County – the language, the strategies, the accommodation – that also meets the needs of the student.

6. Takeaways

Leticia: What would be the takeaway from this webinar that our listeners should keep in mind?

Kim: Miami has so many options. For students who are coming in at only 18 months old, we have what we like to call “preschool” options that immerse those children into the academic setting at a very young age. We also have options for students who may not be strong academically but shine in the Arts, or sports. We offer so many different clubs and activities within our schools that cater to any student.

Miami is such a diverse place, and a very welcoming one. From a young age, students understand that everybody deserves to be treated with respect and kindness no matter where they're from. Parents moving here don't have to worry about placing their child into a school in a new country, amidst a new language, and can rest assured knowing that we're very open, welcoming, and kind.

Leticia: I think that's a good starting point! So, let me ask you the final question, Kim – what is it about being an educational consultant that you find most rewarding when you support a family? What is it that, at the end of the day, lets you go to bed saying it is all worth it?

Kim: Well, as I said before, my two passions are Miami, and education. And, what better a job than to be able to tell my client families all about Miami, and what Miami has to offer when it comes to education?

I think that in some cases, Florida gets a bad reputation regarding its education. So, I feel that it's my job to change families’ minds, and to show them everything that we have to offer. Miami is such a melting pot, and I just love hearing all the different stories and learning about the new kinds of students that will be coming to Miami to fill our schools. So I think just, you know, sharing my passion for Miami education with families, and seeing them become involved in the process when helping them to choose a school. That's it, you know… when they email you or they call you and say, “we got accepted!” or, “we just registered our student!”, it's so amazing. It's just such a fun job. What better way is there to share what I love?

Leticia: That certainly sounds like a reason to get up in the mornings!

When someone comes to me and asks, “I'm moving to a different country! What should I do?”, the first thing I say is, lean on an expert, for whatever it is that you need. So for education, I always say, lean on an education consultant who will be able to guide you to support you to help you choose the right school for your children, because there are no two students alike; I’m sure you agree with me. Even with siblings, the needs of one of the child is different from others – so, I think the type of tailor-made support that an education consultant can give is ideal for families with school-aged children.

Kim McWilliams, you have been incredible. Thank you very much for your time, for all the effort you put in with all the families you work with – I know you're very busy right now! We’ll see everyone on our next webinar – goodbye!

Kim: Thank you for having me!

Based in Madrid, Spain, Leticia G. de la Rasilla is Bennett's Client Services representative and a Global Team Lead, overseeing and supporting Bennett’s Europe-based consultants. She also plans education outreach for our corporate and RMC clients, leading webinar discussions on relevant education topics and providing updates on high-demand locations. Leticia brings firsthand understanding of the expat experience to her Bennett work. She initially began work with the company in 2007 as an independent consultant based in Mexico, only to relocate to Germany and eventually repatriate to her native Spain. She has also lived in Ireland, France, and Belgium. As a mother of four children who had to “figure it all out,” she empathizes with the families she supports and understands exactly the kind of help they need.

Born and raised in Miami, Kim McWilliams brings a career in education to her Bennett consulting work. Her professional experience includes teaching grades 3-5 including students with Special Education Needs and gifted students. She has also worked as a liaison between schools and parents and has played an active role on the Math Foundations Textbook Adoption Committee for Miami Dade County. Her many roles in education in greater Miami have equipped her with the ability to provide “Bennett” families with an “insider” perspective when helping them to consider different schools for their children. Kim earned her B.A. in Education and an M.B.A. from the University of Miami, an M.A. in Education from Lynn University, and a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from Nova Southeastern University. She is also certified in Exceptional Student Education, ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages), and Educational Leadership.




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