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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?