Friday, December 3

Fuentenava de Jábaga: A small La Mancha town manages to reopen its school almost 50 years later | Education

The mayor of Fuentenava de Jábaga, a small La Mancha town of less than 300 inhabitants, does not believe in emptied Spain. José Luis Chamón (65-year-old socialist) maintains that what there is is a “wasted” Spain. In the last two years his energy has been turned into getting the only school that covered five rural centers in the area reopened, which closed in 1972. At that time I had 20 students. “At that time the centralist policy prevailed, the peoples did not matter. That closure was dramatic and has brought seeds of family uprooting. How much time wasted, how much delay! ”He laments. This September, 49 years later, the school has reopened its doors.

The president of Castilla-La Mancha, Emiliano García-Page (PSOE), approved an order in 2018 to allow municipalities to open schools with more than four students. While María Dolores de Cospedal (PP) was president ―between 2011 and 2015―, schools with fewer than 11 students were closed. About 64 rural schools were affected. “A total of 75 towns in Castilla-La Mancha that today have a school would not have it with those regulations, because they have fewer than 11 students,” say sources from the Ministry of Education of La Mancha. This course, there are 78 Rural Colleges Grouped in the region, which are centers that share the teachers of Music, Physical Education and English. From this course, these teachers will have a salary supplement based on the kilometers they must travel each day to attend the different schools, a recognition in kind eliminated by the previous regional government in 2012.

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The first time a teacher set foot in the Fuentenava de Jábaga school was in 1877. There were 46 students, records say. The school continued to function for almost 100 years, until 1972. It is the last Monday in September and María Chumillas, a 29-year-old teacher at the Elena Fortún school, is nervous about the challenge that lies ahead: to restore young people the confidence of take their children to the village school. “If we get one more student (12), we could already have two classrooms: one for kindergarten and the other for primary school.” As he talks, a group of students between the ages of three and five play with plastic kitchen instruments and another of up to 11 deciphers the authors of some classical music songs on the interactive whiteboard. “They have different interests, but they take care of each other, that learning is important,” he says.

There is no conclusive research on the effects of age mixing in the classroom. Roser Boix, dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Barcelona, ​​explained in an article published in this newspaper that no rigorous projects have been carried out in this regard. The also expert in rural school argues that this fusion favors a more active and participatory learning, by reducing the use of the master class. “When the older one explains to the little one, he develops metacognitive skills,” he says. Learn to communicate and get your message across.

Like the rest of the Magisterium graduates, María was not taught in the faculty which pedagogies to use in unitary schools. “It all depends on how you organize yourself, it’s a matter of trial and error. I usually start by explaining the lesson to the elderly who, during the rest of the session, can work more autonomously ”, he explains. Then it is dedicated to the little ones.

The school will cover four more rural areas: Sotoca (six inhabitants), Villar del Saz de Navalón (15), Navalón (32), Fuentesclaras (18) and Señorío del Pinar (200). In the 2018-2019 academic year, Spain had 718 Grouped Rural Centers (a drop of 11.6% compared to the 2013-2014 academic year) in 2,154 localities and 72,427 students (9.4% less than in 2013, when there were 66,223 students ).

Sofía Jiménez, with her husband Antonio and their twin children, Blanca and Carlos.
Sofía Jiménez, with her husband Antonio and their twin children, Blanca and Carlos.INMA FLORES / EL PAIS

Sofía Jiménez (40 years old), an ICU nurse at the Hospital de Cuenca, is happy to have enrolled her twins, Blanca and Carlos, who are six years old, at Elena Fortún. Her husband, Antonio, runs a glassware company and also works in Cuenca, 12 kilometers from their home. 11 years ago they bought a house with a garden in Fuentenava de Jábaga, but the first years of school they had to take their children to a school in the capital. “The early morning for them to get to the bus was considerable, now they can sleep an hour more and we go down to school by bike.” The two are convinced of the benefits of sharing class with kids of other ages. “There is a misconception that they waste time and learn less, this year we see them very motivated and come up with mathematical concepts that do not correspond to their age,” says Sofía.

Living in the town “is a luxury,” he adds as he picks up the loaf of bread from the mailbox that the baker from a nearby town left him in the morning. In his municipality there are no shops of any kind, there is a single bar that did not resist the pandemic and has the blind drawn. In the coming months a small municipal library will open. “We can reconcile thanks to the grandparents, they pick up the children at noon and eat with them, otherwise it would be impossible with our schedules.”

Some women who are already over 70 come to browse the facilities of the new school. María del Pilar, 72, had to leave town when her son was three years old and move to Cuenca. “I did not drive, my husband worked all day and we had to buy a house in Cuenca and leave this … This is how a town empties, the new generations are going to have a privilege that we did not have.”

The formula that unit schools apply out of pure necessity is similar to that proposed by elite private centers such as Montessori, which are committed to mixing children of different ages in small groups and involving families in school life. During the summer, the families of the 10 Elena Fortún students participated in cleaning the classrooms and assembling the furniture.

María Marquina, with her family in the courtyard of her house in Fuentenava de Jábaga.
María Marquina, with her family in the courtyard of her house in Fuentenava de Jábaga.INMA FLORES / EL PAIS

Unlike what usually happens in big cities, another of the luxuries of the towns is that the families live very close. María Marquina, a 38-year-old architect, lives in a typical house with an interior patio; on the ground floor, her mother, and on the top floor, she, her husband and their four-year-old daughter Mia. “I have spent my whole life spending the summer in this town, and 15 years ago we moved and began to have our social nucleus here,” he says. Last year, Mia went to a public school in Cuenca and there were 21 students in class. “Now I feel that she is more cared for, that if she has any difficulties they will detect it faster.”

The mayor, José Luis Chamón, never tires of repeating that the inhabitants of small towns have the same rights as those of large cities. They need to have a health center, a school, a library or sports facilities nearby. “They pay their taxes the same as everyone else, they are not second-class citizens,” he defends.

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