Education in rural communities outside San Miguel de Allende: Spotlight on Jalpa
By Lexi Stickel
Early on Saturday morning three young Oregonians piled into a red Jeep and headed towards a rural community outside San Miguel de Allende called Jalpa. All of these young Oregonians found themselves drawn to San Miguel to work with the Rural Education Institute of Mexico. The organization prides itself on engaging with the community to ensure that programming meets both the desires of the organization and also the needs of the community.
Jalpa serves as an ideal example of the necessity of community engagement. Jalpa is located about 20 kilometers from San Miguel de Allende, on the old highway to Querétaro. The community is primarily agriculturally based, although some Jalpa residents commute to San Miguel for work. There is no landline or cellular phone service, potable water is scarce, and transportation to and from the community is infrequent and expensive. Additionally, almost every resident of Jalpa has a family member living and working in the United States. For the children the Rural Education Institute works with, their family members are often fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, and other key male figures in their lives.
The Rural Education Institute has been working in Jalpa since 2007, carefully cultivating relationships with community members as well as teachers, administrators, and students from the community’s two schools. Until the 2011–2012 school year, the Rural Education Institute ran its programs out of the primary school. In September of 2012 the Rural Education Institute permanently moved its operations to the newly built Salón Comunitario (Community Center). This move is significant for the Rural Education Institute and Jalpa because now, the library and computing facilities are available to the whole community, not just the primary school students.
In September 2013 the primary school lengthened its school day significantly. Since a good percentage of the students walk to school and live some distance away from the center of town, it became impossible for the Rural Education Institute to continue its weekly programming. Students were too hungry, tired, and eager to return home. Through discussions with the primary school, attending parent meetings, and holding community meetings, the Rural Education Institute realized that the best way to continue its programming was to shift to the weekends.
Last month the first new classes were held in Jalpa, led by the group of Oregonians. The Rural Education Institute has never before held weekend classes and is eager to discover a new set of challenges and solutions in the coming months. Through the monitoring and evaluation process, the organization learned that all of the students in their program only use a computer for half an hour or less every week. During the weekend classes, students will learn English, develop computer skills and discover critical life skills.
Though Mexico has the second-largest economy in Latin America, there remains a stark inequality in the country’s education system: rural Mexican children simply do not have the same opportunities as their urban counterparts. The problem is partly financial. There are few high schools in the campo, and the government does not provide transportation to attend urban schools, And it is partly cultural: in rural areas, literacy is low, and education is not always a priority. The Rural Education Institute of Mexico exists to help fill this gap. It gives rural children the incentive and means to go on to high school and beyond.
Skilled volunteers work in rural community centers providing programs that introduce children to a world outside the campo. Libraries are built to help children improve their reading. They learn art, drama and English, among other subjects, and are taught to use computers. Rural Ed also enables the most deserving children to meet the costs of going to high school—about US$700 per student per year—by awarding scholarships.
For more information about the Rural Education Institute of Mexico, please visit our website at www.ruralmex.org or call us at 415-124-1357.