“Empowering Men and Women for Life”–The Free High School Motto
Providing secondary education for poor rural and urban people helps them individually, but it is also changes the general level of culture and democratic participation in the rural areas and the barrios. The vice mayor, Adelina Rivas Mayorga, said recently, as a way of explaining the difference that the Free High School makes, “The people all used to be ‘humble’ (humildes).” She mimicked looking down shyly, hunching up her shoulders, lowering her head, turning away. Then she straightened up and looked her Newton interviewer in the eye, enthusiastically. “Now they talk to you, they give you their opinion. They even disagree.”
We have conferred diplomas on almost 500 students, almost two-thirds of them women. (Our rector, our executive director, our computer teacher, and most of our other teachers are women, who model leadership for all students.) Empowering women transforms the world. Women who get help in raising their voices, their self-esteem, and their status, change their own futures and improve their families’ life chances in every way.
The majority of students are rural. Our students receive an excellent education not only in the academic subjects but also in computer sills, social skills, verbal ability, ethical reasoning, health and family planning, gender and women’s rights, and the value of collective action.
A number of our students belong to the Cabinet of Citizen Power, a new good-government organization. Several work in the mayor’s office.
One fourth-year student, who is only 24, took a year off from attending the FHS to run a campaign for City Council, and won. Luis Miguel is one of five City Councilors.
We are proud of all 419 of our high-school graduates (as of 2011). They all had to work hard to receive the degree–some because they had children and farms to care for; some because they had to cross swollen rivers in the rainy season and walk for miles to the bus. They had to scrimp to get the bus fare to come into town. Most, after working all day, had to fit homework in at night in houses with poor lighting where electricity is costly.
Yet a significant numbers of our graduates excel even beyond such measures of achievement. Their grades were outstanding. Many go on to technical schools, including our own. When they go on to university they find that they are as well prepared as their peers–an important measure in a country where so many first-year university students, even those from private schools, need remediation. Many of our graduates have taken important steps into the world beyond the diploma. Here are some of their stories.
Raúl Merlos Sanchez, from a distant and impoverished village, who played the guitar and sang with aplomb at the opening of the high school in 2008, won a scholarship to go to Technical School in Venezuela in 2011. In a field of 12 candidates from San Juan and Rivas, he stood out through high grades and the interview. (This also speaks well for the teacher who taught him for the first three years in his village.) The FHS was honored to help him financially with the visa and health exams to make it possible for him to accept the scholarship.
Silvia Rios Bermudez, who graduated in 2006, went on to get a university degree in Managua in Communication Sciences.
Mario Lopez, 43, worked as a kid as a day laborer; then became a mason. Now, as a graduate with the highest grades of his year, he is a student in our Civil Construction program in the Technical School; and at the same time, he supervises and contracts community road projects.
A 34-year-old welder said the high-quality math he learned helps him write better proposals. He speaks better; he has more confidence when offering a bid; he gets more recommendations for his work. “You can’t get along without a high-school degree anymore,” Luis Sevilla said.
Our highest-scoring student in Tourism, Belkys Guillen, 27, who has organized a women’s cooperative in her village to sell jams that carry a handsome label in English, is grateful to the School because ”It has taught me to formulate and promote projects that help in the development of my community and help me be an active participant.” A single mother, Belkis has received a scholarship to study English.
Johanna Cortez ( 2005, a LACA recipient studying Business Administration in a university, UPOLI) is the accountant for community road projects in the Mayor’s office. Harol Bustos, also in our Technical School, is a tax collector for a community water project.
Cornelia Avendaño, who works as the Civil Registrar in the Mayor’s Office, also is finishing her law degree.
Maria, 42 years old, had formerly worked in hardware stores. Now the only woman in her year in Civil Construction, she was pregnant all last year. She worked as a cleaner and assistant in the church but never missed a class.
José Guadamuz went on to the Normal School out of town to become a primary-school teacher, but on graduating found that the Ministry was providing no placements in teaching that he was willing to accept. He has been hired as an Education Specialist in the local branch of the Ministry of Education. His boss, Dorquis Lopez Muñiz, director of Education for Adults, runs “The Battle for the Sixth-Grade Diploma,” one of Nicaragua’s millennial goals. Of the six people working for her, four, including José, are graduates of the FHS. Since much of the work is recruiting rural people who are illiterate or who have few years of education, they–with their own recent successes in overcoming poverty and ignorance–do an amazing job at convincing reluctant adults to become earnest students.
Lena Ruiz, now in her mid-forties, the top graduate of her year, went on to get a scholarship from a California foundation, LACA, to go to law school in Managua on Saturdays. She worked in a small shop to raise her two children during that time. Earlier in her life, she had dropped out to further the Sandinista revolution; she became an officer in the new national police. Now, with only a few special courses to go, she is the administrator of a sawmill and woodworking shop.
Dariel Castro, who graduated in 2010, works as the administrator of environmental projects for an international group, Community Connect, that organizes foreign volunteers into work brigades for local nonprofit projects. Dariel says, of his checkered progress toward the degree, “I no longer need to regret the nine years I was out of school, without resources to return, because I was able to get such a good degree from the Saturday School.”
Many of our graduates, like Maria and Mario, go on to our own Technical School, while they continue to work– as masons, waiters, house-cleaners; or, in the case of Ernestina Bustos (graduated 2005; now in Tourism), as chief cook for the local Army base. Three out of the four cashiers at the only supermarket in town–coveted positions because of their pay and financial security–are graduates of the FHS.
The list could be considerably longer. Some local people of traditional views apparently still think, because so many of our students are poor, rural “campesinos”(one possible translation is “hicks”), that they cannot be intellectuals or as successful as workers as the better-off students from the daily high schools. We do not agree, and we are accumulating the record to prove the remarkable talents and high value of our 419 graduates as citizens, parents, and workers.