I was a high school English teacher; my sister Joan taught sixth grade language arts, and my sister Janice taught first, second grade and then fourth grade everything. Because we’d planned a trip to the Baja, we wanted to visit a school; I already knew Oxiris, a high school student in La Mision, so we decided to visit her high school, which is called Cecytebc, an acronym that roughly translates into English as School of Science and Technology, Baja, California.
Not all youngsters are fortunate enough to continue on to high school; in fact, many leave after the 6th grade, for it costs to attend the junior or senior high, and the Mexican government doesn’t subsidize education. That’s where a host of Good Samaritans come in: missionaries, teachers, and a group called Beca which means scholarship in Spanish. In order for Beca to fund a student (tuition is U.S. $111 per semester), including the cost of a uniform, the student must have an 85 or above average in junior high, and only one child per family (chosen by the family) is paid for.
This is The Promised Land, because each child attends because he or she deeply wants to better themselves, map out an excellent future, and work hard to attain it. The promise by these dedicated adults is, “We’ll lead the way. We’ll help you make it happen.” Many of the teachers don’t get paid; in the technology class we visited the teacher had an engineering degree but no paycheck. The ones who do get paid earn $120 a week.
The highlight for us was the sophomore class (each grade stays as one unit) which has an unprecedented 52 students; most classes average 20-25. There wasn’t a classroom big enough for them, so volunteers knocked out a wall; there weren’t enough chairs, so while walking to school, the kids carried their chairs from home.
There are no textbooks, only workbooks carefully guarded by the teachers, with the students judiciously copying assignments into notebooks.
At the moment, volunteers are building a culinary arts building because the area between Rosarito and Ensenada is becoming more of a tourist mecca, and along with tourism classes, the students will learn to prepare meals for hungry travelers. That, in turn, can foster entrance into a university in that field.
The school doesn’t have bright murals on the walls nor does it have a gym or a cafeteria; actually, it’s five modular units situated in a deep gully off the free road. But the students are smiling, neat and clean in their uniforms, and so polite it’s unbelievable. They have very few discipline problems in a school where the students feel privileged to attend. I could go on and on about this wonderful effort, but suffice it to say when we come back for the winter, I want to count myself as one of the unpaid volunteers.