I just returned from spending two weeks in Chiapas and I am once again in Mexico City. One of the highlights of the past two weeks was visiting an alternative high school, Bachillerato Technico Bivalente “Bartolome de las Casas,” located in Guaquitepec, which is about 4 hours from San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.
The high school was formed as part of a community initiative 15 years ago due to the lack of local schools. What makes this high school unique is that while it was organized as an autonomous community effort, the high school was able to gain recognition from the Secretariat of Public Education. The high school seeks to attract indigenous students from surrounding communities who wish to apply their high school training to life within their community, rather than leaving to find work in the city. Half of the school curriculum is based on hands-on training while the other half of the curriculum is theoretical. Their practical training takes place within a secluded farming area that has cultivable plots, an area for pigs and chickens, a baño seco or composting toilet, and a greenhouse.
Overall, the school seeks to teach students sustainable and organic farming practices, as well as community organizing. Given that the school formed as part of a community initiative, however, the school often must negotiate components of its curriculum with the surrounding communities.
Another component that differentiates this school is that rather than offering classes every day from Monday through Friday, students stay at the school for extended days, 6 days a month. This allows students to return to their communities during the rest of the month and implement the projects that they developed. One of the students that I spoke to had just graduated and was waiting to speak to a woman who was visiting the school to offer funding to student projects. He was hoping to receive a 1,350 dollar grant to implement a chicken-raising project in his community, which he predicted would yield significant financial gains.
Paola Reyes, MA Candidate, CLACS