Back to school in Tijuana: a race to catch up


For two years, Guillermo González Camarena Elementary School in eastern Tijuana has been silent and empty, closed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Vandals climbed the fence, smashed locks, ripped out lights and bathroom fixtures, stole electrical cables and sprayed walls with paint.

Across Baja California, students are racing to make up for lost time due to the pandemic. At 11 other Tijuana school campuses, buildings were too damaged to reopen when students returned last month. But these students were luckier: their campuses were rebuilt, the perimeter secured, the walls cleaned, the bathrooms redone, the locks repaired, the electrical wiring replaced and new lights installed. To protect the school, parents started contributing for a security guard.

A 1st grade student sits in front of a wall that once had graffiti on it but has been repainted at Guillermo González Camarena Elementary School in the east side of Tijuana on September 13, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

And next month, for the first time, they’ll get computers — 100 of them — thanks to a small foundation in Tijuana that wants children of all economic levels to be digitally literate.

This school campus in the Cañadas del Florido neighborhood was a beehive of hope and activity when I visited one afternoon last week. In the classrooms, students in uniform studied class work and groups of parents came to meet the teachers.

As Principal Hortensia Ruiz Ramírez walked across campus at recess, she passed little girls with big knots in their hair walking around hand in hand, while boys climbed the jungle gymnasium and kicked a soccer ball. soccer.

“There’s a lot of coming and going, there’s no stable population,” she told me – explaining that their families tend to be very mobile and move around for work and housing. This makes it difficult for educators to build a strong school community and track student progress.

Struggling to catch up

In Tijuana, more than 302,000 public school students from kindergarten through ninth grade returned to school on August 29. Although in-person classes resumed last spring at most schools, many are still lagging behind as they kick off a new school year.

Earlier this month, the Secretary of State for Education acknowledged the need for additional help when he announced the creation of “pedagogical innovation centers” in Tijuana, Mexicali and Ensenada equipped with 1,000 computers and earmarking teachers to work with students who need help with basic skills such as math and reading.

Miguel Alfredo Nuño García, who oversees public elementary and secondary education for the state of Tijuana, said the pandemic offered challenges — but also opportunities for growth.

“We’ve taken a big step forward in that all teachers now know how to use technology (for remote learning), which we didn’t have before,” he said. “And we also developed new ways of learning.”

But especially in the city’s low-income neighborhoods, many students didn’t have computers at home and, during the pandemic, couldn’t log on to online classes offered by the public school system. Now they are struggling to catch up.

Before and after photos of the newly renovated girls’ bathroom after it was vandalized at Guillermo González Camarena Elementary School in the east side of Tijuana on September 13, 2022. / Right photo by Ariana Drehsler

In Sorabet Jiménez’s first-grade classroom, paintings of planets adorn the ceiling, but last week the students focused instead on the task ahead of them: coloring in different shapes – triangles, circles, rectangles – an exercise for prepare to shape letters.

Of its 24 students, only four with access to kindergarten education had begun to read and write. The rest and “have a lot of difficulty,” she said. “They find it difficult to write letters, for two years they haven’t worked.”

In Jesús Reynoso’s third-grade class, 26 students worked on a math exercise. Many of their parents work in maquiladoras or as vendors in the city’s large informal economy, the teacher said. The students received little help.

“Everything they learned at home was very basic,” he said. “It was urgent that they return to school, to have direct contact with teachers and classmates.”

Guillermo González Camarena, a school of 420 students whose students attend afternoon classes, has come back to life like many others with the support of the government, parents and teachers.

But it’s also getting a mighty boost thanks to Tú Más Yo, a small Tijuana foundation focused on educational initiatives that stepped in with funds to rebuild bathrooms, install ceiling fans and raise outdoor lights to improve Security. The foundation pledges continued support for improvements such as canopies to create shade in the yard, buying a garbage can and building more gym equipment.

But the ultimate goal of Tú Más Yo is not to rebuild schools, but rather to encourage computer literacy. The goal here is to build a program here that can be replicated in other schools in the area. Already, the University of California, San Diego and the Institute of the Americas in La Jolla have shared their teaching platforms, and students at Tijuana’s private university, Cetys, are preparing to act as instructors in online courses that should start in the next few weeks.

“We are opening a door to a new world that they don’t know and wouldn’t know if they didn’t have a computer, internet access and basic skills,” said Antonio Díaz, president of the Tú Más Yo Foundation; he is also a real estate developer in Tijuana and holds an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. “You open a new window for them to actually explore.”

The foundation’s computer classes will begin with students in the upper, fifth and sixth grades. “We have to move to virtual education, because that’s the future,” Díaz said. “To give the opportunity to children who do not have the resources but who have the ability to take the next step.”

Students play soccer at Guillermo González Camarena, an elementary school in Tijuana, September 13, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

In other news

  • Unseen crime: Extortion is an underreported crime in Tijuana, and those most affected are often small, neighborhood businesses with little ability to fight back or walk away, a new report has found. The report, titled “Commercial Extortion in Tijuana: Who Pays and Who Benefits?” was presented at the University of California, San Diego by Romain Le Cour, Program Director for Safety and Violence Reduction at Mexico Evalua, a Mexico City-based nonprofit that evaluates public policy. Because crimes are rarely reported, authorities have little incentive to address the issue, Le Cour said. “It doesn’t cost anything politically not to deal with it.” Yet Le Cour suggested that a percentage of visible crimes such as robbery, physical violence, arson, homicide could be the “consequence of an extortion-protection racketeering relationship gone wrong”.
  • Call for justice: In a town bored with homicide headlines, this one struck a chord. A 14-year-old boy was found dead this month four days after disappearing from a bridge spanning the concrete channel of the Tijuana River. Kevin Yael Gonzalez Garcia, who helped his mother sell gelatin desserts, had made a video call with a friend as he returned home around 11 a.m. on September 2. film us? followed by Kevin’s denial before the phone suddenly goes off. The teenager’s corpse was found four days later in a storm drain in the river channel; the medical examiner’s office determined that he had been repeatedly beaten. Drug sales and use have plagued the channel for years. Angry locals are asking why there were no patrols near the bridge so often crossed by students, and why authorities didn’t act faster to search for it. La Jornada, AFN, Zeta, Point Norte.
  • Aerial train: As traffic jams mount in the Tijuana area, Baja California Governor Marina del Pilar Avila’s administration has given the go-ahead to a private proposal to build an elevated railroad linking Rosarito Beach to the port entrance to San Ysidro. The project, called Sky Tren Baja, and proposed by Jeca Railway Corporation, would be developed with private funds. In a presentation earlier this month, an executive said the initial phase would kick off in two years, with full construction in 2025. But Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero said she was waiting to see final plans before approving the land use permits required for the project. forward.
  • Child health champion dies: Elizabath “Betty” Jones, a pediatric nutritionist who co-founded Hospital Infantil de las Californias in Tijuana, died last month at the age of 88. The only nonprofit pediatric care center in northwestern Mexico, it is funded largely by private donations. and many volunteers, and treats children regardless of their ability to pay. Born in Alberta, Canada, Jones was a longtime resident of Coronado with a doctorate from the University of San Diego. She and Tijuana pediatric surgeon Dr. Gabriel Chong King founded the facility in 1994, benefiting tens of thousands of area children each year. “Going to a foreign country and being able to do what I did is really a privilege,” she once said. Jones’ memory will be honored Oct. 22 in San Diego at a fundraising event for Infantil Hospital.

Dear Reader: I will be on leave for a few weeks. But I can’t wait to reconnect when I get back. My email is [email protected]


Comments are closed.