|BECAS Tour Of Three Schools|
Polly G. Vicars - PVNN
February 15, 2010
|Prepa Becados: Victoria Alejandra Cordova Salgado, Aleydis Monserratt Caledonio Aguayo, Rufina Elizabeth Pina Flores, Magaly Garcia Muro, Jose Ricardo Gonzalez Rivera, Frida Anahi Quintero Savalza, América Mora Andrade, Georgina Macedo Peña and Astrid Giovanna Arellano Castro with Director Soltero, Becas President Mariel de Fregoso and me|
On Wednesday, February 10, a group of Becas Compadres and other Becas Vallarta A.C./American-Mexico Foundation, Inc. supporters joined Linda Azcarate, Pat Bendix, Linda Wirth and me on a chartered bus tour to some of Vallarta’s public schools that are changing students lives with their excellent programs and to meet some of our becados (scholarship students) who attend them.
|When we arrived at La Eti we were greeted warmly by Profesora Bertha Ramirez, Coordinator of Academics|
|La Eti’s campus|
|Learning to cook, Vallarta Sytle|
|Electrical shop with busy students|
|High level Math class|
|Learning to sew|
|The impressive entrance to Prepa|
|At Prepa, we were greeted by Director Armando Soltero Macías|
|The Gals: Polly, Mariel, Elinor and Buri|
|Compadres Nacho and Amanda|
|Compadres María Elena and Jesus|
|Compadres Len and Nellie Ambrose|
While bumping along on the cobblestone streets, Linda Azcarate gave us an informative talk on the Mexican education system, one of the largest in Latin America. There are almost 37 million students, the majority in government schools like the ones we were going to visit. There are private schools in Mexico with approximately 12% of all the students, but Becas does not provide scholarships to those students.
La Escuela Secundaria Tecnica #3, "La Eti," was our first stop. Secundarias or junior highs are for grades 7 through 9 where the students are usually 12 to 14 years old. These schools try to provide young people with enough education to go on to high school and university or enter the labor market.
La Eti was the first junior high to open 50 years ago in Puerto Vallarta and has changed the lives of the people of Puerto Vallarta. It was the impetus for the founding of Becas Vallarta. Many neighborhood children could not attend the new school because they did not have the money to use public transportation to get there, to buy books that at that time were not furnished by the government nor to buy uniforms or school supplies.
This injustice infuriated former school teacher Bernice Starr who had moved to Puerto Vallarta with her artist husband Ed to find a better life. She and a few of her Mexican lady friends set about raising money to send those children to school.
Bernice made and sold note cards decorated by her husband, they all canvassed their friends in Vallarta as well as those in other places for donations and by the next year, the children in her neighborhood were attending the new school and the America-Mexico Foundation, Inc. (Becas Vallarta) was born.
From that humble beginning of scholarships for a few neighborhood girls and boys, the AMF (Becas Vallarta, A.C.) has continuously given hundreds and hundreds of scholarships to Vallarta’s brightest, but most economically challenged young people, 8th grade through university.
At the beginning of each school year junior high becados, such as those we visited at La Eti, get vouchers with which they buy their school and tennis shoes, their school and gym uniforms. Additionally they are given a supply of paper, pencils, notebooks, pens, geometry tools, a calculator and a dictionary. The cost of all of this is approximately $2000 pesos. This school year we have 99 becados in fourteen junior high schools throughout Puerto Vallarta and its vast environs.
At La Eti we were greeted warmly by Profesora Bertha Ramirez, Coordinator of Academics, Profesora Leonor Guitron Arce, Coordinator of Educational Services, María de Carmen Moctezumo Martinez, Social Worker for the morning session and María Mercedes Altamirano Hernandez, Social Worker for the afternoon session.
Many of our guests were surprised to learn that all the schools in Puerto Vallarta operate two sessions a day, the first from 7 am to 1:30 pm and the second from 2 pm to 8 pm. Several of them commented that knowing about double sessions explained why no matter the time of day, they see children on the streets. Most thought we must have a terrible truancy problem here, which is not the case.
We were given facts about the school and a grand tour of the classrooms where students were studying a full academic program as well as those classrooms where many technical skills; sewing, cooking, electrical working, carpentry were taking place. We had the opportunity to chat with the students and congratulate Becada Gabriela Yamile Peña Peña for achieving grade point averages of perfect 10.0’s.
Next visit was to a high school, La Escuela Preparatoria Regional de Puerto Vallarta or "Prepa" as we call it. This is a college preparatory school run by the University of Guadalajara. Becas Vallarta has more than 100 becados in five high schools in the area. These students are given cash stipends of $5500 pesos per school year, divided into two payments. They may use this money for whatever educational need is most pressing; tuition, which is very small, transportation, clothing, food, health.
At Prepa, we were greeted by Director Armando Soltero Macías. He gave us a quick tour of this new school, designed and constructed under his watchful and creative eye. Then he escorted us to the second floor where fresh fruit, cookies, coffee and water were there for our refreshment.
Nine of our becados joined us while Dr. Soltero told us about the school with an incredible display of photos and statistics on their cutting edge interactive "blackboard." We learned that there are 1,600 students in this Prepa, 1,500 in the three other branches located in the villages of Tómatlan, El Tuito and Ixtapa, with becados in all of the branches.
Dr. Soltero told us that his annual budget of one million USD per year contrasts with a comparable school in Illinois whose budget is $55 million. But what he does with that one million is almost miraculous. In addition to the fine regular college preparatory courses which are rigorous and top notch, the extra curricular programs are outstanding!
They have the only high school Turtle Protection project in the world, sponsored by local and international businesses, an exceptional program for combating teen-age pregnancy, a program to help cancer and burn victims and a vibrant re-forestation effort.
After picture taking and chats with our becados, we re-boarded the bus for the journey to visit the Centro Universitario de la Costa (CUC), Vallarta’s branch of the University of Guadalajara. The University that opened its doors in 1994, located in the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta near the pueblo of Ixtapa, has changed lives through education for thousands of young Vallartenses, including hundreds of our becados.
They now offer undergraduate degrees in Business Administration, Architecture, Biology, Accounting, Law, Graphic Communication, Nursing, Tourism, Medicine, Psychology, Telematics, Civil and Computer Engineering as well as several masters and doctorate programs.
We have more than 70 becados in four local universities who receive an annual stipend of $7000 pesos in two installments. They, like the high school becados, may spend this stipend on their most pressing educational needs.
At CUC we have twenty-six becados, several of whom will graduate at the end of this school year. After arriving there, we walked through the spacious tree sheltered grounds of this public university to the beautiful Peter Gray Museum of Art where Becas University Coordinator Buri Gray, Becas members Elinor Prawer, Cheo Rangle, Sergio Valle and CUC teacher and Aid to the Rector Perla Alarcon were waiting for us on the balcony.
Tables were beautifully set and one of our university becados joined each table to share a delightful light brunch with Mimosas, thanks to El Coyul’s donation of fine Mexican champagne, and the culinary art of Food by Seth.
After a tour of the impressive Peter Gray Museum of Art, a tired but happy group of Becas members and supporters boarded the bus for the trip back to Vallarta. Becas is considering organizing more schools tours with the dual goals of having more of Vallarta’s ex-patriot community see our fine public school system and raise funds to support our program.
Would you join us on a tour such as this one, but culminating with lunch at one of the famous seafood restaurants in Ixtapa for $500 pesos? Call me at (322) 223-1371 or email me at phvicars(at)gmail.com. When you call or write, don’t forget to reserve your March 11, 2010 Becas Ball tickets. They are going fast!
Polly G. Vicars and her husband of almost 60 years, Hubert (a.k.a. "Husband") retired to Puerto Vallarta in 1988 and soon became active members of several charitable organizations. Polly is the author of "Tales of Retirement in Paradise: Life in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico" [a sell-out!] and "More Tales of Retirement in Puerto Vallarta and Around the World." Proceeds from the sale of her books go to the America-Mexico Foundation, a scholarship foundation that is their passion.
Click HERE for more articles by Polly Vicars, or click HERE to learn more about Becas Vallarta and the America-Mexico Foundation.