December 10, 2023

In the seven small schools in A Coruña that make up the grouped rural center of A Tarandeira, all the planets aligned not long ago: there were some dedicated parents, so much so that they dedicated their weekends to cleaning, knocking down walls and painting to renovate the school buildings of their children; a group of newly arrived teachers with enough desire and enthusiasm to accompany them —with a large dose of work and as many training— and a director willing to find the means to make the transformation possible. It was in the 2019-2020 academic year —the one that started the worst of the pandemic at the end—, when the schools of Lañas, San Cristovo, Do Busto, Da Rabadeira, Da Feiranova, Xaviña and Oca, between the councils of Coristanco, Santa Comba and A Baña, some threatened with closure due to lack of students, decided to unite in a single center to be able to share and improve their resources.

In Xaviña, a group of seven families and some friends was the one who got to work to reform from top to bottom —with the little money that the Coristanco City Council could contribute, to which this small parish of 50 neighbors belongs— the old school building until it was transformed into the one in the image that heads this report. It took a year and a half. And his example has spread in some other of the sister schools.

One day in February, Jihan Sahb El Khataouat, one of the teachers who arrived four years ago, proudly shows the facilities, while the 11 boys and girls, from three to seven years old, make up a puzzle with the face of Rosalía de Castro; Today her day is celebrated throughout Galicia. The class is organized by corners —the art, the library, the graphomotor…— in which the children divide their day, by groups, each one at the pace that their age and course dictate, but all feeding on each other: in these unitary rural classes the older ones are pulling the little ones.

Jihan Sahb El Khataouat, a teacher at the Xaviña school.
Jihan Sahb El Khataouat, a teacher at the Xaviña school. OSCAR CORRAL

“We eliminate textbooks in almost all subjects, we have a common science project (in all seven schools) and we have been trained in active methodologies”, explains Sahb El Khataouat. And he continues: “I have focused above all on a Montessori model, working from the sensory point of view, with a lot of manipulation in the early ages, but each one of the teachers is applying what suits us best.” From research to practice and starting over again, explains Jesús Mosquera, the director of this grouped rural center (CRA) which, among all the schools, adds 72 students this year: “We are training, we are putting it into practice. And we see what works and what doesn’t”.

A virtuous circle that, according to the specialist in school effectiveness Luis Lizasoain explained a few days ago in this same newspaper, is a common denominator of the schools that work best: “Under the pedagogical leadership of the management, they normally evaluate the needs they have, look for who He is the best trainer in this field, they bring it to the center, they are trained, they put it into practice and they evaluate how it has gone. And they start again.” Lizasoain, a retired professor from the University of the Basque Country, points out this rural center of Coristanco as a school worth looking at.

“We do not claim to be an example of innovation, but we are aware that we have to adapt to today’s children, who are not those of 10, 20, 30 years ago. And precisely the configuration of the groups allows you greater flexibility”, Mosquera insists.

The model certainly looks attractive. In a context of accelerated demographic decline —the Galician second cycle infant classrooms have lost 12,000 students, almost 18%, in the last decade—, the CRA A Tarandeira has maintained its rate: they added 69 students during the merger and now there are 72. In Santa Comba they are already at the limit of a unitary school, with 19 students; and in Xaviña, 40% of the children move from other towns, attracted by the model.

Fina Abelleira is one of the mothers at the Feiranova school: “They learn much faster. When they arrive at the new school (when they move to 3rd grade, the students from the rural center already go to larger centers) they are much more prepared. For my daughter, the first year she arrived was a refresher ”, she assures. Abelleira has three daughters and, since the two older ones have already gone to the big school, it would be much more comfortable for her to take the little one there as well, but she decided not to and has left her in Feiranova: “I don’t want to deprive her of this experience they’ve had her sisters,” she explains. Abelleira is a member of the recently created family association, another of the pillars of the project, according to its protagonists; They organize outings, gatherings and all kinds of activities.

Ana Cebrián, a teacher student who is doing an internship at the Coristanco school.
Ana Cebrián, a teacher student who is doing an internship at the Coristanco school. OSCAR CORRAL

Ana Cebrián, a 21-year-old girl from a town in Teruel with 850 inhabitants called Villarquemado, is this year the figure that represents another of those pillars. Cebrián is one of the 30 final year students of the Teaching Degree that the Princess of Girona Foundation selects each year to do internships in multigrade centers in Galicia, Extremadura and Aragon. She arrived in mid-January, after receiving specific training, and she will work in the schools of A Tarandeira until June 4. Cebrián, who is doing her degree in the specialty of attention to diversity, is clear that hers, when she graduates and looks for a permanent position as a teacher, is undoubtedly the rural school. “Multigrade (mix of courses) has a lot of potential,” she says.

This type of experience is so engaging that 23-year-old Nicolás Vega from León, the first student to do an internship in A Tarandeira with Generación Docentes, has ended up obtaining the CELGA Galician language certificate to be able to take the public examinations in that community. “I would love to get a place in the Coristanco schools,” Vega says by phone. “It has been the best experience I have had at an educational level and the one that I think has made me see myself as a teacher the most,” he adds.

“The pedagogue Javier Castillo says that the rural school is a small pedagogical treasure that we must take care of almost with ecological care”, quotes Jesús Mosquera about a model to which he has dedicated the vast majority of his career as a teacher. A profession to which he “arrived late”, he says, after thirty, in search of something that would fulfill him more than his previous jobs as an economist. And he found it. “They say that we are very expensive, because we have a very low ratio (in his case, there are 14 teachers for 72 students), but it is false,” he protests, referring to what these schools contribute to the communities: “When they disappear, they will not We can go back.”

outstanding schools is a series of reports that we will publish over the next few weeks about schools that have special attributes and that can be an example of good practices and good results.

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