April 19, 2024


At the López de Guereñu school, in Vitoria, Basque is the language that welcomes the students who start the day; which appears on the plaques on the doors of each class; that is spoken in the classrooms and in the hallways during breaks. It is not something exceptional, since in most of the public schools in the region it is the vehicular language. What does stand out is that this has been achieved in this center, which is made up of almost 70% of foreign students. Colombians, Peruvians, Argentines… But also Moroccans, Pakistanis or Chinese, who also do not have the advantage of knowing the Spanish that their colleagues from Latin America have. Many of them arrive at school in the middle of the course, but it is not something that prevents them from integrating, nor does it imply being left behind. The center has found a way to turn what for many schools would be a weakness into their greatest resource, even in times of cuts and difficulties caused by the pandemic.

“We have always been a very diversified school, but after the covid we were able to witness how many more people began to arrive from abroad,” explains Reyes Navarro, director of the center. She receives EL PAÍS in her office one day in April, with pages full of notes in her hands that she has written in the days prior to the visit to answer the question: what are the keys to the success of this center? ? She assures that she does not have a linear answer, although throughout the morning the formula reveals itself: families involved, educators who never stop training, and cooperation with the neighborhood. “What we did was turn the situation around. Accept the changes and get ahead”, adds Navarro. As soon as you enter, there are stickers on the stairs with the greeting kaixo in 31 languages, as many as can be spoken at the center.

The school, which has 448 students of almost 20 nationalities, turns out to be a “High efficiency” center according to the results of the last three editions of the Diagnostic Assessments of the Basque Country. Mean scores in Mathematics, Spanish, and Basque were always higher than would be statistically expected, taking into account contextual variables such as socioeconomic and cultural level, the proportion of students from migrant families, and the proportion of families whose vehicular language is Basque. “The raw scores of the students in this center are at 5 or 6, while in other similar schools it stays at 2”, exemplifies the specialist in school effectiveness Luis Lizasoain.

This professor of Research Methods in Education at the University of the Basque Country, now retired, analyzed the profile of this center during an investigation into outstanding schools, and points out that the López de Guereñu is a center that must be taken as an example: “It is Clearly there are many factors here that contribute to the center working. But teachers and parents involved are usually the two components that are never missing in success stories like this one”. The result is even more surprising, says the expert, when one takes into account that this center has a “vulnerability index” of 68%, more than double the average index in Vitoria (28%), a city where there is great inequality in the distribution of students in educational centers based on their economic status and nationality of origin.

The vulnerability index —which is calculated at the beginning of the school year on the basis of questionnaires compiled by families— indicates the proportion of students who find themselves in a disadvantaged situation due to variables that influence their academic performance, such as be the studies and work of the parents, the economic and material goods of the families or the presence of books in the home. “There are families that have absolutely nothing, who arrived in Spain in a boat with what they had on them. It is very hard for them to face this reality”, explains Myriam Román, the head of studies at the center.

The director of the school, Reyes Navarro.
The director of the school, Reyes Navarro.
Javier Hernandez

The main challenge for educators is that no one is left behind. A mission that becomes particularly complicated due to the very high percentage of immigrant students, which stands at an average of 68% throughout the school, although in infant classrooms and first years of primary school it rises to 80% (the foreign population residing in the entire Basque Country is 8.5%, according to INE data). Many of them arrive in the middle of the academic year, others start and end up moving after a few months due to the work demands of their parents. This year alone, 41 students were incorporated, all foreigners, who, without knowing a word of Basque, have to take all the subjects in this language.

In order for learning to be as agile and fast as possible, the school implements a routine in order to work especially on orality. The first thing is to start the day with a “communication ritual”. “When they enter the class we take a moment to ask each one how they are doing, if something has happened at home or with the other classmates that they want to share. It is important for children to have someone to listen to them. And if, in addition to helping him express his feelings, they can also practice Basque, it’s a double win”, affirms Román.

Throughout the morning, the classes come together to do orality workshops in the presence of more teachers. There are also private classes in Basque for newcomers, who work in small groups in special classrooms, and reinforcement programs for all sixth grade students with teachers who come from abroad. “It is not easy, because after the crisis we lost many resources. We are left without library staff and we depend on the same teachers, who offer to do this type of activity. Many of them are interim, but we are lucky that they repeat the course with us”, acknowledges the director.

Anne Trujillo is one of them. Originally from another area of ​​the Basque Country, she has been at the center for two years now, and she assures that if she had the possibility to choose, she would continue here forever. “I would like to be able to say that only Basque is spoken, but it is true that due to the type of student body and the very fact of being in Vitoria (the province of Álava is where it is least spoken) it is not like that”, Trujillo affirms. “But you have to give time to time. For now, the important thing is that no one feels abandoned, or gets bored in class because they can’t keep up. And that they learn to live in an environment made up of many different cultures, which is a reflection of what Vitoria is today”.

One of the Basque support classes where students who have just joined the center work.
One of the Basque support classes where students who have just joined the center work. Javier Hernandez

families involved

Another of the pillars that make it possible for educators to get the most out of children’s potential is the help of the school’s AMPA. A group of five mothers —and sporadically also a father— who organize dozens of extracurricular activities, raise funds and look for resources outside the school that can be of benefit to the students. “We are involved in different projects. The issue of early risers to speed up work-life balance for families, reinforcement classes for children who have problems with Spanish and Basque, sports in the playground after class… The list is long”, says Vanesa Abecia, Mother of two infant and primary school children.

She is accompanied on the visit to the center by Mariela Jordán, a Colombian mother of two classmates of Abecia’s children. She arrived in the Basque Country 20 years ago, her husband is Andalusian and Basque is hardly spoken at home, which her little ones consider “the language of school”. “Even so, I think it is essential that they learn it. My husband is now doing a course to get the highest level certification and get a job in the public sector. They will already have this resource in case one day they decide to make their lives here”, she says.

Vanesa Abecia and Mariela Jordan, two mothers from the school who are part of the association of mothers and fathers.
Vanesa Abecia and Mariela Jordan, two mothers from the school who are part of the association of mothers and fathers.

Javier Hernandez

outstanding schools is a series of reports on schools that have special attributes and that can be an example of good practices and good results.

You can follow EL PAÍS EDUCATION in Facebook and Twitteror sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.

Subscribe to continue reading

Read without limits


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *