The hustle and bustle of the early morning is inevitable. Parents hurry their children along so they don’t miss the morning assembly, while farewell kisses and the classic “behave yourself” complete the picture that characterizes the country’s primary schools.
But at this school, there is something different. Here the cohesive work of teachers, families and the wider community has made it one of the centers where the island’s educational policy has clearly taken root.
The school implements activities that complement the curriculum and contribute to consolidating the adjustments being made to the national education system since 2014.
The Unión Internacional de Estudiantes Primary School (UIE), located in the Havana municipality of Plaza de la Revolución, is sparing no effort to bring together different organizations operating in the province to contribute to the comprehensive learning of its students.
As Xiomara Vázquez Sánchez, principal of the school for the last 16 years, noted: “The school alone would not be able to undertake the task and secure results. That is why we rely on all community actors who can convey their experiences.
“We rely on the Association of Combatants (of the Cuban Revolution). Each week a group comes to meet with students in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. They are also with us in the morning assembly and meet with the children more briefly.”
The relationship with members of the Association is extremely enriching, since many were protagonists of the clandestine struggle before 1959, and are living testimony of a crucial moment in the nation’s history.
To commemorate historic dates, the school schedules visits to local memorial sites. The children help clean and decorate these areas and then participate in a memorial ceremony.
“In this way,” the principal notes, “we develop the ideological, political aspect and the love of work with the children.
“We also hold sports activities in the center where parents are incorporated together with the Physical Education teacher. The school board is very active in this initiative. There are parents whose specialty is sports and they help us.
“Similarly, we work with compañeras from the Federation (of Cuban Women), who come and join activities related to crafts. We have compañeras whose specialty is dance, music, and as many are relatives of students of our school, they support us.”
LEARNING WITH CHILDREN
Since the 2016-2017 school year, the UIE has been developing a new experience with university students who, as part of the preparation of their undergraduate theses, undertake very interesting work with young children.
“We are implementing a program that is a research area of the Faculty of Psychology, under an agreement with the Cuban Neurosciences Center, whose objective is to use video games to stimulate students’ learning,” explains Daniela Escobar Magariño, a 5th year Psychology student at the University of Havana and participant in the project.
“We are currently working on two video games that stimulate basic numerical skills, and reading and comprehension.
“We’re doing this – perhaps this is the novel aspect – with preschool and second grade kids. These are stages that have not been studied much in this line of research,” she noted.
Talking about the subject, the future psychologist does not hide her enthusiasm: “We are really pleased, first due to the proper functioning of the school, which we have been able to observe, and secondly, the welcome they have offered us.
“As Psychology students, we understand that perhaps we come and interrupt the normal everyday dynamics. We take the children to do a certain type of activity, we have to coordinate schedules with teachers, but the school has been open to us at all times,” she added.
NEVER STOP STUDYING
Within the educational process in an elementary school, the training and development of teachers is fundamental. This is another area of constant work for the staff of this institution.
As Misleyda Álvarez González, responsible for the methodological work of teachers, notes: “Taking advantage of the potential of the school, all workers are linked to the English and Computer Sciences courses that are taught in our own center. This is done with the purpose of teachers applying these computer and language skills in the classes they teach.”
The UIE primary school has a staff of 51, including six teachers with masters degrees, 12 Primary Education graduates, three undergraduates in this field, and two specialists: one in English and one in Computing. In one way or another, the staff is included in the courses offered by the municipal Education Directorate.
THE SCHOOL WHERE CHE WORKED
As valuable as the school’s work as the most important cultural center of the community, is Comandante Ernesto Guevara de la Serna’s link with the institution’s beginnings.
The school is named Unión Internacional de Estudiantes (International Union of Students) because in 1961, after the Congress of this world organization, it was agreed to build a school in Cuba and equip it with material resources from the countries that participated in the event.
An unused plot of land in the Vedado neighborhood was chosen as the site. Construction began in June and the inauguration took place on November 16, as part of the anniversary celebrations of the founding of city of Havana.
In his free time, Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara, joined by Tamara Bunke and other leaders of the Revolution, would undertake voluntary work to help build the school.
On one of the walls of the institution hangs a plaque that recalls the presence of the Heroic Guerrilla during its construction.
Recently, on commemorating the 50th anniversary of Che’s death in Bolivia, the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution organized a talk about the Argentine-Cuban fighter, with the participation of some of those who had fought alongside him.
Milagros Domínguez Dueñas, a representative of the organization, summarized the event: “The children were very excited because they told them their anecdotes of Che’s time in Las Villas.”
TRAINING FOR THE FUTURE
The commotion of the beginning of the day reappears with more spirit at recess, with races down the corridors and the mid-morning snack. We took advantage of the calm back in the classroom to speak with Tania Albarrán, regarding vocational training. After all, in the classroom today are the workers and professionals of tomorrow.
“We have 17 educational career interest circles. We also have two cultural career circles, directed by the arts instructor; there are nine related to the environment and others to paper mache. In total we have 32 career interest circles with 350 participating students. The goal is to link all of our children to what is most viable for them.”
The words of the school’s principal, Xiomara Vázquez Sánchez, summarize the strategy to follow in order for the school to continue to be an educational benchmark: ”Every day, based on what one does, new measures must be proposed to enable us to continue to improve quality.”
This is how the school, that special space where one grows culturally and spiritually, has managed to become an indispensable pillar of the community.