When they return from their mid-year vacation, students who spent seven months studying on a covered patio amidst the drone of traffic in a suburb southwest of San José may be taking classes inside another nearby school.
Meanwhile, their parents are waiting for officials to find a permanent home for the Technical High School of Escazú.
Though the Ministry of Public Education (MEP) promised in May to help the school find another home and expedite funds for supplies, plans for the temporary fix are only now being finalized.
After hearing about the plan to move students off the patio and into another school, parent Lydia Quesada this week downgraded her feelings from furious to frustrated.
“I feel less worried,” said Quesada, whose daughter Paula, 17, and son Marco, 19, attend the high school. “But this is not a solution.”
The problems began six months ago when the technical high school, which offers three-year programs in accounting and bilingual secretarial skills, hit the first of many bureaucratic roadblocks.
The plan when the school was founded in 2005 was for the Yanuario Quesada Elementary School in Escazú to lend it several rooms, and for the Education Ministry to build a new block of classrooms there for the high school to use while the Escazú Municipality looked for land for a new campus, said Gerardo Avila, an engineer and advisor for MEP’s Department of Technical Education.
That plan bit the dust when Yanuario Quesada’s board of education vetoed the classroom construction because board members didn’t want high school students to mix with elementary students, Avila said.
The technical school let in a new class of students in January, with the knowledge that city officials were shopping for land for a new campus, said school principal Freddy Leandro.
But the land deal never got off the ground, and because Yanuario Quesada has no extra rooms to offer, half the overcrowded high school’s 98 students began to take their classes outside.
On the covered patio, a stone’s throw from the busy road to Santa Ana – a town farther southwest of San José – teachers and students coped with the roar of passing buses, the stench of trash trucks and the wind and rain.
Including teachers and administrators with the student population, the high school has 120 people. Its current grounds are composed of three classrooms, a storage closet-sized office, a small swath of unkempt grass, and two one-stall bathrooms.
“We can’t take classes in these conditions,” said fifth-year accounting student Pablo Vargas. “There is sound pollution, environmental pollution. A lot of my classmates have gotten sick here.”
Students at the school have been insulted by passers-by who thought they were cutting class, and teachers have lost their voices trying to teach over the roar of traffic, said Ana Eugenia Coto, an English teacher at the school.
Infrastructure is the school’s main problem, but not its only one. Students have fallen behind in their courses because the school does not have the computers or audiovisual equipment necessary for its classes, Coto said.
Fed up with this scenario, students walked out of school and stopped traffic in protest twice in the past four months. On May 31, Fernando Bogantes, director of technical education for MEP, signed an agreement promising to rectify the situation.
As part of the agreement, the ministry said it would move the school to a temporary location that can accommodate all its students. It also promised the high school ¢8 million ($15,700) to rent space until a piece of land can be bought, and ¢10 million ($19,600) to buy materials.
“It is true that there has been a delay,” Bogantes said. “Our idea is that when the kids return from the mid-year vacation, on July 17, the installations will be ready.”
An oversight committee,made up of two teachers, three parents, three students and the school director, was formed to ensure the agreement is upheld. The committee has been meeting every Monday at 1:30 p.m., and plans to continue meeting until the terms of the agreement are met. Negotiations leading up to the current agreement were somewhat rocky.
For more than a month, school and education officials tried to secure classroom space at either the nearby Venezuela Elementary School, or in a building – in the nearby suburb of Guachipelín – that belongs to the San José diocese of the Catholic Church.
As of Monday, the plan was to move half of the school’s students to Venezuela Elementary when they return from mid-year break, and leave the other half in classrooms at Yanuario Quesada, Leandro said. The plan should go through as long as electrical wiring can be installed in four classrooms at Venezuela Elementary by July 17.
This fix is meant to last at least until the end of the coming year, according to Escazú Mayor Marco Segura.
Meanwhile, the municipality is still working toward buying property for the high school. Officials are waiting for a loan to buy land for the technical high school, but the terms for the loan have been set, Segura said. The loan will be for ¢120 million ($235,000), to be paid back over 15 years at a fixed rate of 16%.
Promises of funding from MEP and Segura’s offer of a municipal computer lab did little to improve conditions at the school during negotiations, teachers said.
Without a building of its own, the school couldn’t take advantage of MEP’s offer, said accounting teacher Roxana Madrigal, explaining that the school could not use new funds to buy computers without having a place to put them.
Now that there is a temporary solution, principal Leandro said he is optimistic about the future but still worried about the current situation.
Quesada, who spent a month attending weekly oversight meetings to demand change at her children’s school, said she is still waiting for the Education Ministry and the municipality to find a permanent home for her children’s school.
“The solution is in buying a plot of land or buying a building that is already there,” she said, repeating that moving half of the school’s students to another location is “not a solution.”