New 3 Room School House For Todos Santos

Well, with only 8 students, 3 rooms is enough for now
BY: BRIDGET BURKE

The Sierra School is a new, unique private middle and high school with a public purpose in Todos Santos. Founder Molly Lou Freeman, a multi-lingual international teacher, was on a teaching sabbatical in Todos Santos in 2014 and heard the local Mexican and international community express their need for a high school that would bridge the multi-cultural populations in Todos Santos. Freeman is an American who has taught in France for many years.

The Sierra School.jpgCurrently, local and foreign high school students need to leave their families in Todos Santos and go to La Paz or move to mainland Mexico or leave Mexico altogether. At worst, students study very limited correspondence courses that are not legally recognized in Mexico. At least three primary schools in Todos Santos are seeking a local, international high school alternative for their students.

As Ms. Freeman surveyed the local school options, she saw that in the Todos Santos area there was no bilingual school with an International Baccalaureate (IB) model and a strong college prep focus. Just as importantly, she did not find schools with a strong community scholarship mission. Motivated by the community and driven by a vision for an English-Spanish bilingual, college prep high school, she and her French born husband Fabrice Serriere decided to start a new private school. And so the Sierra School of Todos Santos was born.

Initially they have established a French non-profit organization called Les Ponts de la Sierra to manage fundraising between Europe, the U.S. and Mexico in order to support their new school. Their start-up status, as a French “association de loi 1901” is the equivalent of a US 501c3 nonprofit and comparable to a Mexican AC. They are in the process of becoming a Mexican corporation and Mexican non-profit /civil association, and expect to obtain this status by their first day of school on September 21.

They are actively working toward Mexican accreditation in their first year, and are supported in these efforts by Priscilla Romero Mendoza of the SEP.  (The Mexican education system). They hope to offer a highly-enriched model of the SEP curriculum. SEP accreditation is their first step toward International Baccalaureate accreditation, which is part of their five to six year strategic plan. They intend to be an accredited IB school by the time their first class of 6th grade/secundaria students graduate in six years.

The revenue generated will  pay for the cost of learning materials and books, bringing the materials to Mexico, school maintenance and building improvements, school utilities (electric, gas, water), non-profit taxes in France and Mexico, accounting and legal fees in Mexico, accreditation expenses, teacher salaries, and teachers’ professional development. Funding will be an ongoing initiative as the school is a grassroots crowd funded organization.

For their first year, they have raised over 25,000 dollars in donations, fully funding at least three full tuition scholarships. Their goal is to offer a fully funded scholarship to at least half of the students. Individual contributors are the main source of their initial funding. So far more than 100 people from around the world have donated to the school, most donating directly through the school’s website. They hope to receive additional funding from the Foundation for Community Betterment in the United States, which is also supportive of the new school. One anonymous donor has pledged to fund three student’s entire education, which will take $100,000 over six years. That’s assuming a cost of $5500 a year per student.

Funding is also an essential element for attracting and retaining good teachers. The Sierra school’s teachers are or will be IB trained, educated, certified teachers from universities in Mexico, the U.S. and Europe. The school is committed to supporting the teachers and helps them develop professionally with required IB training. Their salaries are competitive with local schools in Todos Santos. Well, that’s not saying much as teachers make very little. Ms. Freeman will work free until the school generates enough revenues to pay for all teacher salaries.

For their first term beginning on September 21, the Sierra School received 10 applications from students. All 10 applicants were admitted and eight will enroll. One student was too old for the starting class of 11 to 13 year olds and the other student will probably join the school in its second year. Applicants are asked to write two short essays, provide teacher/adult recommendations, take a personal interview, show a willingness to learn Spanish and English, and do community service. The application process is open annually from February through June and is completed online via the school’s web site.

Annual tuition is $77,000 pesos ($5,000), and scholarships are provided for half of the students. Those seeking scholarships write an application letter and share family financial information, and then have a personal interview. Two Mexican students from the Hogar del Niño will be attending The Sierra School on scholarship in the first year. An organization called Friends of the Hogar will be funding their scholarships.

The Sierra School’s rigorous and challenging IB diploma will be equivalent to completing first year university studies. The curriculum offers humanities, great books, math, visual and theater arts, and ecology-focused course of study in English and Spanish. There is a yoga/sports course as well. They will also support those students who decide to take the SAT and guide them to online preparation courses and tools. Hence, the school expects its students to be admitted to universities of their choice in Mexico, the U.S. and Europe.

Founders Molly Lou and Fabrice see that Todos Santos is quickly changing and growing and hope that The Sierra School will be central in defining the educational future for local youths. They hope the school will meet the needs of local and foreign youths who deserve to dream their futures in Todos Santos, Mexico.