Cienfuegos: Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Primary School

Cienfuegos, “Pearl of the South,” beckoned on Thursday morning, a three-hour trip by coach from Havana. It is a beautiful city, located on a large open bay, loaded down with handsome French and Spanish architecture, such as the town hall.

A visit to Carlos Manuel de Cespedes” primary school was the first thing on the agenda. The school is named after a hero of a rebellion against the Spanish in 1868, a man known as the “father of Cuba.”

Rector Tania Diaz presided over a lovely greeting from the music teacher and two students. They performed two songs, the first dedicated to Fidel Castro on his death: “Riding Home with Fidel,” the second a celebration of the values of peace and freedom, “Knowing Cuba.”

On hand to greet us at the school were community representatives concerned with international visitors, a metallurgical engineer, and representatives from higher education and the school’s UNESCO liason.

The school, said Rector Diaz, serves 313 student with a staff of 49, 40 of whom are teachers. About five have master’s degrees, 11 are studying for their master’s, and seven are undergraduate students focused on pedagogy,

She feels the school has everything it needs to deliver a high quality program and proudly noted that every class has a television, while the schools has 11 computers in a lab, along with five DVD players.

School staff are especially proud of their UNESCO designation, part of a worldwide program emphasizing environmental stewardship, that includes 69 Cuban schools.

The school functions from 6:30 AM until 6:30 PM, with classes beginning at 8:30 and finishing at 4:30.
Once a month the staff meets with parents to go over student progress and advise parents on what they can do to help students move along. “We are nothing without the support of the parents,” said Diaz, who taught for 24 years before becoming Rector ten years ago. She emphasized, “We are both teachers – family and us. By the end of six years we are a family and it is possible for a student to remain with the same teacher throughout their time in the school.”

Julie Vitale presented Rector Diaz with gifts from the Roundtable – and then it was on to lunch at El Lagarto, a wonderful restaurant on the bay.

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