„Papalotes Escuela Waldorf“ is so far the first and only Waldorf School in the history of Oaxaca in Mexico. The State of Oaxaca is located in the southeastern region of the country, a region of contrasts blending an incomparable cultural richness with acute challenges of poverty and marginalization. In the field of education, the situation is stark: the state is the second poorest in Mexico, with the nation’s lowest educational standards and a long-running labor dispute between the public teacher’s union and the state and federal governments that has created an ongoing atmosphere of tension. Despite all this, Oaxaca is an ideal location for Waldorf Education with its wealth of indigenous cultures, languages and handcraft traditions such as pottery, weaving and wood carving.
Papalotes (Spanish for “kites”) was founded in 2009 by a group of concerned parents and educators. Beginning with a pre-school/kindergarten group, it subsequently expanded in 2012 to launch a multi-age primary school. Two years later a pre kindergarten group was added. With the help of students, parents, and volunteer students from the Architecture Department of the local university an ecological classroom was built using a local bajareque, wattle-and-daub building technique. With this type of construction, the walls are built from a tracery of twigs, filled with mud and finally plastered.
Papalotes currently has a staff of six, guiding a vibrant, multi-cultural mix of some twenty local and foreign students. Our teachers attend three weeks of Waldorf training in Cuernavaca every summer, along with weekend workshops throughout the year.
Along with the Waldorf curriculum, the aim is also to reflect the local cultural context within education at Papalotes. Students study Mexican mythology in fourth grade, and also celebrate a number of local festivities, including the Day of the Dead, Mexico’s most important festival of the year. To commemorate the day, students and teachers build a colorful altar and put on a play that captures the essence of the celebration.
Over the last years, Papalotes has begun outreach with sister Waldorf schools in the United States and Germany in order to lay the groundwork for cultural, student and teacher exchanges, as well as the possibility of financial support. Despite the school’s successes, finances continue to be a major issue. As Papalotes receives no public financing, it must depend entirely on tuition fees. These, in turn, must be kept at a level commensurate with the average salaries in the state. The challenges the school faces, therefore, are multiple: to provide decent salaries for its hardworking teachers, to compensate those who spend long hours administering and coordinating the school (currently on a volunteer basis), and to provide for the school’s growth.
Nevertheless, it is an important principle that families genuinely interested in providing their children with a Waldorf education not be turned away. Therefore, Papalotes offers a work-exchange program allowing families to defray part of the tuition with work on behalf of the school. Moreover, in the Oaxacan tradition of community work called tequio, all families are asked to contribute to maintaining the school and grounds.