In 1974, the town of Argelita (in the Alto Mijares region of Castellón) lost its school, “despite the fact that there were quite a few children”, as recognized by the mayor, Aitor Balfagón: “Then several public services were closed throughout the city. region”. On September 8, 47 years later, the school reopened its doors in this town of 160 inhabitants with eleven students enrolled, five in Infant and six in Primary. These are children who were in school, until last year, in Fanzara (located just over eight kilometers through the Sierra de Espadán) and in Onda (21.5 kilometers by mountain road), and who had to travel about forty minutes by school bus that circulates through different municipalities to get to school or return home, which implied that they had to get up at 6.45 a.m. to be able to get to class at 9.
In this way, from this course, the classes return to Argelita in the cultural premises of the hand of two tutors (Eva and Cristina) and the itinerant teachers of the CRA (Centro Rural Agrupado) Espadán-Mijares, who will teach some of the subjects. The Argelita classroom, which has a dining room enjoyed by the eleven children of the center, is part of a school with offices in the rural towns of Fanzara, Sueras, Tales and Ludiente.
A six-year process
It all emerged six years ago, when the mayor of Argelita participated in a meeting to address measures against depopulation. “We were told that bureaucratic facilities were going to be offered to the municipalities to open schools, which could be started with up to five children,” says the mayor, who explains that it was then that the light bulb was turned on: “We had to try , but we had to have enough students, because with only five or six we would be in limbo and we could recover one year to lose it the next. We wanted to have a school, but with continuity “.
For this, the City Council set itself the objective of trying to attract families with children. “A couple of years ago we raised it with the people and the initiative was approved almost unanimously, so we contacted the Red Cross, Cáritas or the Valencian Federation of Municipalities and Provinces to look for people who could take root in our community” , maintains Balfagón.
In a few months they managed to attract three families from different origins but all with something in common, originally they came from rural areas so that the environment would not be strange to them. They are a family of Syrian refugees, another from Colombia and another from Albania. To attract them, the first year they were provided with housing -they take charge of the costs of electricity, water, gas …-, from October they will be charged rent, and they were included in employment programs of the Generalitat Valenciana: “The objective was that they progressively emancipate themselves and facilitate their integration, and the truth is that they have adapted perfectly.”
Although at the beginning the initiative was received with certain skepticism, “because people did not quite believe it”, the reopening of the school has been “a joy for all the people”.
Take advantage of tools
Balfagón acknowledges that what they have done is “take advantage of the tools that the Administration has provided.” , “In the end we have achieved something as important as having a school in the village.” Precisely, as recognized by the Minister of Education, Vicent Marzà, the Valencian Government’s commitment is “where there are schools, maintain them, and where there were none, try to open new ones”, while pointing out that policies can be developed against depopulation.