21st Century Learning International is proud to be one of the Yidan Prize’s nominating organizations. This year we nominated one of our former conferences keynotes Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes for the Yidan Education Development Prize. While our submission did not win the prize this year, we do feel the work Juan Pablo is undertaking is of great importance, and so we want to share a summary of the 6,000 word application with our community.
Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes is the ideal candidate for the Yidan Education Development Prize. As a top 10 finalist for the CNN Heroes of 2014 Award selected from over 150,000 nominated candidates, Juan Pablo has arguably accomplished more for his native country of Guatemala through his transformative school than any other educator. His school, Los Patojos, has taken a downtrodden crime-ridden neighborhood and transformed it into a thriving community. His El Patojismo movement provides children with three meals a day; a modern, progressive learning environment; and healthcare; all free of charge. He has brought thousands of at-risk and disadvantaged youth off the streets and into a safe learning space.
As a teacher, Juan Pablo saw that many young people in his community had either died or fallen into lives of alcoholism, drugs and crime. In response, he opened a free after-school program 13 years ago in his parents garage. The first students were three local children with disabilities. This is where Los Patojos or “The Little Ones”, was born, and then continued to grow as word spread.
International funding agencies have helped Los Patojos grow from an after-school program into an accredited school campus for over 400 students. Juan Pablo has gathered around him a group of 33 administrators, health, and education staff, many of whom were former students and this group will drive its future. With the help of Los Patojos, local children now have a supportive, inspiring community where they are provided with a safe learning environment off the streets. Local children now have a supportive, inspiring community where they can find safety and inclusion off the streets. As of today, Los Patojos has served over 622,00 free meals, treated more than 10,500 patients in its clinic and established two campuses.
Juan Pablo has a clear vision. In the short term, he and his students have begun to run a functioning bakery, farm, cafe, restaurant —social enterprises whose proceeds will fund the school’s operations and expansion. His campus includes a government-accredited school, culture center and community center, as well as a performance hall, and his students are now building a second campus. He has translated the Los Patojos concept into a philosophy and brand: “El Patojismo.” Under the banner of this movement, Los Patojos will open 100 schools, sharing its vision with all of Guatemala, the greater region and the world.
Guatemalan kids are subject to many external stressors, and Patojismo believes everyone deserves the right to a little breathing room in their own country, without having to migrate across borders in search of a better life. Juan Pablo and his Los Patojos dream of a world where there are no undocumented migrant border crossings, and Guatemalans can find economic opportunities closer to home. His team needs the resources to grow and give this right to breathe for more young people, to finally breathe, imagine, learn resilience, and acquire the skills needed to realize their dreams.