Fellow Since 1999
Fundación Belen Educa
This profile was prepared when Carmen Cisternas was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1999.
The New Idea
Carmen Cisternas recognizes that cycles of poverty will not be broken without a substantial improvement in the quality of education available to disadvantaged youth and a concerted effort to address simultaneously the wide range of problems faced by poor communities. Therefore, Carmen is challenging educators, policy makers, community groups, and students themselves to adopt a new vision of what a school can and should provide. The model which Carmen has developed and is piloting in a notoriously poor corner of Santiago has at its epicenter a school which caters to each student's individual learning needs and styles through a pedagogy of personalized education and which serves as a dynamic point of contact for dealing with an array of community needs. Within Carmen's model, it is the school, not the soccer field or the corner store or the neighborhood bar, that is the focal point of the community. It is where working parents come to take nighttime classes, either to complete their elementary or high school degrees or to take training courses to help them advance in the job market; where families come for medical attention; where children, teenagers, and adults alike come for evening and weekend recreational activities; where workers come to check the latest entries in a community job bank; and where troubled couples, abusive parents, or addicts can come for counseling and treatment. Moreover, it is a place where children of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to maximize their learning by developing their own programs of study and working at their own pace to reach the goals they have set for themselves, all the while supported by specially trained professors.