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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Another step toward modern education

Nuestra Moda student Carlos González Sanjurjo of Loíza

A free, nonprofit learning institution in Caguas inaugurates fashion school for teens

By Richard Gutiérrez

School can be challenging. Learning in general is complex. Some people may learn one way, other people learn another way. Because of this, in the world of education, there are many types of schools for kids and parents to choose from.

The STAR recently reported on a free school in Caguas that considers itself a school based on love and compassion toward young people who don’t necessarily feel like they don’t fit in at a traditional school. That is named Nuestra Escuela, which translates to Our School. This summer, the school featured a summer camp where students took construction courses.

Aside from its summer programs, the school offers a variety of courses for students, and it keeps on expanding the menu. On Tuesday, Nuestra Escuela had its inauguration ceremony to present its vocational school: “Nuestra Moda,” which translates to Our Fashion. Nuestra Moda is a vocational fashion school in Nuestra Escuela that will teach students about clothing design and fashion in general.

“Nuestra Moda is the first of our vocational initiatives that is born out of the interests of youth,” Nuestra Escuela President Anairis Guzmán said. “Listening to the students for more than 23 years has allowed us to create innovative alternatives. We work hard every day to continue creating confidence in all sectors in favor of our youth. They are the ones who can make the difference in the overall construction of Puerto Rico that we all dream of.”

This is the first of many initiatives of its kind to come, and Guzmán said that next year there will be free courses such as technology, construction, agronomy and tourism. On hand for Tuesday’s inauguration of Nuestra Moda were government leaders such as Caguas Mayor William Miranda Torres and Office of the Governor Executive Director Caridad Pierluisi.

“We celebrate that today, we continue on with an impact story in Nuestra Escuela, with its students from Caguas and wherever they come from, it has been serving young people from 13 to 21 years of age,” Pierluisi said during the inauguration. “Some of them perhaps come from situations that make it difficult for them to find a space where they can thrive, so what you’ve achieved here Anairis and your husband Justo is something truly wonderful.”

The original founder of the school is Guzmán’s husband Justo, but he insists that “Anairis was the one who truly turned the school into something out of this world and was able to make it even better than I ever initially imagined.”

Miranda Torres said during the inauguration that “I give my respect to all collaborators, students, teachers, parents and everyone involved, for your desire … to work and create an alternative education model.”

“With the birth of Nuestra Moda, we see a huge opportunity for the fashion industry and for the economy of Puerto Rico in general, and it will be of great value not just for the island, but for these young ones and their overall professional development.”

Cynthia Beltrán, director of innovation and vocational development at Nuestra Escuela, noted that each Nuestra Moda student will have the opportunity, for a year and a half, to learn and practice the basic skills of sewing and fashion design. At the end they will have a basic vocational certificate that will open the doors for future technical studies in fashion design at the university level and enable them to enter the employment market. About 25 students are already taking classes at Nuestra Moda in rooms with modern sewing equipment, mannequins, colorful fabrics and an attractive design that invites artistic creation.

Last summer, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia announced funds for the vocational project, which received $509,803 for the new curriculum. The government funds come from the employment program known as Vocational and Practical.

Eventually more than 325 students from between the ages of 13 and 21 years of age from 17 northeastern municipalities will participate in the school’s vocational program.

One student, 17-year-old Carlos González Sanjurjo of Loíza, willingly makes the one-hour commute to Caguas every day. While for some in the mainland U.S. that may seem like a normal commute, that isn’t the case on the island, where a long daily commute -- or a drive to the nearest mall -- might be about 30 minutes.

But living an hour away from school did not stop young González Sanjurjo from pursuing his dream and getting into fashion school. “I started going to Nuestra Escuela in Loíza, and finished high school over there,” he told the STAR. “I made the decision to study here because I feel this is a great opportunity to flourish with my talents. I feel that I am talented, and the people here reassure me that I am.”

His mother, Yelixa Sanjurjo, added that “I am extremely happy with Nuestra Escuela with the great opportunity they’ve given my son.”

“I know the commute is difficult but it will be worth it,” she said. “We travel from Loíza to Caguas every day, but I know that the experience will be phenomenal.”

The hallways at Nuestra Escuela were filled with dresses on Tuesday, some of which were designed by students themselves. González Sanjurjo, for example, designed a dress that was made entirely out of paper.

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