Fiftieth Anniversary of the Farm School “El Peñon,” Morelos, Mexico

The family farm school El Peñon has completed a half century of educational work. In the nineteen fifties, a group of businessmen, concerned about the lack of educational facilities in the agricultural areas of Mexico, created in Morelos the Asociación Civil Campo y Deporte (Association for Agriculture and Sports), which in turn founded the El Peñon Research Center for Agriculture and Stock-raising in the valley of Amilpas. In 1961, El Peñon gave its first practical course in agriculture and care of farm animals. Ten years later it opened its televised secondary school, which has graduated 1,846 students. And in 1984 it inaugurated a technical school for agriculture and stock-raising, which has seen 706 students graduating. Today about 400 students of high school level make the daily trip from nearby villages and towns to study and take part in sports at El Peñon.

It has been calculated that the total population that El Peñon reaches, with a positive effect on human development and quality of life, is close to three hundred thousand people. Among other things, statistics show that the levels of alcoholism, divorce, teenage pregnancy, and unwed mothers in Jonacatepec, the municipality where El Peñon is located, are the lowest in the state of Morelos.

In the classroom and on the sports field

1998 saw the beginning of the Atlas-El Peñon soccer school, which has already won the Copa Fortaleza, a prestigious tournament in Mexico. “Through sports the boys discover that they have the same level of competence as the young people living in the city . . . This gives a strong boost to their outlook on life and their ability to relate to others. Winning out in the academic field as well then becomes a realistic goal for them,” said Hector Lucio, the director of El Peñon.

The school fosters the students’ desire to attain excellence in both academics and sports, but above all seeks to foster their human and moral formation. Students receive classes in English, mathematics, biology, chemistry, etc., and are helped to grasp the importance of key human virtues, in coordination with the students’ parents.

In the academic realm, the ENLACE 2010 test, developed by the Department of Public Education, gave El Peñon’s high school degree first place in the state, both in mathematical skills and reading comprehension. On the national level, El Peñon came in 19th place in mathematics and 45th in reading, which placed it among the top high schools in Mexico. In the school year 2002–2003, El Peñon was recognized by the National Center for Higher Education as having the best secondary school with televised classes not only in Morelos but in the whole country.

Due to deficiencies in English that students at El Peñon still suffered from after their high school course, in the 2006-2007 school year an agreement was made with a prestigious language instruction group, which has enabled the students to graduate now with the required bilingual skills.

St. Josemaría Escrivá and El Peñon

The spiritual formation imparted at El Peñon is entrusted to the Prelature of Opus Dei. The aim is to transmit to the students the spirit of work that is well done, out of love for God. St. Josemaria, right from the start, encouraged the formative and educational work being carried out at El Peñon. In 1970, during his stay in Mexico, he visited the school. Referring to the difficult social situation the small farmers faced, he said: “Everyone, yourselves and us, are concerned that you better your life and get out of this situation, so that you don’t have your way blocked by financial difficulties. We are going to help your children acquire the human culture they need; you will see how we will accomplish this together, and that those with talent and a desire to study will reach a high level.”

The parents

The School for Parents opened its doors in 1993. It has as its goal to help families reinforce the values that the students learn at El Peñon, as well as to improve communication with the children and to better understand the emotional and social changes that the young people are going through. As Alma, the mother of one of the students, said: “We learn how to talk to them and to get to know them better, since often there hasn’t been good communication, and we haven’t been able to find the right words to reach them.”

Commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary

To commemorate El Peñon’s fiftieth anniversary, on November 3 an event was held at the Pan-American Business School (IPADE), one of the principal promoters of this social initiative. The event was attended by major figures from the country’s political life, including Marco Antonio Adame, Governor of Morelos; Heriberto Felix Guerra, from the Secretariat for Social Development in Mexico (SEDESOL); and Ismael Ariza, Municipal President of Jonacatepec and former student of El Peñon, who, accompanied by Msgr. Francisco Ugarte, Vicar of Opus Dei in Mexico, Alfonso Bolio, General Director of IPADE, Hector Lucio, General Director of El Peñon, and Victor Lachica, president of the Foundation, granted awards in recognition of many years of service to workers who have been with El Peñon for the longest time.

During the celebration, Msgr. Ugarte read a letter from the Prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarría, sent to El Peñon on the occasion of its fifty years of activity. In part this reads: “On glancing back over these past decades, how many reasons we find to raise or hearts in gratitude to God! Besides the awards and recognitions, you have earned other, more important ones, which should make you proud: the service provided to so many families, the development promoted in your land, and the work carried out with joy and effort.”

The keynote speaker for the event was the Director of the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OCDE) for Mexico and Latin America, José Antonio Ardavín. He recalled the words of St. Josemaría cited above to emphasize that, with the passage of years, that dream is now becoming a reality.

Romana, No. 53, July-December 2011, p. 296-298.