Failure is not a word that Maria Cristina Gomez contemplates. Not even when everyone else has given up. She believes the next Nobel Prize winner is just as likely to be sitting in her deprived school in Rosario, Argentina, as anywhere else.
Her motivations are deeply personal. She is mother to three children, two of whom have disabilities so severe that medical professionals had warned against hoping for a future for them. Gomez refused to accept this, and did whatever it took for them to overcome their challenges, go to university and realise their dreams.
Her entire career has been dedicated to finding ways to engage her students, and so change their fates from the violent, disenfranchised futures they are at risk of. Through her belief in them, as well as the technology and teaching tools she has developed, she equips them for success, and diverts them from drugs, gang warfare and teenage pregnancy.
One method she uses is involving the students in initiatives that give them access to people and places beyond their immediate community. She is a member of Mundo de la Educación [Education World], a programme for developing peace-building skills and techniques. It has been so successful, that in 2018, the school hosted the first ExpoEdu Paz, an opportunity for all participating schools to share their experiences.
Wherever she can, she turns problems into advantages. The school was excluded from the government’s Conectar Igualdad [Connect Inequality] programme. Rather than give up, Gomez turned to the mobile phones that, until then, had been a problematic and distracting presence in class. She developed learning tools the students could access through their phones, including a blog with teaching resources. In this way, the phones were transformed into something that motivated the students to study harder.
Gomez also uses High-Performance Educational Programmes, such as the Model UN, to drive her students to higher achievement. This project-based work offers the students focused collaborative and research experience, as well as the dynamism of debating and negotiating. Learning Service is a core part of Gomez’s teaching. Through this, students undertake projects to improve their community, including the “One student, one book” project to provide books for the school library.
Gomez’s methods have a profound impact on the lives of her students. One young women, was repeating the year when she joined the class, and had already been expelled from three schools. She ended up with the highest grades, and was a trainer on the Model UN. She is currently pursuing her studies, and is participating in a programme for excellent pupils working half-days in their jobs. Among Gomez’s first class, she tripled the number of university scholarships awarded. Every student was accepted at University.
Gomez has won several awards, including Microsoft Educator Expert three years in a row for her online education tools. She takes every opportunity to share her learning, from speaking at conferences, to writing articles and running workshops.