Paloma Noyola: The Face of Mexico’s Unleashed Potential
When a report emerged in September 2012 that a girl from one of Matamoros’ poorest neighborhoods had attained the highest math score in Mexico, some doubted its veracity. It must be fake, they said.
But it wasn’t fake. Her name is Paloma Noyola, and what most reports failed to mention is that almost all of her classmates also scored very high on the national math test. 10 scored in the 99.99% percentile.
Paloma and her classmates also scored in the top percentile in language. Something special was happening at José Urbina López primary school in Matamoros, and Wired went to take a look.
The high test scores turned out to be the work of a young teacher who also came from humble beginnings. Sergio Juárez Correa was tired of the monotony of teaching out of a book and wanted to try something new to help engage his students when he came across the work of Sugata Mitra, a UK university professor who had innovated a new pedagogy he called SOLE, or self organized learning environments. The new approach paid off.
Although SOLE usually relies on unfettered Internet access for research, Juárez and his students had very limited access. Somehow, he still found a way to apply Mitra’s teachings and unleash their potential.
From the beginning, Paloma’s exceptional abilities were evident:
One day Juárez Correa went to his whiteboard and wrote “1 = 1.00.” Normally, at this point, he would start explaining the concept of fractions and decimals. Instead he just wrote “½ = ?” and “¼ = ?”
“Think about that for a second,” he said, and walked out of the room.
While the kids murmured, Juárez went to the school cafeteria, where children could buy breakfast and lunch for small change. He borrowed about 10 pesos in coins, worth about 75 cents, and walked back to his classroom, where he distributed a peso’s worth of coins to each table. He noticed that Paloma had already written .50 and .25 on a piece of paper.
As Mr. Juárez implemented more of Mitra’s teachings in his classroom, Paloma continued to stand out as an exceptionally gifted student:
Juárez Correa was impressed. But he was even more intrigued by Paloma. During these experiments, he noticed that she almost always came up with the answer immediately. Sometimes she explained things to her tablemates, other times she kept the answer to herself. Nobody had told him that she had an unusual gift. Yet even when he gave the class difficult questions, she quickly jotted down the answers. To test her limits, he challenged the class with a problem he was sure would stump her. He told the story of Carl Friedrich Gauss, the famous German mathematician, who was born in 1777.
When Gauss was a schoolboy, one of his teachers asked the class to add up every number between 1 and 100. It was supposed to take an hour, but Gauss had the answer almost instantly.
“Does anyone know how he did this?” Juárez Correa asked.
A few students started trying to add up the numbers and soon realized it would take a long time. Paloma, working with her group, carefully wrote out a few sequences and looked at them for a moment. Then she raised her hand.
“The answer is 5,050,” she said. “There are 50 pairs of 101.”
Juárez Correa felt a chill. He’d never encountered a student with so much innate ability. He squatted next to her and asked why she hadn’t expressed much interest in math in the past, since she was clearly good at it.
“Because no one made it this interesting,” she said.
Although this Wired piece focuses mostly on Sugata Mitra, it does once again highlight the story of Paloma Noyola. Unfortunately, after a brief spurt of media attention, little on Paloma was ever mentioned and, as was pointed out by Wired, nothing was ever said of Mr. Juárez.
As with most stories in the Mexican press — and those popular with the middle-class — things suddenly become very important once it’s featured in a gringo publication. Which is a very sad commentary. We hope, however, that this story pushes those in the press, state and federal government to look not to the United States for validation but to Mexicans like Sergio Juárez doing good work in places like Matamoros.
The clear message in this story is that there are thousands of Paloma Noyolas going to school in Mexico who, just like her at one time, are not being challenged and therefore aren’t very interested in school. This story can, if we want it to, raise enough awareness to shift the discussion from poverty to opportunity.
Paloma truly personifies both Mexico’s challenges and unleashed potential.
Read the entire Wired story here: How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses
Editor’s note: As an addendum, Wired provided information on helping support Sugata Mitra and his School in the Clouds project, and although they donated school supplies and equipment to José Urbina López School, we’re interested in seeing if we can help set up a similar fund for Sergio Juárez, the teacher featured in this story.
Also, $9,300 was raised to help fund Paloma’s education last year. We’re going to follow up with the economist who led the fundraising campaign to see how she’s doing. Stay tuned for the updates.
Junius Stinney was the youngest person in America to be executed on death row in 1944 at age 14. He was quickly accused by the (white police) of ‘killing’ two little (white girls) with lack of evidence. His conviction and sentencing opened and closed in one day. There were no witnesses called and there was no transcript of the trial details and black people were not allowed inside the courtroom during that time.
This halloween please say no to these costumes please just say no they are fucking insulting and Dia de los Muertos is NOT HALLOWEEN I REPEAT NOT HALLOWEEN THIS IS NOT A COSTUME PLEASE STOP TREATING IT LIKE ONE
TO ALL THE PEOPLE GETTING FUCKED OFF AT MY POST. THIS IS EXACTLY WHY I MADE IT. FOR YOUR PINCHE GUERO PENDEJX ASSES. “WE DO IT OUT OF RESPECT,” MY ASS.
this is capitalism ripping through my memories i hold so sacred. Memories of walking through the streets of Chapala after school with my grandmother, and the smell of plants for the preparation of the big event. Memories of memories of memories
This is capitalism and white supremacy destroying, erasing and making new… something that has connected me with my elderes and ancestors,
This is whiteness telling me my body, our gente is unwanted, dehumanized and conditioned to death but at the same time extracting a part of my identity and wearing it as a mask.
This is a mask made of our dead and torn bodies… this is literally a mask made out of ripped bloody flesh. The flesh of migrants who die every year trying to cross.. the flesh of people who become criminalized and confined behind bars. The bloody flesh of torn bodies from years of exploitation in sweat shops, fruit and vegetable fields, dish washers.. domestic workers…
this is our flesh ripped out cleaned, pampered and styled to fit a white face.
- Azalea’s post-racial mess: America’s oldest race tale, remixed
My father recently lost his job, we lost our house and now on top of this he has been diagnosed with cancer of the lymph nodes.
He is a professional machinist and has been working as one for over 30 years, only to then have his work stolen from him by his own mother and sister. We’ve been scraping by since then and now that he lost his job we have absolutely nothing to live off of.
He is such a strong person and until yesterday I have never once seen him cry. We’re absolutely devastated - he has cancer and we have no way to help him.
He has always refused to take money from other people and he has spent his life helping people in need, and now we are the ones who need help.
My mother’s best friend has made a gofundme to try and help us pay our bills (we currently have no income whatsoever) and get him the treatment he so desperately needs.
If you can’t donate then (please, please, please) signal boost this. I’ll also share with him any supportive asks I receive regarding this..
I love my father so much and I am so afraid to lose him right now.
I feel this. My dad often was in and out of his job at GE, he is also a professional machinist. I would do the same if he had cancer and we couldn’t afford to help him. Signal boost. <3