Roma parents, kids go to school together to curb dropouts
Children play as Muslim women attend a class at the Mediterrani language school in Tarragona, on December 5, 2013
"I left school when I was 14 to work and help out at home. Now I'm unemployed and I decided to get my high school diploma," said Jesus Gonzalez, 27, as he stood in the hallway of the school with his books under his arm after class.
He was waiting for two of his three children who attend separate classes at the Mediterrani school in Tarragona, northeastern Spain, in a former shantytown district that is now home to tower blocks of social housing.
"They are still getting over the fact I am here, they don't understand it. But the fact that I go to school with them seems to motivate them," added Gonzalez, whose tall frame stuck out above the kids running around him in the hall.
"This is a second opportunity for me, to try to study. But especially for my children, so they can go to university and do what I was not able to do."
The school launched the programme a month ago, letting parents attend classes separately from their children in a bid to improve the education results of the big local Roma population.
About 20 adults, many of them unemployed, are completing their high school diplomas at the school -- and, officials hope, motivating their children to finish their studies as well.
In some respects, Roma have melded into Spanish life, with the country's signature flamenco music and dance drawing heavily from their culture. But Spain's population of around 750,000 Roma still suffer social exclusion.
About four percent of all Roma still live in makeshift camps and their unemployment rate stood at 36 percent in 2011, high above the national average, according to the Roma Secretariat Foundation, which works to improve their living conditions.
The record in education -- an area that many experts believe is the key to pulling Roma out of poverty -- is especially poor.
Just over half of Spain's Roma have no formal education, and 8.6 percent are illiterate.
"There is a lack of family support. The majority of parents and grandparents have no education and have moved forward without it. For this reason they do not give it the importance that it deserves," said Monica Chamorro, the foundation's director for education programmes.
But with Spain struggling through a prolonged economic downturn since a property bubble burst in 2008, throwing millions out of work, this attitude appears to be slowly changing.
"Many families are realising that education is necessary and it can improve the lives of their children," said Chamorro.
The school had a high absenteeism rate before, but not anymore, said 31-year-old teacher Teresa Castaneda.
"Children did not see why they should go to school and their families showed no interest. Now they think: 'I do not want to be like my father, I do not want to return to school when I am older,' and they are more motivated," she said.
The school also provides courses in English and computer skills, as well as Spanish classes for those who can't read. Those are popular with immigrants and illiterate Roma women like Josefa Amador.
At the age of nine, Amador left school at her father's urging. Now a 34-year-old housewife, she can barely read and write -- so last year she signed up for literacy classes.
"At least now if my son has questions when he does his homework, I can help him a little bit. Before I could not even read his assignments," she said.