La Escuela Integral, officially known as the Casa de la Cultura is one of San Juan del Sur’s most fascinating and historic buildings. Once belonging to the Somoza family as a recreational house, the building was granted to San Juan del Sur’s Municipal Government after Somoza’s reign ended in 1979 when the Sandinistas won the revolutionary war and took power. The building was then converted to a school and became a cultural center where students received classes in art, dance, music, crafts and took regular courses as well. In the late 1980s, due to political conflicts between Nicaragua and Europe, where the majority of the school’s funding came from, funding ceased and the school was closed. The once booming cultural center filled with children, art and music became an almost vacant building. The municipal government lacked the funds needed for maintenance, so they donated the building to the Asociacion para los Promodores de la Cultura—APC, a national association for cultural promotion.
San Juan native, Denis Calderon, who was one of the teachers at the school decided to stay and offered to maintain the building solely through dance classes, art classes, and renting rooms, while running a bar on the weekends. The APC Board of Directors approved this and granted him autonomy over the building provided he was fully responsible for securing the funds to maintenance it. For 25 years, Denis worked hard to pay the bills and keep the building together, although the majority of the buildings’ rooms remained boarded up and unoccupied. In February 2009, the Barrio Planta Project (BPP) began providing free English and Art classes to the community, which were initially held in the local library. The library was small and as BPP’s classes grew, it began to monopolize the once studious and tranquil atmosphere. When Denis Calderon, resident of Barrio La Planta, heard of this dilemma from his daughter who was receiving English classes, he promptly offered La Escuela Integral free of charge. This was monumental in the growth and sustainability of the project. He had given us a school!
In February 2010, BPP, with a growing student body of over one hundred students, launched its second year of classes. With a little bit of funding and a lot of labor, staff and volunteers cleaned out four rooms in the building for a pre-school, level one and level two classes to be held simultaneously, in addition to an office.
Today, the Escuela Integral is once again filled with children, families, volunteers and people who study Spanish at the APC Spanish school. Due to the hard work of community pillars like Denis Calderon and the support of the APC and the national Nicaraguan government, as well as generous donors and volunteers, the Escuela Integral has finally become what it once was and has always been meant to be—a building where the community is able to come to celebrate culture, learn a second language and be inspired to express themselves through various forms of art, music and dance.