“We are only as good as we are deep” is a Back2Back value which resonates deeply within the staff in Mazatlan, Mexico. As parents ourselves, we understand each child is a unique creation who learns and matures in an individualized way. Back2Back’s desire is to provide more than shelter and food. To that end, we are working toward a focused and individualized Child Development Plan for each child served, meeting each child’s spiritual, physical, educational, emotional and social needs. This individual care not only shows each child he is known and loved but it also allows staff to impact each child in a deeply holistic way.
As part of Back2Back’s goal to invest deeply in the children’s lives, Back2Back Mazatlan Director, Gabriel Velasco, knew it was time to develop Individual Education Plans (IEP’s) for each child. An IEP is an educational road map providing direction for a child’s learning. After identifying and measuring each child’s current learning levels, goals are set and weaker skills sets are identified for concentrated intervention and tutoring. Because education is the key to ending the cycle of poverty, Gabriel began searching for a local education specialist to assist with creating these plans.
Little did he know God would place such a person in his van.
Gabriel had offered to drive a group of local volunteers from an area church to a community event. During the drive, he mentioned Back2Back’s work with children in local orphanages. When one passenger casually mentioned she was a 23-year veteran of the local school district and her specialty was creating IEP’s for disadvantaged children, Gabriel knew God was on the move.
“How can I help?” Olimpia asked.
Gabriel knew exactly how to respond, enlisting Olimpia, who was eager to offer her expertise. Olimpia went to work right away, speaking with each child individually and listening to each story. Is there any wonder there would be educational gaps when a child has lived in three different homes with three different relatives in the last four years? Might there be some missing foundational skills when a nine-year-old boy stays at home instead of going to school, so he can care for his three younger siblings, while mom works two jobs to feed them? With a tender heart and years of experience, Olimpia carefully crafted plans to fill in the gaps and help each child develop the solid foundation they need to excel in school.
Working hand-in-hand with Olimpia, Back2Back Mazatlan staff member, Grant Keyes, a trained math teacher, serves as the coordinator of Back2Back Mazatlan’s education program. Grant worked with Olimpia to determine how Back2Back could serve as a bridge to connect the children to people who could help.
Once the plans were completed, volunteer tutors from a local church worked through the summer with all the children. Three days a week, they came to Salvation Army Children’s Home with IEP’s in hand, tutoring each child in the areas they needed the most help. Some children willingly gave up summer vacation activities to work with their tutors, so they could catch up to their peers in school. Every single child showed marked improvement by the time school began in August.
One sibling group of four children was so far behind, three days a week of volunteer-based tutoring would not be enough. Using resources provided through the child sponsorship program, we hired tutors to work individually with each child five days a week through the summer. The results were extraordinary! Jose Angel, a 13-year-old boy who missed school for more than two years to care for his three younger sisters, advanced an entire grade level. His nine-year-old sister America was going to have to repeat the first grade for the 3rd time. However, when returning to school in August, she tested out of first grade and is currently charging into second grade armed with confidence. Her teacher shared she could see the difference in America, and she is now thinking of ways America can help motivate the other children in her class to learn. The stories of change go on and on.
When we look into a child’s eyes and take a deep inventory of their life, their story and their needs, children are impacted in ways that defy measurement. Good grades are nice, but being seen, heard, valued and understood is priceless. In terms of measurement – the results speak for themselves.
Chad Huber and his family serve with Back2Back in Mazatlan, Mexico, as a voice for orphans and vulnerable children. He is the captain of Rancho de los Ninos Children’s Home, a children’s home for children with special needs.