Six years ago, I took a bus trip with the Corazon de Vida organization to visit an orphanage in Tijuana. This one bus trip to Mexico changed the course of my life as a teacher! In anticipation of spending the day with a lot of children at the orphanage, I brought workbooks, flashcards, and other learning materials. I was shocked that, despite all the fun crafts and games that were provided to entertain everyone, a huge crowd of kids ended up at my learning station. As a teacher, I was moved by how much these children actually wanted to learn and how much they craved education. I had not seen such motivation from students in my 15 years of teaching here in the United States.

Upon returning home, I felt an urgent need to do something to provide these kids with greater access to education. I thought about how fortunate the students in my district were to have access to so many learning tools, and how fortunate my tutoring students were to get extra support with their areas of need. I also thought about how most kids, unlike these orphans, end their evenings with a bedtime story from their parents. I had a strong desire to help these kids who were missing out. I researched the education system in Mexico, and became further motivated when I learned that if a child arrives in an orphanage after the school year has begun, they often have to wait a full year before they can return to school. It pained me to know that children in these situations would also be removed from the social and educational resources that school offers. It is unfair that an already difficult experience would also make them fall even further behind in education.

During this time, I was working on my Master’s degree in Special Education. All of my coursework pointed to how important early intervention is to support successful student learning outcomes, making it very clear that I needed to help these children. On another day trip to Baja, I spoke with George, the Director of Corazon de Vida, at length about my desire to help. I told him that my very favorite online learning program, Raz-Kids, offered an extensive library of Spanish books and Spanish literacy resources. I explained how this program would enable the children of Corazon de Vida to read books at their level in both English and in Spanish and I started fundraising for Chromebooks, headphones, and Raz-Kids licenses.

A short time later, the Raz-Kids program was running successfully in several different orphanages, with the help of tutors and with older students acting as mentors/facilitators for the projects. Not only are we providing early intervention for the children within the Corazon de Vida network; we are also giving children access to hundreds of books and a library filled with literacy resources that they otherwise wouldn’t have. This program is also enhancing the children’s computer literacy skills, essential for success in the 21st century. We have even been stunned to observe special needs children, some of whom we thought were non-verbal, learning to read as a result of this program.

By Corazon de Vida volunteer Leah Alagna