The school year in Guatemala begins in mid January and ends in mid October. By the first week of November, we’ve already identified the boys we’ll invite to study at our academy for middle school. In 2017 we invited 7 and in 2018 we invited 8.
This is what we look for in our boys.
1. How badly do they want to learn? Do they want to continue studying the Bible? Do they crave studying in general? This is THE MOST IMPORTANT criteria. How bad do they want it?
2. What is their financial ability to go to middle school? Although there’s a public middle school, students still have to purchase uniforms, including at least 2 pair of shoes as well as a gym uniform. They have to buy all their books and supplies. They have to pay for daily transportation to and from Chimaltenango. They have to pay for the use of computers for research. They have to pay for materials to complete projects throughout the year. Most kids from El Rosario can’t afford it unless their family takes out massive loans.
3. We actually put the least emphasis on past grades but we do take grades into account. If one of the boys stays after for help, or if it’s obvious they study but still struggle, we don’t hold their grades against them.
Last November we met with 8 boys and their parents to hand out formal scholarship invitations. Our scholarships, thanks to AMAZING partners in the States, cover all costs, for 3 years.
I explain to the parents, “My wife and I established this academy so we can have ONE class every day.” Everyone looked confused. “For the next 3 years, we’ll begin our day with Bible class. I believe the best hour of our day, the hour our brains work the best, is the first hour, so we’re giving God our best.”
“Everyone has a job in this relationship.” I look at each of the boys as I talk, “Your mom and dad’s job is to put a roof over your head, to give you a bed to sleep in and food to eat. They get up early every day so you can have a better future.”
“MY job is to find people in the United States and around the world who believe in you. It’s my job to find a scholarship for each one of you, FOR THREE YEARS. You don’t have to pay for ANYTHING.”
“YOUR job is to learn. Your job is to show up on time (10 minutes early). Your job is to work hard and to study until your day ends at 3:30pm.”
“We have high standards at our academy. We require your best. If you want to go to school here, just so you can hang out with your friends, this is probably not the best place for you. If you want to keep your scholarship, you’ll have to achieve a 70% or better, 69% is failing.
I now look at the parents, “If you accept the scholarship we’re offering, your boys will be required to attend “refuerzos” during their vacation (summer school). They’ll have class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, in November, December and 2 weeks in January.”
[Last year we tested the outgoing 6th graders to see if they were ready for our 7th grade curriculum. The boys tested at a 3rd and 4th grade level. In an almost crisis situation, we quickly hired teachers to try to make up the two years they would absolutely need. We’re a satellite school and our parent school is in an affluent part of Guatemala City. The level of classes was built around and for, wealthy city kids.]
“We don’t expect you to accept the scholarship tonight. Please go home and discuss it as a family. Pray about it. Your invitation is open until (summer school) begins in November.”
When the meeting ended I stood by the door and shook every parents hand. One by one, each family said they accepted the scholarship. “This is an answer to prayer. Thank you.”
And then the last family walked up to me and explained, “Fredy will not be coming to the academy. Thank you for the opportunity and for the invitation. We’ve already registered him at Pedro Molina (public school) . His brother graduated from there and we’ve already made a commitment.”
It was humbling. I wanted to say, “Do you know what you’re about to walk away from? This is a huge opportunity!” I wanted to beg actually. You see, Fredy is that kid that every teacher wants in their class. He’s not just intelligent, he’s driven. This kid has a hunger to learn. He’s the type of kid that if you ask him to run a mile, he’ll run 10.
Their minds were made up so I told them, “I understand,” even though I didn’t. “If something changes before refuerzos, please come back. Fredy’s spot will still be open.” There was an emphasis on “please”. It was my way of begging.
And that was that. Seven boys would make up our 2018 class. Until the next day.
The next morning, Fredy and his mom were knocking on the metal entrance door. I’m sure I looked shocked. “Come in” I said. But they both just stood outside our gate. They looked at each other as if they hadn’t decided who would do the talking, “We want to see if Fredy can still study here?”
“Come in.” I motioned them to come inside but they continued to stand just outside the gate.
In an almost desperate voice, Fredy’s mom said, “We got home last night and talked with Fredy’s older brother and he told us we had to come back to accept the scholarship. He said we made a mistake and this was a big opportunity.”
They finally came in. We sat down and talked and I assured them that Fredy’s spot was still very open.
That seems like forever ago. We just finished the second quarter and I met with every student and their mothers to go over report cards. The boys were not only at grade level, but on average they were at 80% proficiency. Small class sizes, amazing teachers and God made it all possible.
As I sat with Fredy and his mom, I told her how proud of him I was. “He always gives more than we ask.”
Fredy’s mom paused before she spoke, “Thank you for what you’re doing here. Before the academy, Fredy was the only one in the family who didn’t want to go to church.” With eyes welling up, she said, “Now he’s the first one out the door, with his Bible. He’s always reading his Bible.”
And now all three of us were crying. She looked down, eyes shut to hold back the tears, and quietly said, “Thank you.”
I waited for her to look up and then looked at Fredy, “Thank God.”
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