By Becky St. Clair
Schools around the world have experienced challenges adjusting to their new normal, but Calexico Mission School (CMS) faces some unique challenges. Eighty-five percent of the student body of CMS are Mexican residents, due to its location on the Mexico-California border. In pre-COVID times, these students would stand in line at a port of entry for an hour or more each morning before school, then walk the ten minutes to CMS.
“‘Mission isn’t just in our name to sound cool,” said Oscar Olivarria, principal. “We are serving a community that is mostly non-Adventist. However, contrary to what most people think, a lot of these students are also U.S. citizens, though their parents are not.”
When COVID-19 closed schools around the world, it also closed international borders. This meant that even when CMS qualified for a state waiver to reopen, there was little point, since a vast majority of their students could not or would not return to class. When education was deemed “essential travel” so students could cross the border for school, many parents, because they could not accompany their children, did not feel safe sending their kids back to school.
Unlike the U.S. government, the Mexican government did not provide stimulus checks or unemployment benefits to its citizens, so many CMS families have had a difficult time navigating finances in recent months. As a result, enrollment at CMS has dropped by 20 percent.
Technology has also been a concern.
“Many of our families have access to devices, so distance learning is possible,” Olivarria explained. “However, we do have some whose sole device is a cell phone, making online assignments nearly impossible.”
Virtual learning poses another challenge when you consider the low percentage of parents who are able to speak and read English well enough to help their children with their classwork.
“Families view us as a language school, mostly,” Olivarria explained. “They send their kids to school here because they know their children will learn English, and they know being bilingual will boost their chances for success. Like all parents, they want their kids to have better opportunities than they did.”
Olivarria also emphasizes the incredible work the CMS teachers have done, adapting on the fly over and over again, with high expectations and long days. “What they’re doing essentially places them, in my mind, right up there with frontline workers,” he said.
The number of challenges facing CMS seems insurmountable some days. Being located in the county with the highest number of COVID cases per capita does not help, but Olivarria said he and his team of teachers are called to a mission, and in this they find courage and motivation.
“Every single one of our team members has a story about how God led them here,” he shared. “God has put these students in our paths, and we’re going to do our best to minister to them, hoping that whatever we put in their hearts is going to lead them in a direction to see God’s plans for their lives fulfilled.”