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Powering Educational Change-Makers Like Grace

By Allison Kooser

A native of Bogotá, Grace remembers wanting to become a teacher when she was as young as the students she teaches today. As a child in school, she was accustomed to knocks on the door from classmates who didn’t understand a math problem or needed help with their homework. Grace became a peer tutor, and when high school graduation came around, she was certain she wanted to pursue a degree in education.

It was during her time at university that her future as a school proprietor started to take real shape—not only in the classroom but in the living room of her own home. Neighbors, noticing Grace was home during the day studying, started paying her to watch their young children while they were at work. The need for childcare at this age was not uncommon because in Colombia, 90% of children are only enrolled in school between the ages of 7 and 13.

Understanding the very real need for childcare that challenged the members of her community, Grace put her university education to the test—spending her days both studying and running an impromptu daycare center out of her home. The days were not without struggle, and she owes her focus and resilience to a simple and inspiring motto: “where there is a will there is a way, so plan your work and work out your plan.” Grace’s daily mantra, coupled with support from her husband Juan, kept her committed to providing quality care for the children in her community.

Students in Colombia
Students in Colombia

In 2000, Grace looked around and realized she had more students than space. Motivated by the 35 infants and toddlers under her care, Grace decided to rent a larger home to house what she and Juan now called “Jesus’ Little Kids” school. Still space-constrained three years later, Grace found an even larger home for sale. It was then that Opportunity International joined Grace on her mission to increase access and quality of education for young children in Bogotá. With an Opportunity loan, Grace and Juan bought a new house, ultimately creating more seats for students in the community.

Over the following six years, Grace, Juan, and Jesus’ Little Kids school served 70 children from the Bogotá community.  Although today Grace runs only one unit of the school, she firmly believes “education is key to raising children with values.” It has been her mission to uplift her community through job creation and access to education, and it has been Opportunity’s mission to support her. We are in the business of creating opportunity—both for people to work their way out of poverty and those who are passionate about making that happen.

Now, she moves through life with abounding grace, just as her name would suggest, making a difference in the communities and people around her. With new educational opportunities expanding to Latin America, Grace will continue to have access to programs and services that will make Jesus’ Little Kids school better and better.

This is just the beginning.

Opportunity is already growing its newly launched Education Quality program in Colombia, which kicked off in early 2017 with the goal of serving people just like Grace: ambitious servants with the drive and compassion to change their communities through education.

First piloted in Africa, the Education Quality model works with school leaders and teachers to improve conditions for learning and running more sustainable businesses. The program starts by organizing participating schools into cluster groups with peer schools, with the aim of aiding self-improvement. Seminar-based training programs are also offered for school leaders to help them improve the quality of their schools as places of learning. The third key component is our self-improving school system framework which includes a school development planning tool called "Pathways to Excellence" that helps schools identify the areas of greatest need, followed by customized resources to help them improve.

Bringing Education Quality tools to schools in Colombia means students will have the chance to learn in a better environment.
Bringing Education Quality tools to schools in Colombia means students will have the chance to learn in a better environment.

The program has been remarkably successful in helping school proprietors and teachers improve the quality of education they offer by enabling them to learn from experts and each other. By expanding the reach of the program and bringing it to Latin America, we are giving more educators like Grace the opportunity to access financial tools and receive valuable training to make them better teachers.

Last year, participating schools in Bogotá and Barranquilla were organized into clusters that meet regularly with an Education Specialist to discuss and test best practices. School leaders also began participating in seminars targeting key improvements they could make in their schools. Most recently, Opportunity finished translating the Pathways to Excellence school development planning tool into Spanish and will begin introducing it to schools this year.

With the newly translated training tool, Opportunity is also positioned to expand Education Quality programming to other countries in Latin America as well, driven by our quickly expanding footprint with new partners in countries including Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala, and Mexico. This innovative program has the potential to transform education quality around the world. 


Grace’s story originally appeared on the EduFinance blog here

Want to read more about how you can change lives in Latin America? See how you can power a change-maker here.

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