AMIGA OF THE WEEK: Barb Zupko

Occupation

Elementary School Teacher and College professor. Thirty-eight years of combined experiences.

Hometown

Malvern, Pennsylvania (5 Minutes from the Amigos office)

How did you hear about Amigos?

My parish in Malvern, St. Patrick’s, adopted Amigos de Jesus as part of their outreach program many years ago. I have been a supporter of Amigos since that time.

What is your role with Amigos?

My role as a volunteer with Amigos is to be the stateside school coordinator. This role has changed from time to time depending on the need.

Ten years ago, I began traveling to Amigos to support the volunteers in their work at the school, which had just opened. I provided educational workshops for the volunteers and observed the children and the teachers in their classrooms. This gave me an opportunity to recognize the learning styles of the students as well as any discipline issues the volunteers may have had in the classroom. One-on-one or group discussions were provided in order to help the volunteers with different approaches to learning and to handling discipline in the classroom. I traveled to Amigos every three months and stayed about two weeks.

Favorite Memory

I have so many wonderful memories that I carry with me but one I relive almost every day is the memory of evening prayer circle.

Listening to the prayers of the children and staff touches your soul in a very meaningful way. When I pray at night, that picture and their voices are always in my mind and heart.

Something you learned

Patience! My focus was on providing the best school experience possible for our children and that remains the same today. I had to realize that everything that I wanted to happen wasn’t going to happen in the time I had had hoped. However, our school is amazing and it was worth the wait to see where we are today.

Years involved

I have been volunteering with Amigos for ten years. My visits are not as frequent as before but I continue to search for monetary support for resources, research appropriate curriculum and new ways to reach and teach children with trauma. Our school has grown into an incredibly positive learning experience for our children and the community around us. I am thrilled with our relationship with the BECA program, which provides us the opportunity to be a bilingual school for grades pre-school through grade four! We will continue to add a grade each year.

We have an amazing school director who has been with us for several years. We also have a past volunteer who has been able to provide great workshops for our new volunteers and our Honduran teachers!

How many times have you visited Amigos

Approximately 15 times (Frequent visits in the first few years of the school)

Advice for teachers

It is very important for all teachers to really get to know your students. This is especially true at Amigos. Most of our children have suffered some form of trauma that no child should have to experience. Each child has their own timetable for developing trusting relationships with their teacher, peers and caregivers. Be patient and provide a positive, caring, structures learning environment. Learning will happen when the child begins to trust.

Message for one of the children

I would love to tell all our children to follow their dreams but to realize their dreams takes hard work and self-discipline.

Pedro* is my Godchild and I would like to send him a special message of congratulations for starting his first semester of University in search of his dream of being a doctor! I have great fondness for Pedro and his brothers, Nahun* and Juan* and I want them to know they are always in my thoughts and prayers.

*Names changed to protect privacy