Student teaching in Mexico

Sarah Vacala, right, is spending her semester student teaching in Chapala, Mexico, at an orphanage where she is in charge of 15 girls and one boy. She is a senior at Trine University.

CHAPALA, Mexico — Sarah Vacala, a senior at Trine University and 2014 graduate of Fremont High School, began student teaching in January at Love in Action, an orphanage for girls with Deeper Water Ministries in Chapala, Mexico.

Vacala, a lifelong resident of Fremont, was a captain of the volleyball team at Fremont High School, signing on to play at Huntington University her senior year.

After two years at Huntington, she transferred to Trine University.

Her first visit to Love in Action was on a mission trip with her church in the summer of 2017.

“From the first moment Sarah arrived at the orphanage, she was completely captured by the kids, the system, just everything about it; and a conversation began,” said Pastor Josh Hawkins, leader of the mission group.

By the end of the trip, Sarah said that directors Doug and Kari Romey pronounced her a “perfect fit” and invited her back to intern at the orphanage.

Trine University later helped arrange her student teaching at the facility where her responsibilities include teaching English as a second language and a class, broader than its name, titled “Self Care.”

While basic personal hygiene and nutrition will be part of the curriculum, community service and ways to help one another are also involved.

Her mother, Melissa Higbee, said things her students have done include preparing toiletry bags for a women’s prison and manicure and pedicure parties have become a regular activity.

“Remember, these girls don’t have families and some things normally taught at home have to be learned at school,” Higbee said.

Sarah insisted that civil war conditions in parts of Mexico and disturbances along the border are of no concern to her.

“Chapala is located near Guadalajara,” she said. “And there is no shooting there.”

She also said there is a Walmart within three miles of the orphanage.

Vacala is in charge of 15 girls and one special needs boy. While one girl is 9 and the oldest is 17, the majority of her girls are 10 or 11 years old.

She explained the orphanage was only recently separated into two gender-specific buildings and it was thought best for “her boy” to remain with the girls for the time being.

In addition to teaching, she is responsible for developing a new sponsorship program for the students this term.

She returns to the United States in July to graduate with her degree in Elementary Education from Trine University.

“Sarah has talked about being a missionary since she was 10 years old,” Higbee said.

Hawkins said Sarah’s got a heart for Mexico and although she may not spend her whole life at the orphanage, it’s a great place for her to start.

Sarah is supported by the Fremont Community Church and her friends.

Her adventures can be followed online at, on Facebook or Instagram, @SarahVacala.

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