Keeping Kids in School (KKIS)

Supplies, Scholarships, and Support: KKIS Helps Students of Playa del Carmen Achieve Their Dreams

When you’re in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, with its palm-lined beaches, clear waters, and coral reefs, it’s easy to relax and leave your cares behind. But for Keeping Kids in School (KKIS) board members Gayle Collins and Kelly Caldwell, this beautiful place brought their caring front and center.

In 2012, when participating in a Christmas toy drive for children in Playa del Carmen, Collins, KKIS’ founder, learned it wasn’t toys that the children urgently needed, but school supplies. A veteran high school teacher and part-time resident of Playa del Carmen, Collins knew right away, “This is a problem we can work on.” She went out and procured supplies for an entire school. That’s how Keeping Kids in School (KKIS) was born.

The first four years, KKIS focused on school supplies alone, making sure every child had the tools they needed to learn. But as KKIS grew, cracks in the local educational system and the enormity of student challenges revealed themselves. Most children in Playa del Carmen drop out of school by ninth grade, two-thirds of them live with a single parent or grandparent, and many are on the edge of poverty.

One reason for the high dropout rate is that public high school in Mexico is not free. Tuition, books, uniforms — even the entrance exam- costs money.  “People may not be aware that there are many places in the world where public education is not free,” said Caldwell. “In the United States, education is a human right, but [in Playa del Carmen], kids are living in the jungle with no water or electricity and no roof over their heads. Fifty percent of kids of the age to go to high school don’t, because they can’t afford it.”

Clearly, more help was needed, so KKIS got to work and expanded to include scholarships. In the first year, the .ORG funded only three students, enabling them to stay in school and participate in deep learning. The following year, a local business worked with KKIS to fund 15.

As KKIS’s knowledge of the needs in the community grew, so did their capacity to increase opportunities for learning. The average high school graduation rate is less than 30 percent, due to such challenges as illiteracy, parent mindset, and financial constraints. Today, KKIS offers five programs to counter those issues, providing financial assistance, connections, and support, to keep high school graduation rates for the kids in their program at or above 90 percent.

“It would be nice to know that every kid in Playa del Carmen who wants to go to high school, can,” says Collins. “That is the goal.”

To make this a reality, KKIS expanded to offer a range of valuable services to help children be successful throughout school, to graduate, and to build a meaningful life for themselves. In addition to supplies and scholarships, KKIS kids now have access to community-based advisors who are passionate about learning and helping kids reach their educational goals. KKIS volunteers also work as community advocates, inspiring students, parents, and teachers, and working around obstacles to learning when they arise. KKIS’ English Conversation Club matches young people with volunteers to help them hone their English skills and become more fluent as they prepare to enter high school, university, and the world at large. And the Connections Program links high school students with advisors, university students with mentors, offers tuition assistance, and enables relationships within the job community.

Funding comes from individuals and organizations for scholarships, as well as the annual KKIS Auction and Dinner, now in its ninth year, which raises money both in person and online. In fact, KKIS online presence is important not only for fundraising but also for recruiting advisors, and reaching donors and volunteers, who often find KKIS through social media and contact them through the website. Being a .ORG, in particular, has helped KKIS raise the profile of the organization so it can continue to grow its programming.

According to Collins, becoming a .ORG was one of the first things KKIS did, even before gaining non-profit status. “Our website has been a huge draw for wanting to give back to community,” she says. “We’ve become quite well known in Playa, and our website is hugely important to that. The .ORG announces we’re legit.”

“We use our website to communicate our message, solicit donations, and engage people with our newsletter and blogs,” says Caldwell, a banker who became a full-time resident of Playa del Carmen eight years ago to focus on KKIS’ work.

“Working for the children of this beautiful city is an honor. Helping more students through 12 years of school is really important to me. I love the work that we do,” she says.

It only takes one member of a family to make a change to the whole family, says Collins. “We do what we do, because we want these kids to decide that they want a different life than they have.”

Share the story
a group of children sitting at desks in a classroom.
a group of children are sitting at desks in a classroom.
a group of children standing in front of a house.
the scholarship program is keeping kids in school.
Read More ORG in Action Stories
View All
Skip to content