If you meet Salvador “Chava” Aguirre, 48, you will instantly like him. He has that easy-going personality and once you get to know him better, you want to become his friend.
Knowing Chava for many years, I would say that his heart is as big as his height, 6 feet 7 inches tall. He is always looking for ways to help others and brings a special passion for empowering young kids.
Originally from Veracruz, Mexico, Chava started playing basketball at the end of middle school. He became so good at it that he moved to Mexico City to be part of the men’s national basketball team while he finished high school. His dream as an athlete was to move to the U.S. and play for a university’s team.
In 1994, during one of the team’s trips to different states in Mexico, he met Jennifer, a beautiful young lady from Ankeny. She was studying Spanish in Merida, Mexico, and they kept in contact.
In 1995 Chava obtained a scholarship to learn English for a year in Olympia, Washington, and in 1996 he moved to Sioux City with a full scholarship from Briar Cliff University to play for their team.
Four years later he graduated with a degree in human resources and business administration. By then he was already living with Jennifer. She landed a job teaching Spanish in Evanston, Illinois, and he went to Central America and Mexico playing professional basketball.
In 2001 they finally married in Mexico. Chava moved to Illinois with his bride and was hired as a Latino liaison and as a basketball assistant coach at the same high school where Jennifer was working.
They had two children and decided to move back to Iowa in 2006. Chava worked for Orchard Place with troubled kids for a few months until he was hired by Des Moines Public Schools in a program called Future Pathways as a caseworker.
In 2008 he pursued a master’s in special education at Drake University through the Iowa Teacher Quality Partnership of the Iowa Department of Education. Drake would pay the participant’s tuition in exchange for students working for the school.
Chava started working at Meredith Middle School as a behavioral interventionist in 2010 and has coached eighth grade basketball ever since.
He has instilled his passion for basketball to his four children. Besides coaching at Meredith, he also coaches his children’s teams. His older son is only a freshman and already playing varsity at Centennial High School in Ankeny.
Chava has been an educator and a coach for so many years — I know how much he cares for each and every one of his students — so I had to ask him what he thinks about going back to school during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The most important thing is the safety of the students and teachers, therefore it’s extremely important to recognize that this is a real problem and that it’s going to take all of us to keep everybody safe,” he said. “I have mixed feelings because part of me wants to have kids in school because they need to keep learning, but the other part of me understands that if we are not careful this virus can spread even more.”
He continued by saying that by opening schools for in-person classes, he fears not only for the safety of the kids but for the parents and grandparents.
“In my case, my kid’s grandfather is 86 years old, and if for any reason my kids are infected with the virus without knowing they can transmit it to him,” Chava said. “And in his case, it can be lethal.”
Chava also shared a question I had not pondered myself: “What if a kid gets sick? Are they going to let us know or are they going to keep that information private because of the HIPAA (health information privacy) laws?”
He also acknowledges how difficult it is for some kids to learn virtually, and it is even harder for many kids with disabilities. As a parent he understands that for many parents and guardians that must work at home or outside the home, it is hard to help their kids with all their schoolwork. Another huge obstacle for many students is that they do not have access to internet.
“I do believe that each case is different, and the parents should have the final say about sending their kids back to school, hybrid, or fully virtual,” he said.
As a coach, Chava also knows the important role coaches play in the lives of many students. They are not only coaches, but also mentors and counselors. He knows that firsthand because during the worst time of his life, it was one coach that mentored him and helped him change his life for the better.
“When I was 16 years old, my mom had an asthma attack and unfortunately died. Then a year later, my dad died of a heart attack. If it were not for my coach, I don’t think I would have made it.”
Besides being a mentor for many, Chava is a proud father of four ranging from 10 to 16. He is also an excellent role model for immigrants that come to this country. He has dedicated his life to helping others.
As summer winds down and school registration is underway, teachers are concerned. Many have made their concerns public and even prepared obituaries they sent to the governor’s office.
Over the weekend, a protest was organized at East High School to call on the governor to rescind her July 17 proclamation requiring schools implement in-person learning for at least 50% of the week.
At East High in Des Moines, hundreds of educators and supporters are lined up in their cars for a @DriveIowa protest against @IAGovernor Kim Reynolds’ proclamation on reopening schools. pic.twitter.com/AGGU6GYW3H
— Grant Gerlock (@ggerlock) July 24, 2020
I take a pause as I think of my dear friend Chava. I always see him as a gentle giant (maybe because I am extremely short). Let us not forget that like Chava, there are hundreds of teachers that miss their students, that are eager to positively influence their tender and sometimes fragile lives, yet they also fear for themselves and their loved ones.
If one teacher, one kid, one parent or grandparent loses their life because of Gov. Reynold’s inability to listen to her constituents, that will forever leave a mark on her legacy.
By Claudia Thrane
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