ASK any real estate agent what families consider when moving to a new home, and most will include schools on the list. The answer is no different when families are thinking of moving to Costa Rica from a foreign country.
For years, opportunities for bilingual education were limited to San José and the Central Valley. But as more families move to Guanacaste, so follow the schools to serve them.
“People from New England, California … and other countries come and visit Guanacaste and see what our school has to offer, and they start thinking, ‘We could move here,’” said Jeff Wornstaff, principal at Country Day Guanacaste (654-5042, www.cdsgte.com), which opened four years ago in Brasilito. “The school has almost become a magnet.”
Like its campus in Escazú – which has been educating foreign and Costa Rican students for 43 years – Country Day School Guanacaste is accredited in the United States and based on the U.S. school year and curriculum.
While the school focuses on the basics for kindergarten through 12th grade – math, science, history, geography, English and Spanish – it does so in a way Wornstaff calls “hands-on.”
STUDENTS study marine biology off Guanacaste’s shore. A rainforest unit takes place in the OsaPeninsula in the Southern Zone. Aschool animal farm and orchard for student study are in development on the 35-acre campus. And when students learn about geometry, they do so by climbing trees and looking at the angles of the school’s ropes course.
“The best learning comes when students are actually doing something, producing something,” Wornstaff said. “It seems very simple, but it is profound.”
Rather than a guided tour, Country Day’s students prefer to collect samples and do experiments and research when they take field trips to Monteverde in the central highlands, Wornstaff said.
“A lot of time teaching is done out of a book, but in this way, students don’t get the relevance of what is being taught,” he said.
“When creating a product, they get the relevance. And if it is relevant, it is meaningful.”
The majority of instruction at CountryDay School is done in English, by teachers trained and certified in the United States.
Those looking for a more bilingual experience have several other options in Guanacaste.
Also a branch of a longer-standing campus, Atlantic College(845-2245), opened in Liberia in February.
With only 16 students, the high school is much smaller than the other bilingual school in the area – Academia Teocali (666-1914), the oldest elementary and high school in Liberia.
HOWEVER, AtlanticCollege administrators are confident the growing population of Guanacaste will allow it to develop into an institution similar to its sister school in Limón. It is based on the same principal of providing an integrated education based on human rights and social communication, according to Emilia Durán, the school’s general director. The school has Costa Rican accreditation, and teachers are graduates of Costa Rican education programs.
Like Academia Teocali, math, some sciences and English literature are given in English. Both schools say that while the majority of their students are Costa Rican, they attract students from all over the world.
Although foreign parents can choose to send their children to any number of Costa Rican schools, some still feel limited by the number of options in Guanacaste.
“I wish somebody would open up another school for older children,” said parent Janet Brager.
“There are a lot of options for kids under the age of 7, but for older ages there are few.”
Brager, who has U.S. teacher accreditation up to Grade 4, is the director of one such school for younger students in Playa Potrero. Escuela La Mariposa (654-4420, www.escuelamariposa.com) currently serves toddlers through first graders.
Brager hopes to add a new grade every year. Teachers have U.S. teaching degrees, and are often volunteers embarking on their teaching career. The school is in the process of applying for Costa Rican accreditation.
Although the students are young, teachers at MariposaSchool give early lessons in environmental education by teaching gardening, composting and recycling.
“We don’t let them use plastic baggies to bring their lunch in, they have to use washable lunch containers,” Brager said.
Other instruction is focused on the arts and languages – teaching the students, equally native-English-speaking and native-Spanish-speaking, the opposite language.
STUDENTS at Instituto Bilingüe de Guanacaste (827-2928) in Playas de Coco receive the majority of their lessons in Spanish, according to director Shirley Bergeron. Bergeron then follows up with a parallel curriculum in English, not only helping the students’ language skills, but reiterating lessons learned, she said. The school is accredited in Costa Rica.
The elementary school burned down last year, along with a library Bergeron was attempting to build for the Playas del Coco community. But since reopening in February, Bergeron has found a new home in a renovated restaurant and is confident the school will continue to grow beyond the fourth grade it currently serves.
Escuela Primaria del Pacífico Norte (845-2245), the elementary school of Atlantic College, also hopes to grow in student population. It currently serves 25 students in kindergarten through third grade.
The school has Costa Rican accreditation, and teachers are graduates of Costa Rican education programs.
The AtlanticCollege philosophy of providing integrated education – building both the cognitive and sensitive part of a student’s being – carries through in this elementary school, Durán said.
“We teach a culture of peace and are very conscious of when a child feels good and when they do not feel good,” she said.