“Once upon a time, there was a President’s brother…”
“And he went to the beach and met a girl!” Some juicy new gossip about the country’s political elite? Nope. This exchange was heard Tuesday as students from all over the country practiced their English skills – in this case, by looking at collages of photographs from The Tico Times and making up stories to tie them together – at the closing ceremony for the first year of the newspaper’s Reaching Out program, designed to help Costa Rican teens tackle a new language.
With support from the Public Education Ministry (MEP), a host of corporate sponsors, and the U.S. Embassy, the program has provided copies of the paper to more than 2,000 students at seven schools throughout the country. Their teachers received materials and support at three training sessions since the program’s official launch in June.
Five months later, the fruits of this labor were easy to see at the Hotel Real Intercontinental in the western San José suburb of Escazú. Student work and teaching materials on display included a game where students match missing captions to Tico Times cartoons by Arcadio Esquivel, and students’ original newspapers such as the “Wonder News.”
Presentations based on the newspaper’s articles drew rave reviews. Tenth grader María José Jiménez, from the TechnicalProfessionalHigh School in nearby Santa Ana, spoke eloquently about the fundraising problems of a local orphanage featured in the paper. A group from the Liceo Experimental Bilingüe de Belén, north of San José, gave daytime hosts everywhere a run for their money as they used a coffee-talk format to discuss stories about an indigenous reserve, El Niño and the dialect of the Caribbean province of Limón.
Angie Alvarado, Jiménez’s teacher, said the program has helped the kids learn English using new, fresh materials and topics in which they’re interested. Tatiana Ortiz, 17, echoed this sentiment: a student from Talamanca, a southern Caribbean region with a high indigenous population, she said she and her classmates are particularly interested in stories on indigenous issues.
“We’ve had the students showing us how much they have learned,” said a satisfied Leonor Cabrera, MEP’s National Secondary English Advisor and Reaching Out’s co-coordinator, along with Gerardo Arias of The Tico Times. “The newspaper is a wonderful material to develop reading and other skills.”
At Tuesday’s event, awards for excellent presentations were given to the Liceo del Este in Santo Domingo de Heredia, sponsored by Hewlett Packard; the Colegio Superior Las Señoritas in San José, sponsored by Pfizer; and, in first place, the Liceo Experimental Bilingüe de la Trinidad de Moravia, east of San José, sponsored by Scotiabank.
Paola Porras, a 10th-grader and aspiring veterinarian from the Colegio de Santa Ana, sponsored by Procter & Gamble, won a scholarship from language school Berlitz for 340 hours of English lessons plus materials, with an estimated value of over $2,500.
The other sponsors include Intel, for the Liceo Experimental Bilingüe de Belén; Wal-Mart Costa Rica, for the Liceo Tronadora in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, as well as the Telesecundaria Ujarrás in Talamanca; Grupo Immobiliaria Génesis, for the Colegio Técnico Profesional de Santa Ana; and Glaxo Smith Kline, for the Liceo Experimental Bilingüe de Turrialba. The companies pay for newspapers for the students, and The Tico Times provides discounted subscriptions. Grupo Real and Textos Educativos cosponsored Tuesday’s event.
The U.S. Embassy sponsored one of the training sessions and provided certificates to teachers who completed one, two or all of the sessions, and Textos Educativos donated English textbooks and dictionaries to participating schools.
Tico Times General Manager Abby Daniell said next year will be an even bigger one for Reaching Out, as various new sponsors, including Coca-Cola, have expressed an interest in signing on. Also, based on feedback from teachers and students in the program, The Tico Times will incorporate elements such as the “Young Writers” column in which those under 17 can contribute to the paper, Daniell said.
Her counterpart at Scotiabank, Amanda Velásquez, seemed ready for round two.
“I hope next year, we’ll see this hall filled with three times more (students),” she said.
How to Participate:
Contact Gerardo Arias, The Tico Times’ Reaching
Out Program Coordinator, at 258-1558 or e-mail