MONTEVERDE – An experimental private school here that subsidizes the tuition of more than 75 per cent of its students is at risk of closing, as debts mount and parents struggle to meet the minimal payments due to the continued effects of recession.
The Cloud Forest School, famous for being the first school in Costa Rica to develop a curriculum based on environmental education and land stewardship, has so far this year lost 19 students and four teachers.
Founded in 1991 by area parents who hoped to nurture generations of ecologically aware, academically well-rounded and bilingual individuals, the school has since relied on funding from a United States foundation and local donors who assist with the payment of tuition fees and the general operating costs of the school.
Despite the support, families whose income is directly linked to the hard-hit Monteverde tourism industry are finding it increasingly hard to meet their reduced tuition payments.
While a loan for more than $100,000 from the school’s sponsor, The Cloud Forest School Foundation, a non-profit, tax-deductable support organization based in the U.S., has been granted to cover this academic year’s deficit, just how the school intends to get back on an even keel and stay open remains to be seen.
According to Katie Filardo, the school’s development coordinator, 96 percent of the study body is Costa Rican and “our aim is to serve the local community that wouldn’t normally be able to afford a private, bilingual education.
“The majority of the parents work as hotel workers, restaurant staff, taxi drivers and guides, so their income is tied to the tourism trade, which has taken a massive hit this year. Many are behind in their children’s fees and, over the last few months, the staff ’s wages have been paid in installments in an attempt to keep things afloat.”
The secular school, set within 106 acres of tropical cloud forest in the northwestern mountain region of Monteverde, opposes the U.S. educational system’s focus on standardized testing. Rather, it promotes project- based learning where the children are encouraged to climb and plant trees, learn to sew, bake and appreciate nature – finding their own personal space in the cloud forest.
Traditional subjects, such as math and English, incorporate the natural surroundings as much as possible, with seeds used for counting and poetry based on nature. It is hoped that by incorporating environmental education into every segment of the curriculum, the children will realize that sustainable living is possible and should be a goal of every human being. Sadly, in order to cut costs, art and special education classes have recently been withdrawn.
Since its opening 18 years ago, the academic experiment which relied on a dairy barn and little house for teaching kindergarten and first and second grades has evolved into a row of classrooms built by volunteers and parents for as many as 200 students up to tenth grade.
“We grew fast, adding an extra grade every year,” said Filardo. “We introduced exchange programs with the U.S., an English as a Second Language (ESL) program to help the kids who joined from public school and who needed to improve their grasp of English, new buildings and a computer lab with high-speed Internet. We became more than just a duct tape and paper clip organization, but we’re now faced with the prospect of losing everything that has been built up because of a shortage of funding.
“We are surprisingly determined and positive though, because this is a magical place, because we care about the kids and we love the work.”
If you would like to help the CloudForestSchool stay open, please contact Katie Filardo at [email protected] or visit the school’s foundation Web Site for more information at www.cloudforestschool.org.