Outside the sprawl of the San José metropolitan area’s busy roadways and dense habitation, finding the appropriate school for a child can be difficult. But in the smaller, more isolated and quainter areas of Costa Rica, it seems that where schooling options are scarce, creativity abounds.
Across the country, families in less populated areas are usually offered a choice of one or two local schools for their children. In cases where the school isn’t exactly what the family is looking for or doesn’t offer the desired learning environment, some parents and communities have taken it upon themselves to create their own form of education for their kids.
Eight years ago, Rebecca Turecky, Gina Baker and a group of parents in Turrialba came together with the idea of creating a new school in the Caribbean-slope town east of San José. According to Turecky, both she and Baker shared the idea of creating a Waldorf school, rooted in the ideology of Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian philosopher whose theories promoted the combination of arts, nature and child and human development in education.
“Some of the families here in Turrialba couldn’t really find a great educational situation for our kids,” Turecky said. “Research found that Waldorf-educated kids are usually well-rounded, brilliant, artistic, creative, independent-thinking people who have a real investment in the environment, the community and social issues. It really offered an education model that would help our kids turn out the way we’d like them to be.”
To bring the idea to fruition, Baker hired Waldorf-trained teachers from Colombia to serve as the original staff for the school. While the school started with only the children of the founding families, the Centro Educativo Waldorf Turrialba (2556-8434, www.waldorfturrialba.org) now educates 30 to 35 students from the Turrialba area, from preschool to sixth grade. Students come from a variety of backgrounds and are taught in English, Spanish and French.
“It’s been hard to convince people in the community that it is still a legitimate education,” Turecky said. “But that’s really the treasure in a Waldorf education. It teaches students and parents that a nontraditional educational setting can produce gifted and talented kids.”
Similar unique educational offerings are popping up in other parts of the country. In Uvita, on the southern Pacific coast, Escuela Verde (8879-8386, 2743-8214, [email protected]) opened in February with an ecology- and nature-infused curriculum for students in the preschool to third-grade age range. Classes are taught in both Spanish and English to a mix of local and foreign students.
“It’s a brand-new school, so it’s the first year that we’ve put our girls there,” said Bart Gilliom, who lives in Ojochal, a small town 18 kilometers south of Uvita. “We had them in a local elementary school for two years so they could be exposed to 100 percent Spanish and learn the language and the members of the community. We chose to put them in the Escuela Verde to expand on their education and expose them to new ideas.”
In north-central Costa Rica’s Monteverde, the CloudForestSchool (2645-5161, www.cloudforestschool.org), which pioneered the environmental education approach in Costa Rica in 1991, educates an average of 200 students annually. The school sits on a 106-acre campus and offers bilingual education rooted in environmental and social awareness.
There’s No Place Like Home
Another option for educating children in rural locations is to keep them right where they are: at home. For families that work in tourism, share time living between different locations or are simply without a local school option, home schooling has become an increasingly popular option.
“With access to the Internet, we can research almost anything we’d like to learn about,” said Jen Guinaldo, who home-schools her three children in Playa Avellanas, on the northern Pacific coast. “We might spend some time on the beach one day looking at the tide pools and all the starfish and small fish and jellyfish. Then we come home and look them up to learn more about how they function.”
Guinaldo said Avellanas has only about 60 residents, and the closest school offering is about an hour away. Guinaldo has educated her children at home with a variety of reading, writing and nature-exploring exercises for the past four years.
“Learning is as natural as breathing, and children have it in them,” Guinaldo said. “The more they are exposed to, the more they absorb. I usually let them lead with their own imaginations and then we research the topics that interest them.”
Other parents also cited the use of Internet tools to guide education. Shawn Larkin, a Tico Times columnist and a dive instructor who divides his time between the rural beach communities of DrakeBay, on southwestern Costa Rica’s OsaPeninsula, and Manzanillo, on the southern Caribbean coast, said he receives educational materials for his 11-year-old daughter from www.calvertschool.org, one of the leaders in online home-school education. In addition to the online coursework, Calvert provides books and learning materials as students progress.
“I’m pretty amazed by what happens online at Calvert,” Larkin said. “It kind of gives you a glimpse of what education might be in the future. Lessons are taught virtually online with people from all around the world, and it keeps improving. Who knows what a virtual classroom will look like in the next four to five years?”
Larkin, who said he has spent much time on yachts and around families that educate their children outside conventional teaching approaches, said he feels the rural and home-schooling approach results in a different type of education.
“Rural education isn’t up to the standards of the Central Valley. There aren’t as many options and there’s a lot less funding,” he said. “But spending time with multiple home-schooled families and children, there is a notable difference in their behaviors and social understanding. It results in a completely different product.”