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Peer support can = academic success

August 5, 2013

SANTA CRUZ, Guanacaste – Over the past couple of months, I have met some amazing students in Villareal’s Cindea night school, in Santa Cruz, Guanacaste, during Acción Joven’s workshops. I recognized during the workshops that most students had a more serious view about their education than some of the students I met and observed in the day school. Some shared this view because of life experiences that required them to choose between night school and “no school.”

These life experiences ranged from needing to support their families at home, having a child, and many others needing to work. The sacrifice of working or supporting a family during the day and going to school at night demonstrated a high commitment level that most students in the Cindea have towards attaining their high school diploma. For one student, the baccalaureate serves as a gateway to a better life for her and her child.

Here are three students that are making some of the same sacrifices to make a better life for themselves and their family. Meet Costa Rica’s future lawyer and doctors:

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Brenda had the opportunity of attending school in the provincial capital of Guanacaste, Liberia, at the university-sponsored colegio for a brief period, but had to transfer to the Cindea because her parents could not afford the overall costs.

Angela, the future lawyer, transferred from Cartegena to the Cindea because she believed that the educational atmosphere allowed her to focus more on completing her studies, while helping at home during the day.

Finally, Karen attended the Cindea for the past three years, and the Liceo de Villareal day school, three years prior. What is unique about her story is that she started attending the Cindea when she became pregnant.

For some girls who are 12-13 years old, having a child can be a life-altering event that forces them to leave school to care for the child; however, Karen decided that she would continue her education.

As each student spoke about their individual efforts to achieve their dreams, the interconnectedness of their dreams and their organic support network became clear. The organic development of their support network is critical to helping them complete their education.

Because the students share the common experiences of attending the Cindea, living close to one another, and a desire to attend university, among other things, they have a shared understanding of each other’s respective struggles and commitments. Because of this bond, they are able to challenge each other to keep pressing forward.

Reflecting on the various classes I have visited (led by Acción Joven staff and colegio professors), I am reminded of the power of “classroom engagement.” When used, it can forge support structures beyond the classroom, allowing students to reassure each other through their daily interactions inside and outside the classroom. Teachers must purposefully find ways to foster an environment to allow students to create these peer support structures in the classroom.

As teachers create these environments, they will be able to harness a network of peer support groups to help ALL students achieve their goals inside and outside the classroom.

Questions of the Week

What techniques can teachers use to create the environment for students to develop peer support groups?

What can be done outside the classroom to continue to promote and develop these support groups?

Timothy Faceshot

Fundación Acción Joven aims to prevent student dropout for teenagers who attend public high schools located in communities of high social risk. This is done through the implementation of projects designed by the educational community, and executed with the help of different stakeholders such as private enterprise, government entities, other nonprofits and volunteers. FAJ currently has offices in San José, Guanacaste, Limón and Puntarenas, and works with 10 different high schools in those regions. Get involved by visiting www.accionjoven.org, emailing info@accionjoven.org, or calling our San José office at: 2271-4407.

As a current graduate student in Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States, Timothy Evans has worked to combine a decade worth of youth development experience with data analytics to positively impact communities within the U.S. This international experience is providing him with invaluable tools and best practices that allow for organizations such as Fundación Acción Joven to change communities globally.

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