The awesome thing about talking with students is being able to hear their dreams about changing their communities, country and world. These interviews unearthed similar childhood memories of dreaming how I would change the world; however, few people supported my dreams. I have to admit that most of my dreams from childhood have “yet” to be accomplished. But the point is I was not pushed to keep developing those dreams – which would have stimulated my overall creativity.
As I have worked with youth over the past decade, I have focused my attention on asking students “how” instead of “if” something is possible. The reality is our world is growing (the Earth’s population is estimated to increase by 1 billion in 12 years), which will exacerbate the current issues; therefore, we need the most creative and innovative minds to tackle problems locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. We must train our youth to think creatively about how to solve problems that were originally seen as unsolvable because population growth, resource scarcity and pollution are part of our new realities.
Here are two students who are doing just that. Meet Fabian Cubillo and Brandon Gutiérrez Vallejos: Both are in the 10th grade working toward their technical diplomas in mechanics. They are looking to start a mechanics shop in their community.
“How does this relate to youth solving problems?”
Well here is how. Within five years of opening the shop, they would begin to train other entrepreneurs at the shop on how to start their own businesses. This would support their poverty-stricken community by promoting financial independence. Their goal is simple but powerful – “to lift communities out of poverty through entrepreneurship.”
Furthermore, Fabian provided details on “how” they would make the shop a reality. From the interview, I knew that both students were serious about acting on their dreams.
In the colegio, both also are working to improve the overall experience of students by founding a break dancing club. This came as a result of a break dancing workshop, hosted by Fundación Acción Joven and the Peace Corps (view us in action here).
Impressively, they saw the break dancing club as a way to develop their discipline and accountability because of the need to consistently practice to perfect their skills. Academically, the club served as an incentive for students to remain in school and maintain their grades.
In a 2011 study, the Operating and Evaluative Auditing Division of the Comptroller General’s Office found that most students believed extracurricular activities were not a significant factor in finishing school. The study did note that most of these activities were initiated at the end of the year. Additionally, how many of these clubs were established because of a current student’s interest? After assessing these factors, the numbers may present a different picture. Fundación Acción Joven also has demonstrated the power of extracurricular activities as a tool for decreasing the exclusion rate at Hildana Hildago Group Theatre (watch the video here).
Despite the various opinions on this topic, one thing remains: Numerous students across Costa Rica are turning dreams into reality by “ACTING.”
For students to act without limitations, teachers and administrators must continually develop their classroom to incubate students’ ideas and dreams. Without an engaging and consistently taught mechanics class, Fabian and Brandon possibly never would have decided to create a business together or start the break dancing club. The classroom must serve as an oasis for rich instruction that continually promotes critical thinking and collaboration. Unfortunately, if teachers are not teaching consistently because of other responsibilities, then this oasis is likely not present.
Between 2012-2013, the National Association of Educators published a study exposing the issues plaguing instructional time. The study discovered that during the school day, teachers must dedicate time to a barrage of administrative tasks and meetings, which hinders their ability to teach. The result is teachers must spend on average five hours a day after work completing instructional-related tasks. The teachers are responsible for not only managing their classrooms, but also managing their schools.
Can a person be a full-time teacher and a full-time administrator and still be effective?
I recognize the financial constraints of hiring staff to cover these administrative tasks; however, the group that suffers in the end is students. Therefore, instructional time should be kept sacred from any distractions. Teachers should have adequate time during the day for lesson planning and other classroom-related work. If schools need certain administrative tasks completed, community volunteers can serve as a resource, or schools can find ways to streamline tasks. Excellent educational instruction serves as the great equalizer in the competitive global market, which allows students the opportunity to compete.
Finally, if Costa Rica is committed to having 200 days of instructional time, let it actually be 200 days in practice instead of on paper. If instructional time is held sacred, then teachers can engage students, provide more opportunities for collaboration and innovation, help decrease exclusion rates, improve assessment performance, and more importantly, help to prepare the next generation for success.
In short: INSTRUCTIONAL TIME MUST BE HELD SACRED!
As this is my final blog, please ponder the question below.
How much do we value our youth, to ensure that they have the best possible opportunities to achieve despite economic constraints?
Thank you for following my blog over the past six weeks. I hope that after reading these blogs, you gain a better understanding about Costa Rica’s educational system and some of the current challenges it faces. If you have any future questions or comments, please contact me at email@example.com.
Finally, I would like to thank Acción Joven and the staff for the opportunity to work with and for the youth of Costa Rica. This experience has affected how I understand educational issues, not just as local or national problems, but as internationally connected issues that will determine the landscape of our world for years to come. Again, thank you, ¡adiós y pura vida!
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 firstname.lastname@example.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 of youth development experience with data analytics to positively impact communities in the U.S. This international experience provides him invaluable tools and best practices that allow for organizations such as Fundación Acción Joven to change communities globally.