NSBA President-Elect Kevin Ciak with students at the Leon Cortes Castro School in Costa Rica.
Alajuela, Costa Rica – Marisel Solera is the spunky principal of the Leon Cortes Castro School in this Costa Rican mountain town. Solera has been running the school for nine years, and she leaves no doubt that she is in charge and ready to get her students the best education that she can offer to them.
Almost half of her school budget goes toward feeding her kids. Every one of them gets a free lunch every day.
There is nothing modern about the facility but it is clean and well maintained. Solera is big on discipline and has little tolerance for misbehavior from her students or her staff. But her commitment to her students and her school is firm. When teachers are absent, she is the sub. When everyone else is on vacation, she’s recruiting teachers to make sure she has her full complement of staff.
The school has an enthusiastic core of volunteers that greatly respect the principal and engage in fund raising to meet whatever needs are not met by government funding. Solera is not reluctant to take on the bureaucracy and admits to having been called on the carpet after objecting too strenuously to not receiving what her children need.
I suspected that among our group of visiting educators from the U.S., many were dreaming about having Solera heading up one of their elementary schools.
AASA President Alton Frailey with students in Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Alajuela, Costa Rica – In 1869, Costa Rica made education both free and mandatory for all its citizens. Lore has it that the country was experiencing economic hard times and could not afford to maintain both an army and a public education system. They chose education and today Costa Rica is one of the few countries in the world without a standing army. They even boast of having more teachers than police officers.
We visited the Carrizal elementary school in the mountain town of Alajuela. The school of 600 accommodates pre-school through grade six as well as special education students who attend one of two five hour shifts, a morning and afternoon session. Teachers are only allowed to teach one shift.
Based on achievement, the school is level 4, with level 5 being the highest performing schools. The school year runs 200 days from mid-February to mid-December. Class size averages about 32 students per class.
Instruction is very traditional with students in desks facing the blackboard in the front of the room where the teacher delivers the lesson. Even so, Costa Rica boasts a 95 percent literacy rate among residents age 15 and older.
Alajuela is a coffee bean growing region surrounded by dense foliage and beautiful streams. It typifies the tranquility that Costa Rica is so famous for.
The children are happy to see us and look forward to practicing their mandatory English language skills with us. To a resounding cheer, I tell them that they are doing so well that I might take them all back to the U.S. with me.