September 2018

September means returning to school. I think back over the years at the education I’ve received in various forms, the teachers who sometimes struggled to keep my attention, and the amenities that the buildings provided. Those years are far behind me and I marvel at the educational resources available to students today.

On a recent trip to Costa Rica, I met a group of children who proudly showed my travel group around their facility, sponsored by the Grand Circle Foundation. Since 1992, this foundation has pledged almost 100 million dollars for education and preservation in more than 30 countries. Each land trip by Grand Circle and its partner, Overseas Adventure Travel, includes a visit to one of their sponsored schools.

First a bit of history about the most colorful of the 50+ countries I’ve visited. The first settlement in what is now the Republic of Costa Rica was in 1563. In 1821, it and several other Central American provinces declared independence from Spain. The federation dissolved in 1838, and CR, to use their abbreviation, proclaimed its sovereignty. Today, it has a population of around 4.5 million, living primarily in San José. Twenty-five percent of CR is protected land, the largest percentage of protected areas in the world.

The school we visited was in the village of Sonafluca, formerly a hacienda, in a rural area with rough roads and little to recommend it to visitors. We found it interesting to know all the residents formerly worked on the hacienda. When the owner passed away, he gave the entire property to the community. Today, every family owns a small plot to farm. While too poor to support themselves individually, they work together in a communal fashion to support the community as a whole.

On our way to Sonafluca, we visited briefly with a kindergarten class who welcomed Christmas in pajamas and Santa hats (girls) and reindeer caps (boys). They enjoyed themselves so much they paid us little attention. The tradition of wearing pajamas is long standing and is so important that parents consider new garments are mandatory.

At the Sonafluca School, which, then, accommodated 209 students, children ranging in age from seven to twelve met us at the van, one child for each two visitors. The girls wore long skirts in checked fabric and white blouses edged to match the skirt. The boys wore dark pants and white shirts with red sashes and scarves. They first escorted us to the modern toilet facilities, and then we went to their gym for the children to entertain us with dancing. They danced three dances then invited us to dance the Hoky Poky with them, fun but very active. Girls enjoyed the dancing more than most of the boys. The smallest boy was the exception. He whirled the girls with abandon.

The children led us by the hand to the various places in the school, including classrooms, library, lunchroom with posted menus, and their computer room, which boasts one for each child. A chain-link fence surrounds the school and there are covered walkways between all the buildings. Solar panels supply much of the energy. The foundation plans include developing and supporting a micro-farm. In time, the school will plant crops and raise livestock to provide meals for the children. The foundation already supports this endeavor in one other school in Costa Rica.

Today all children begin learning English in first grade. I don’t know when this practice began, but we met adults who could not speak a word of English, perhaps by choice.

The public has access to the Reading Room, their name for the library, where they can practice reading. Senior adults show no interest in learning English or in reading. However, one would think younger adults with families would want to learn. Apparently, they believe education is for the young.

Education in Costa Rica holds promise for a successful future in all lifestyles for the entire country.