Exploring International Partnerships in Costa Rica for the College of Education

by Dr. Donna Phillips on April 8, 2016
Exploring International Partnerships in Costa Rica for the College of Education

Associate professor Dr. Donna Phillips traveled to Playa Grande to explore new educational opportunities for Niagara University students. When not touring Costa Rica, Dr. Phillips teaches courses in literacy instruction in our College of Education.

Costa Rica 1

During my trip to Costa Rica, I explored the school system, educational programs, and the schools in the Playa Grande area. I was successful in visiting the three locations I had pre-selected and made a number of important connections. My exploration took place in and around Playa Grande. 

Playa Grande is a beach town on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica just north of Tamarindo. Playa Grande is internationally popular as one of Costa Rica’s best surfing spots as well as being home to Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas, a nesting ground of the largest marine reptile, the leatherback turtle.

Salinas is actually the name of the little town at Playa Grande, but this name is rarely used anymore. Playa Grande is populated with luxury homes and condos, Matos and Frijoles Loco surf shops, and boutique hotels, most of which have a restaurant on site. The hotels Indra Inn, Rip Jack Inn, La Marejada, Playa Grand Inn, BP Surf Hotel, Las Tortugas, and Park Hotel are all situated on the north end of the beach. The southern area of Playa Grande includes Hotel Bula Bula, Hotel Manglar, Villa Baula, Playa Grande Surf Camp, and La Cantarana. A micro mini market can be found next to Kike's Place as well.

The first school I visited was The La Paz Community School. It is a private K-12 school for international students that also provides scholarship’s to local children. La Paz Community School defines itself as an environment where “student differences are embraced; differences are the norm…” 

According to its website information, La Paz Community School was founded in 2007 in order to address fundamental socioeconomic and cultural gaps prevalent in a region struggling to cope with the balance of an agriculture and tourist economy. By integrating talented youth from the underprivileged, middle class, and upper class sector of rural Latin America, the school transforms student differences into strengths that foment rich and meaningful dialogue and experiences at all grade levels, thus preparing students to effectively confront global challenges.

La Paz Community School students analyze, reflect upon, and continuously live the four Peace Practices. The four Peace Practices are to self, family, community, and world. Outlined in their school uniform and curriculum, the students are taught to think critically, while sharing love and compassion. While there, I visited a ninth grade English class and had an opportunity to speak with the students. Half of the class was international students and the rest were local students. I also met with the director of the school, Mr. Abel McClennen, who expressed interest in our programs at Niagara and possible opportunities to work together. 

The second visit was to CEPIA, a community-based organization that provides support for the poorest of the poor in the Playa Grande/Guanacaste area. Poverty, violence, school dropout, health problems, unemployment are an everyday reality for thousands of children and families in Guanacaste. CEPIA (Culture, Education and Psychology for Infants and Adolescents) is a nonprofit organization, located Guanacaste, Costa Rica that supports hundreds of children, teenagers, and their families from poor backgrounds, through after-school programs, psychological help for victims, educational projects for high-risk youth, professional trainings, food bank, a library, movie nights, etc. According to its website information, CEPIA (Culture, Education and Psychology for Infants and Adolescents) is a Costa Rican based non-profit and non-governmental organization, which seeks to improve the quality of life of children and teenagers and their families from poor backgrounds in Costa Rica by promoting cultural development, educational and market opportunities, physical and mental health, social cohesion and participation.

During my visit with the founder and director, Laetitia DeWeer, I was impressed with the facility and the number of programs and supports they offer the community. During our conversation, I was made aware of a program for girls that is funded by private donations. For $1,300, one Girl’s Club provides classes, counseling, guidance, and life skills for 20 girls for a year. This is a program that is being discussed with the Niagara University Future Teachers Association (NUFTA).  Fundraising is currently in progress and they are exploring options for fundraising with other interested parties. There are also many other ways that Niagara University can support the efforts of this organization. These can be explored at a later date and with other departments or programs if there is interest.

The last school I visited was the Playa Grande Elementary School, a two-room school that services the local Playa Grande children. It is K-6 public school that has one classroom and one teacher. This is an extremely poor school that is in need of materials and other supports. While I was there, I gave them 20 children’s books in the Spanish language for use in their limited library. I will be sending more books as they become available. 

I am currently working with Dr. Alice Kozen and Dr. James McCutcheon from Niagara University on the project of partnering with these schools to provide an immersion experience for our students. I am working with Mr. McClennen, Ms. DeWeer, and Señora Yorleni Ruíz Gallo, with the assistance of Abby Erdmann, Karalee Machum, and Tatiana Raust from Costa Rica. We are looking forward to further developing our relationship with schools in Playa Grande by providing learning experiences for both Niagara University students and the students in Costa Rica.  

For more information about Niagara's literacy instruction program, please contact Dr. Rob Erwin via email or at 716.286.8551. To learn about the Playa Grande trip, please contact Dr. Phillips via email or at 716.286.8452.