I rise with the sun at 6am and shake out my shoes for scorpions – a practice I adopted after moving to Costa Rica from the US three years ago. By 7:30am, I’m off to work.
I am an English teacher and academic adviser at New Summit Academy, a unique and specialised boarding school on the western edge of Costa Rica’s central valley. It is only a 15-minute bike ride from my home, but passing through Atenas Centro, a downtown area, feels a bit like stepping back in time. Atenas is known for its agriculturally conducive climate, painted ox carts, and coffee plantations.
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'Impromptu live saxophone solos'
One of my favourite moments of the day is when I arrive on campus. On any given day, I may be privy to an impromptu live saxophone solo performed by one of my students from his dorm porch. The familiar jazz tune carries me past the student-painted murals depicting sunsets, cherry blossoms, and colourful geometric designs.
Although my routine changes on a daily basis, one part is fairly constant: Mondays begin with individual academic advisement meetings. A recent graduate of our programme stands out in my memory. We met in this same room every week for two years. At times, he rested his head on the table in resignation, ready to succumb to self-doubt.
When we found solutions that worked, he beamed with excitement and pride. In order to help him prepare for his desired career in early childhood education, we arranged a plan that would allow for him to work with a local children’s home and earn high-school credits for reflecting on his experiences. In the process, he transformed his idea of success; no longer defining it by test scores, but instead by his progress towards a goal of his own design.
The students I meet, like this young man, have studied at prestigious schools and collected diverse life experiences. The school’s founders worked alongside 11 students and their families to establish the program in 2005 for boys aged 15-18. Today, students remain involved in shaping their own community.
Living far from their homes, they immerse themselves in new experiences every day. Each Sunday, they share a meal and Spanish conversation with a local Costa Rican family. The richness of their experience imbues them with a sense of agency and autonomy I have been hard-pressed to find among typical teenagers. My role extends beyond the classroom walls regularly, sometimes taking me across international borders for experiential learning expeditions.
The relationships and shared experiences among the students, my sixty colleagues, and the Atenas community shape each day.
Every three months, a new group of graduates tosses their caps into the air to the backdrop of a setting sun, and I find myself indescribably grateful for having been a part of their adventure.
This piece first appeared in Tes magazine on 19 August 2016.