A Home Run for the Whole Family
Tanya Belz Rauzi
We have three sons and one daughter ages 6-16. We have watched them struggle and have seen how education has changed for our oldest to our youngest. Basically, our children were learning to hate school. Dinner time had become a time to go over homework and the kids’ time to complain. Our kids were always tired, with little to no downtime, and certainly less and less family time. Weekends had become just an extension of the school week with excessive sporting games and practices, community service and weekend homework. Knowing that a move to another city or state would just bring us the same situation, we decided to move to Costa Rica and try out what being an expat family would be like!
In August, we boarded a plane with two suitcases each. The rest was sold, given away or put into storage. That huge purge was the first step to living with less….which calculates to picking up less and organizing less. All time for better things (like playing checkers instead of looking for checkers).
We zeroed in on La PazCommunitySchool in Playa Flamingo, an area we had visited before and loved. Their school model is one of inclusion…40% are local and 60% represent 25 countries. The tuition is well below market rate and allows for economic diversity to be evenly balanced. A true melting pot of families brought together for the same goal….to educate our children in an open, honest, happy, peaceful manner (La Paz means “peace” in Spanish). This school is an IB (International Baccalaureate) candidate and fully accredited by the Costa Rican ministry of education. What they do is a model that many a US school could stand to learn from.
What’s making a difference for our family:
- They have changed the terminology. Field trips are called “Field Studies” and happen at least once per month. Spelling is called “Word Study.” Tests are called “Investigations.” Teachers use investigations to know what to teach next or what to spend more time on.
- All classrooms are differentiated or all kids have an unofficial IEP and work at their own pace. Because they keep the classroom size under 20 with several teachers in the room, they are able to give one-on-one assistance on a regular basis.
- Homework here is open-ended in grades K-5. It is due when the child gets done, not by a certain date. It was explained like this, “We want your children to want to do their homework, not to do it because their teacher said they had to do it, and we find that if we leave it up to them, they eventually do it willingly and automatically.”
- We were instructed NOT to ask our kids if they have any homework because this teaches them to rely on us to remind them. If we start out never asking and they forget, they eventually learn to remember on their own, building in a system that does not punish children for “failure” and allows them to learn valuable skills.
- Our kids now like their homework and have no qualms doing it on their own without being asked for one other key reason…..homework is a short amount of work and usually art- based.
- Each morning has a 15 minute “jump-start” in the lower grades when students go around the room, greet, smile, and check-in with each other. It also buffers any students arriving late, and thus there is no need for tardy slips or interruptions. They turn in their agendas, get organized, and read the morning message. A kind of warm-up to the day. Be happy, be polite, be helpful, and be prepared.
- Our older boys were amazed there were no tardy slips, penalties for being absent, or regulated time schedules for how to make up missing work when absent or sick. Just turn it in when you can is the policy. When a child arrives late, the teacher greets the child with “So glad you made it.” Amazing what a little leeway does for a teenager’s motivation.
- A block schedule in high school is also key. Ninety minute periods allow for completion of science projects, teachers assisting kids with assignments IN class (reason for so little homework), and long runs in the hills during PE.
- Built-in career planning, community service, and advisory periods also allow upper classmen to work together at school on these important life skills.
- Large windows, sliding doors, and plain white walls allow for a peaceful, healthy classroom setting with the breeze and butterflies flowing through.
- The Big/little buddy program is part of the school schedule daily. The school knows the value of mentoring, of children looking up at a big buddy.
- Projects are also embraced differently. The teachers tell the students to do “+1”….which means, add anything they want. Projects do not come with a long list of requirements, we are not told what size of paper, how many pages, spaces, or what font to use. Just simple instructions that open up the kids’ creativity and allows them to focus on content, not style, format, or length.
- After school activities are held at school: dance, gymnastics, soccer, basketball, baton twirling, homework club, art, etc. This means ZERO driving around all afternoon from one activity to another…it’s all in the same spot for all the kids and because organized sporting teams are not a part of this culture, we have open weekends spent as a family doing what we please.
We moved to Costa Rica to gain more valuable family time, to live by the beach, to learn Spanish (this is a bilingual school), slow down and regroup. But now we just may never return as we have never seen our kids happier, healthier and more engaged in school and life. The teachers who started La Paz (all from the US, by the way) have hit a home run with their school model and we are so happy and honored to be on their team.