Oct 14, 2021

A CAA Educational Success Story - A Committed Social Worker Is Ready to Tackle the Challenges!

Licensed and ready to start social worker career
Licensed and ready to start social worker career

The Community Action Alliance's Educational Scholarship Program celebrated a very significant milestone in April of 2019, when our first University Scholarship Student, Fernanda R., received her Bachelor's Degree in Social Work from the University of Costa Rica, graduating with honors.  This was the first step in her quest to be licensed as a Costa Rican social worker, and two more years of study and research would be required to realize that goal.

Since March, 2019, Fernanda continued her coursework in Latin-American history and migrations, languages, social management,“suicidology” courses in order to prepare and deliver her thesis. According to the World Health Organization, suicide is the second highest cause of death for people between 15 and 19 years old, and the third cause of death for people between 15 and 29 years old. Globally, almost a million people die every year because of suicide. On average, for every suicide death, there are 20 suicide attempts. And, suicide and depression are on the rise worldwide especially exacerbated by the impacts of the COVID pandemic. CAA’s scholarship student group was not immune to the hopelessness and depression that can induce suicidal tendencies.

One of our high school students in the program for 8 years attempted suicide in 2020 during a period of despair largely triggered by complex socio-economic and stressful life experiences. CAA was able to provide psychological support for our student and additional financial aid for this struggling family because both parents had lost their jobs. Fortunately, our student was able to return to classes, and we hope he will be able to graduate high school in 2023.

Four other CAA scholarship students have struggled during the pandemic – each has a unique story. However, one student just received a life-altering blow, having lost his mother to COVID in the first week of October.  CAA is now providing psychological counseling to support these students, and we hope these interventions will help keep them on track to graduate high school.

Fernanda’s thesis and research objective from 2019-2021 was to gain a better appreciation for the socio-cultural factors prompting suicidal ideation, primarily in youth, and to identify proven prevention strategies. Internet based courses through various Latin American universities provided the framework, and Fernanda completed her thesis, entitled “Suicide and youth: analysis of socialization processes as explanatory factors of the experience of suicidal ideation in a group of young people residing in the canton of Palmares, in the period 2019-2021”. In June of 2021 via digital online conferencing, Fernanda presented and defended her thesis to a panel of social workers, philosophers, and researchers.  The panel of judges approved her work, with honors, and Fernanda graduated once again from the University of Costa Rica - now eligible to receive her license to enter the profession as a Licenciada en Trabajo Social

Fernanda was quickly called upon to give lectures in our region on suicide risk and prevention, and now licensed, Fernanda began to interview for  social worker positions. 

Prepared for big challenges! In her 8 years working with CAA, as a volunteer and as a scholarship administrative intern, Fernanda gained valuable inter-personal and business experience: developing program goals; financial and social need assessment tools; monitoring student performance/needs; budgeting and financials; marketing, and most importantly, negotiating solutions with families, schools, and support institutions.  Fernanda also gained organizational administrative experience by serving 2 terms as a member of the CAA Board of Directors, as Vice-President, and one full year as CAA Acting President.  With this experience, Fernanda feels she is more than ready, and is eager to face the complex challenges of her profession.

Fernanda will begin her professional career as a social worker for IRCA Casabierta, a Central America Institute that supports immigrants, and persons in refugee status who are struggling with gender related concerns.

We are so grateful for GlobalGiving donors and our CAA program supporters who made Fernanda’s scholarships possible. And, we appreciate Fernanda’s dedication and compassion given freely to our community and our scholarship students over the past 8 years.  Because of these collective efforts, this dedicated young professional is ready to tackle the complex issues facing families in Costa Rica, one family at a time!  We wish her all the best as she continues to pay forward the gifts of those that have helped support her career goals. 

[Photos and material provided by the subject and used with her written permission].

Jun 22, 2021

Some CAA Students View the Road Ahead More Clearly, Despite Pandemic Setbacks

New Glasses (1)
New Glasses (1)

COVID again disrupts education! Under protocols of the Ministerio de Educación and campus-specific safety measures, students returned to classes in February, alternating between virtual and in-person lessons for core subjects. However, due to the May spike in COVID cases and to reduce mobility of teachers, students and parents, the education ministry suspended all first term classes from May 24 through July 13. They intend to use this time to get more teachers vaccinated, and to restructure the school year to help students achieve grade level learning requirements. The second term has been extended to make up the lost first term classes.

And, the education ministers decided once again to suspend the mandatory, year-end national achievement test for students in the final year of primary and secondary school. About 84,900 students in the final year of secondary school will not have a standardized evaluation as a final requirement to obtain their diplomas. Instead they will take a written test in the core subjects which will represent 25% of their total grade. For primary students in 6th grade, the test will account for 20% of the total grade. Without the national standardized achievement test, Costa Rica will not have a uniform measurement to evaluate the impact of the pandemic on student academic levels across the country.

Time will tell how quickly Costa Rica can return to in-person classes and standardized academic testing but it appears clear that virtual learning will play a larger role in the educational system going forward. This alone will require some major adjustments in teaching, testing, and resources to enable more families to access the internet.

Most of CAA’s scholarship students were resilient and adapted to the new virtual learning environment – but, some struggled, particularly those who lacked ready access to computers and internet at home. Many families shared devices, and were unable to buy adequate cell-based data plans. Because an estimated 400,000 students in the country lacked access to the internet, the Ministerio also suspended virtual classes for the first term. For some of the CAA scholarship students, the shift to virtual classes identified another problem.

Headaches for educators and for students! Eye strain can go hand in hand with computer and cell use. As students spent hours staring at screens doing lessons and homework, some developed headaches and blurry vision. According to our local vision expert, almost one third of high school students need vision correction, and 5% experience severe myopia which can be exacerbated by extensive cell and computer use. CAA’s Program Interns added a vision screening question into their pre-first term student interviews, and identified ten students with suspected vision concerns.

In partnership with a local eye clinic in March and April, CAA arranged for vision tests for these ten students, and four urgently needed corrective lenses. CAA provided those exams and lenses/frames at an average cost of $140/per student. We hope to provide vision screening for the other 19 students in our 2021 class; with your help, we can get this done soon.

CAA received appreciation notes from some of the CAA students that received new vision correction - we would like to share them with you:

 “Hello everyone! I want to express my appreciation for the help you have given my daughter. She is much better now with the glasses! Before, she suffered from headaches because she could not see well. But thanks to you, she is doing well and can do her schoolwork. Thank you and may God bless you for helping us!”


 “I am very thankful for the glasses; they have helped me so much! My headaches have gone away and I don’t have to strain to read, not even reading content on the cell phone. It has been a SUCCESS! I am very grateful to you all.


“First off I’d like to thank you for giving me the glasses as they are of great help to the health of my eyes since I can now see better. When I am in the classroom I can see the blackboard without straining, and am not falling behind as I was before, since my vision has improved.  Also my head no longer hurts and my eyes don’t become irritated and red. I thank God for the help you have given me in terms of my health, as well as academics.  Blessings to you! Many thanks!”

We want to thank our wonderfully generous GlobalGiving donors and our other faithful education supporters during this very disruptive pandemic environment. Because of your help, one university student progresses towards a bachelor’s degree in social work, and another university student has completed her thesis and social work licensing requirements to enter the profession.  Also, 29 high school students work towards a diploma despite the education system’s pandemic setbacks. Fortunately, some of those students now have a much clearer vision of the road ahead because of new glasses. Moving forward through education - one student at a time!

CAA Student and New Glasses
CAA Student and New Glasses
Appreciation Letter from Student
Appreciation Letter from Student
Feb 23, 2021

Despite Covid, CAA San Ramon High School Students are Ready for First Term Classes in 2021

2021 CAA Educational Success Story in the Making!
2021 CAA Educational Success Story in the Making!

Although pandemic restrictions have again prevented our regular CAA scholarship award presentation event in January, the Education Committee’s university-level scholarship Program Interns have filled in to keep the program rolling. In a very socially-distanced, appropriately masked and disinfected way, the interns interviewed students and their families, updated financial and academic information, made their recommendations, and got us ready for CAA's 9th year of scholarship support.   

The 2020 class celebrated a single graduate, a high achieving young woman who has already qualified for university. One of our Education Committee members helped this student apply for financial aid, and she is off to university!  Our  2021 class has 5 students that should be eligible for graduation in December, and the subsequent class of 2022 should be our largest --- anticipating 8 graduates.  

On February 8th, 27 students of the CAA Scholarship Program started classes - 26 existing students and one new seventh-grade high-school student. Step- by- step, these students are integrating on-line classes and in-person classes under protocols of the Ministerio de Educación and high school campus-specific safety protocols. To get these students ready for the pandemic protocols, we provided each with a package of safety supplies – masks, alcohol gel, and wipes to get them ready to return to the classroom.  And, we provided vouchers redeemable for school uniforms, shoes, school supplies-books getting them off to a solid start.

Juniors and seniors are receiving 3-4 days of classroom sessions supplemented by virtual sessions.  The lower grades are slowly being brought into the classroom for 1-2 days per week, but will be heavily dependent on at-home, virtual learning for most of their education in 2021. Returning to a social environment in classes, even if for only a day or two per week, is a very important improvement – they will regain the opportunity to engage  teachers and other students to better understand the material and  assignments.  

In this report, we would like to highlight a success story in the making! “Elise”, not her real name, is in the top of her class in an international baccalaureate program.  She has a strong interest in mathematics and science and dreams of becoming an astronaut. If that doesn't happen, then her focus is on the bio-technology field.  "Elise's" grades have gained international attention - she has already received an offer to study in Germany after high school.

One of two children, "Elise" is being raised in a single parent household. "Elise’s" mother is very supportive of education, and now works as a patient-nurse assistant while she finishes her own university nursing degree program.  In addition to school supplies and uniforms, "Elise" needed special eyeglasses which CAA was able to provide through a partnering local eye clinic.  "Elise" is a role model for her younger brother, and demonstrates the aptitude and determination necessary to make a  difference in an increasingly technical, complex world. This focused family has earned the attention and support of several CAA members, and by highlighting this student and her family, we hope that others are inspired to lend support to deserving families. 

Not all of our CAA class finished 2020 as successfully as "Elise" -- five had to do extra course work in January just to pass to the next grade level.  These students struggled in the virutual learning environment - lacking access to the technology, cell phone internet data plans, and copiers necessary to support virtual learning. Independent, virtual study modalities require a new level of focus and discipline that some students had not developed.  Clearly, financial inequalities play a role, along with the absence of an adequate support system - poorly educated parents and no older siblings in the house to help students with subjects and lessons to partially replace teachers. Spotty cell coverage in the rural areas was also a factor, however, without cell phones and cell-based internet coverage/data plans, the country's virtual learning system would have been impossible.  However, last year's grades certainly exposed the economic inequities and limitations of this pandemic-mandated virtual learning system.  The 2020 country-wide standardized achievement test results reflected some significant deficits which drove the priority to immediately get juniors and seniors back into classrooms.  To do otherwise would jeopardized the ability of many of these near-graduation high school students to be adequately prepared to qualify for university studies.

Each of our CAA scholarship students has a unique, but similar story – a family working hard, day by day, to give the children the opportunity to finish high school; all hoping that a high school or university education will help move the family to self-sustainability and a brighter future. 

Thank you, GlobalGiving donors, for being part of the vital support system for these San Ramon students in this time of extreme, world-wide need.  Working together, we are improving lives, one student at a time! 

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