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! 

Oct 27, 2020

Despite the Pandemic - San Ramon, Costa Rica, Students Are Doubling Down on Education

CAA Food Assistance, 2nd Term 2020_with permission
CAA Food Assistance, 2nd Term 2020_with permission

In late July, just before Second Term classes resumed, the Community Action Alliance again awarded educational scholarship vouchers to 27 San Ramon, Costa Rica, high school students and 2 university-level social worker students. We lost 2 students from the First Term because their families had to leave the area.  Although students are using distance learning modalities and are not physically on the school campuses due to the pandemic, they still need significant family support given Costa Rica’s economic collapse.  The unemployment rate doubled to almost 24% and our scholarship families have been even harder hit because most lacked steady employment or access to government assistance programs even before the pandemic.

To meet their Second Term needs, CAA awarded scholarship vouchers to these students valued at 3.251 million colones ($5500).  The assistance was structured to provide half for food vouchers redeemable at a local supermarket, and half for school supply vouchers redeemable at a partnering merchant. CAA will continue to provide extraordinary assistance to these students for medical and other student-specific needs between now and the middle of December when the school year ends. 

As you can see from the smiles on the faces of the students in the photos, the food assistance was greatly appreciated.

These CAA scholarship students are overcoming significant technical limitations in order to continue their on-line studies. To better assess academic progress, difficulties, and family needs after the First Term, CAA's two university level Program Interns completed telephone and written interviews with the students and their families in June and early July. The Interns were impressed with the resourcefulness of these families in their efforts to overcome their lack of technical resources – intermittent cell-based Internet access, lack of nearby printers, laptops, and disruptions due to storms, etc.  Access to cell phones and the Education Ministry's provision of cell-data plans for students has been the difference-maker for many of these students.  Many must find a way to download and print assignments/tests, answer the printed questions/problems in long-hand, and then photograph and WhatsApp their results back to the teacher to review/grade.  The ingenuity and resilience of these students and families clearly demonstrates the importance of completing a high school education, which can open the next door to university or technical education.  These students haven’t dropped out; they have “doubled-down on education", and are working hard in these challenging times.

We are so thankful to the Community Action Alliance members who support this educational scholarship program locally, and are especially thankful for our faithful donors through GlobalGiving. Your generous support has enabled CAA to provide these students and their families with over $16,000 in education and food assistance in 2020.  Without your commitment, these families would have little food on the table, and some students would have dropped out of school. Continuing our investment in these families is even more important as the duration of the pandemic lengthens, depleting local food-bank resources, and creating even more stress on families.  

These families know that education provides the best opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. And, because of your incredible generosity, these families are being provided hope that education can open the doors to a brighter future.   

CAA Food Assistance, 2nd Term 2020_with permission
CAA Food Assistance, 2nd Term 2020_with permission
 
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