Mar 10, 2020

Introducing the CAA Educational Scholarship Class of 2020; San Ramon, Costa Rica

On January 25, 2020, the Community Action Alliance’s Education Committee presented scholarship vouchers for the 2020 school year to twenty-six students.  One additional student is receiving a special scholarship for English Second Language studies; and an additional high school student has just been approved for participation. Two of the 2019 class of students had to meet additional academic requirements in order to be eligible for assistance this year. CAA plans to support up to 30 high school students in 2020.

Additionally, this scholarship class includes one degreed University of Costa Rica student of Social Work who is completing her licensing requirements while serving her sixth year as our Scholarship Program Administrative Intern.  And, we plan to offer another university social worker student a scholarship this year while being trained to assume the role of CAA’s University Scholarship Program Administrative Intern in 2021. 

This class welcomed six new young women who require assistance to continue in high school, and we are pleased that they are dedicated to continuing their education.

 And, we celebrated the December 2019 high school graduation of four of our students.  All four are continuing their education through university or technical school courses in 2020, and we wish them the best in those advanced studies. 

Additionally, three young women received special awards for achieving GPA’s of at least 95 for the 2019 school year; and each received an extra voucher redeemable for books. These women are setting high standards for themselves!

 Not all of our students hit these high marks, and two of our current students had to take additional tests to move to the next grade.  We will monitor their academics closely this year as a condition of continuing in the  CAA’s scholarship program.

 CAA expects to provide about $14,000 in direct educational support for 32 students in 2020.This level of educational support would not be possible without the generosity of donors through GlobalGiving, and through the additional work of CAA volunteers and other supporters.

Thank you for supporting the educational dreams of these students - an investment in education for these students is an investment for life. 

Dec 16, 2019

CAA Scholarship Students Complete 2019 Classes with 4 Graduated - A time for Thanksgiving

July 2019  CAA Scholarship Student Awards
July 2019 CAA Scholarship Student Awards


The Costa Rica school year has just finished, and we are pleased that 4 of our scholarship students crossed the stage and received a high school diploma.  In the next 10 days, our CAA volunteer social workers will conduct student and family interviews reviewing report cards, academic progress, and socio-economic status to determine the eligibility of our remaining students to continue in the program for school year 2020.  We have seven newly nominated students to evaluate for eligibility, and we have at least four slots due to graduations.

2019 Financials: The Community Action Alliance (CAA) scholarship program paid 7.8 million colones ($13,647) for school supplies, shoes, uniforms, and special needs assistance for our 28 participating students in the period.  And, considering the greater than 10% average discounts negotiated with our participating merchants, the students actually received over $15,000 worth of school related supplies/uniforms. CAA takes pride in the fact that 100% of donations received were spent for direct assistance to students, and $142 was spent from locally generated funds for awards event presentation expenses.  Additionally, excess funds are invested in short or mid-term duration certificates of deposit to generate additional interest earnings.  The Education Committee has approved a budget of up to $15,000 for the scholarship program for 2020.  Program financials are reviewed by an internal volunteer US licensed CPA, and by an external, volunteer Costa Rican licensed CPA for compliance with Costa Rica regulations. We are fortunate to have the support of these volunteer  CPA's. 

Given our resources and volunteers, we have purposefully limited our student participation to less than 30 students, enabling our volunteers to get much better acquainted with the students and their families, thereby allowing for more personalized assistance/intervention as needed. As a reminder, Costa Rica mandates schooling for children only through the 6th grade – therefore, student and family motivation, and often CAA scholarship support, is critical if the student will be allowed the opportunity to move into and graduate high school. We recognize that students and families face a difficult decision --- send the adolescent to go work in the fields or find a job to help the family; or to sign up for high school and try to get through to graduation. Therefore, 5th, 6th, the last two years of elementary school, and the 7th, and 8th grades, the first two years of high school, are pivotal for most of our young students and their families.  For this reason, we focus our attention on these students and try to encourage the families to commit to the pursuit of a high school education.

Costa Rica offers financial education assistance programs for needy families, but only if the student is a Costa Rican citizen -- all others must rely on private assistance.  And, even for citizen families that are eligible and receive government education cash assistance for their children, some of these families re-direct the education allowance to meet other family needs -- therefore, despite the government assistance, the student may still not have the required school materials, uniforms, and shoes necessary to attend public classes.  That is the key reason that our program was designed to provide the required school supplies, uniforms, shoes, and other support via vouchers.   

Some other key components of our program:

  • Selection and continued student participation in the program depends on the family's need for assistance with school materials, uniforms, shoes, and the student must maintain his/her grades and solid class attendance. Failing these, the student may be dropped from the program or placed on an academic watch list triggering greater monitoring with the student's teachers/counselors.  
  • Program volunteers must work closely with public school teacher and counselors, who alert us to issues that warrant attention --- this is the key role of our licensed volunteer social worker--only licensed social workers are authorized to obtain information from teachers/schools about students and their issues; without them, our program would be almost one dimensional -- limited to providing only funding. 
  • Additionally, our volunteer social worker and our university-level scholarship program administrator intern (degree in Social Work) help us stay connected with the needs of the students during the year -- our October 28 report illustrates a situation where timely intervention with mental health therapy helped get a threatened student, “Maria”, back into school and continuing her education. We continue to support "Maria"'s needs for periodic mental health counseling and are pleased that she was able to finish the school year.
  • We use the CAA Scholarship Program to provide real world experience for University of Costa Rica Trabajadores de Social students by recruiting them to assist in our activities and evaluations---under the guidance of a retired, licensed volunteer Social Worker.  Hopefully, these students will be better equipped for their chosen vocation through this experience, and our scholarship students  get to see role models to encourage them to continue their higher education.
  • Our volunteers encourage continuing education after high school by offering 10th-12th grade students yearly information sessions to identify university and technical school opportunities, admission and financial aid requirements, and career advice in an effort to support these students to the next level—whether it is university or technical school.  Career advice and planning information is tough for students to locate in Costa Rica--we hope we are helping bridge this information gap through these sessions. 
  • This year, we are especially thankful that the public teacher’s union elected not to repeat their 4+ month strike of 2018; allowing the students to get in a full year of classes, even though many students and teachers had to add extra work to catch up for the course materials missed due to the 2018 strike. Many of our 2018 graduating students reported that they struggled with university entrance exams partly because of the material that they missed because of the strike.
  • Our partnering merchants recognize the value of this program and provide discounted pricing of school supplies; and they help us ensure that students redeem their vouchers (not cash) only on legitimate, approved school-related needs. Occasionally, one of our merchants will call to advise that a student’s parent is requesting to use a student’s voucher to buy the parent a cell phone, or another non-essential item that will not directly benefit the student.  Of course, the answer is "No".  It does take a village to help keep this program focused on making sure that students get the opportunity to stay in school, and that program assistance goes to the intended use.

Education offers the opportunity to change the economic future of these families, and each student that graduates high school or goes on to university is setting an example for other children in the family; each of our scholarship students have the opportunity to be a role model to generate pride and hope in siblings and to their parents.  Most parents of our participating students only dreamed of their child getting through high school, much less into university studies.      

In this season of thanks and giving, we especially want to thank our supporters who donate through GlobalGiving Foundation, our other sponsoring non-profit, and our fund-raising friends and family partners in Texas.  Lastly, this program would not be possible or as effective without our local San Ramon, Costa Rica, volunteers who help run the scholarship program, and also coordinate local English and Spanish Conversation Club programs to foster education in the community, which also earns local funds for the scholarship program.

By working together, being good stewards of available funding, and leveraging CAA volunteers and university students, we hope we can continue to make a difference in the lives and economic opportunities of these students from families struggling with poverty.

We wish all of our supporters a safe, happy, and peaceful holiday season. 

Oct 28, 2019

Overcoming Another High School Challenge!

The challenges faced by adolescents in high school are difficult enough without the adverse experiences of social pressure, illicit drug use, bullying, and other distractions. Most students have these experiences at school to varying degrees.  Although common, it is always difficult to predict the impact of these challenges on individual students.  One of CAA’s Scholarship Program participants recently endured experiences that impacted her dramatically, and caused her to quit high school.

This is a spotlight on “Maria” (not her real name), one of our program’s top notch Excellence in Academics recognized students over the past several years.  Maria, in the 8th grade of high school, is a Guatemalan immigrant to Costa Rica who lives with her parents and three siblings. Maria is a quiet, studious, slender, small-for-her-age young woman with a beautiful smile and a positive drive to excel in her academics.  Her parents are very supportive and attend her CAA Scholarship events; the pride and gratitude for the assistance provided by the CAA Scholarship Program is very evident and oft repeated.

This chapter of Maria’s story started some-time in April, 2019, well into the school term.   By late April, without warning, Maria refused to go to school and appeared extremely fearful and afraid of being around her classmates.  At home, Mariawasn’t eating and was losing weight. Coaxing and pushing at home still could not get Maria to explain what caused this sudden change, to resume her normal eating, or to return to school.  Her sudden absence from school, without any evident reason, also bewildered Maria’s high school teachers and counselors; they were unable to explain what might have triggered this result. Extreme bullying, an assault, envy over her excellent grades, her Guatemalan heritage, and her diminutive size were all considered, but Maria was not talking, so there were no leads to follow.  Her parents had no better success in getting answers.

After coaxing, Maria was willing to continue her studies at home, and the teachers forwarded her assignments to try to keep her on track. All were concerned that her health and excellent grades would suffer because she was not present for the class portion of her courses.  With no confirmed cause/trigger and no success in getting Maria to open up, the school counselor suggested that psychological or psychiatric counseling might be required to get to the issues.  Maria’s mother appealed to the social medical system here, CCSS, trying to get access to free psychological care on an emergency basis.  This system offers very limited access to psychological care.  Maria’s situation was not deemed an emergency, so the first appointment available was two months in the future and she would be severely mal-nourished by that time; and the cost of seeing a private professional was well out of the family’s reach. 

In desperation, Maria’s mother contacted CAA’s Program Administrative Intern to ask for assistance; and after discussion with licensed social worker volunteers and the Education Committee, we agreed to provide some special funding to get Maria in to see a private psychiatrist, and Maria reluctantly agreed to go to the appointment.   By this point, Maria had been out of school for four weeks and losing weitht fast.

Good news: Shortly after her first visit to the psychiatrist, Maria agreed to return to school on a trial basis for half-days; and then, gradually, she resumed regular classes as she continued to see the doctor in follow-up. The doctor convinced Maria to open up and to face her fears of returning to school; and we  can only hope that the doctor was able to encourage Maria to provide some information to the school counselors to help them curtail the abusive factors that prompted this fear.   

Because of respect for Maria’s right to privacy, we will probably never know what triggered this episode of fear/aversion to school and her classmates.  The counselors and our social workers suspect that some type of bullying by perhaps older and more mature students or a more aggressive threat was the cause.   Could she have been targeted because of her immigrant status, envy over her excellent grades, or some less overt action?  What is clear is that Maria had little confidence that the school would be able to stop the problem; therefore, she saw leaving school as the only relief available to her.

Maria has the option to get additional medical counseling if she needs it, so we are hopeful that the future is again positive for this delightful and intelligent young woman.  The medical support was made possible because of the generosity of donors through Global Giving and by the care and concern of our CAA local educational program volunteers.  Together, we continue to make a difference, one student at a time.  Thank you for your continuing support.

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