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Give the Gift of Education to Children in Poverty

by The Community Action Alliance
Give the Gift of Education to Children in Poverty
Give the Gift of Education to Children in Poverty
Give the Gift of Education to Children in Poverty
Give the Gift of Education to Children in Poverty
Give the Gift of Education to Children in Poverty
Give the Gift of Education to Children in Poverty

On July 20, CAA presented Second Term 2019 Scholarship Awards to our 27 participating students, of which 23 students and many of their families were able to attend the event.  Over a dozen CAA Members were present to congratulate the students on completing the First Term and to encourage them to double their efforts to ensure a strong finish in December for the 2019 school year. The students received vouchers valued at over $4,000 to be redeemed for school supplies, shoes, and school uniforms at three local participating merchants. 

Four of our Colegio students are scheduled to graduate this year, adding to our four prior graduates.  CAA has assisted these graduating students by paying for up to 3 university or technical school entrance exams per graduating student.  We learned from past students that money is not always available when needed to pay the registration for these exams -- therefore, some of our students had not been able to sign up for the entrance exams and enroll in university right out of high school. In May, three of our four upcoming graduates took advantage of our offer and completed entrance exams allowing each to apply to 3 public universities. Less than $120 in exam fees eliminated this previously unrecognized barrier.  

For these graduating students, we will also provide other assistance.  In August, we will host a post Colegio higher education planning work session for junior and senior level students.  We offer these workshops to get students and their parents prepared for post Colegio training: identifying application deadlines, information and documentation requirements to apply for university/technical schools, and documentation-timelimes to apply for financial assistance.  Our objective is to get our scholarship students focused on higher education/training and careers well in advance of graduating Colegio, and to firm up financial assistance opportunities earlier. Costa Rica provides financial grants for citizens of limited family means enabling academically eligible students to attend public universities or technical institutes.  For low income families, these are grants, not loans subject to repayment. In this way, Costa Rica is investing heavily in higher education for its citizens.  However, non-citizen immigrant families, do not qualify for these citizen-only benefits for university studies; therefore, we need to help these families earlier and work harder to help them locate and qualify for NGO university/techical school assistance opportunities.       

A few of our students struggled in the First Term---primarily these were students transitioning into Colegio from elementary school, and their first term, 7th grade, report card scores presented a real wake-up call.  Our counselors identified some additional mentoring and assistance for the coming term to help these students improve their grades.  

Despite the challenges faced by these low income families, it is especially gratifying to hear the pride in the voices of the parents. How proud they are of the academic success of their children, how grateful they are for the educational support being provided, and how hopeful they are that a brighter future is around the corner. Getting the first child through high school is a real family accomplishment, and that success sets expectations for younger siblings to folow the same path. 

Because of caring supporters participating through Global Giving, and volunteers here in Costa Rica, the future can be brighter and more hopeful for most of these students and their families, and those that follow. Thank you one and all for caring enough to make a diffference.


Juliana's Next Goal-University Admission 2020!
Honors Trabajo Social Degree in Hand, What
Honors Trabajo Social Degree in Hand, What's Next?

The Community Action Alliance's Educational Scholarship Program celebrated a very significant milestone last week, when our University Scholarship Student, Fernanda, received her Bachelor's Degree in Social Work from the University of Costa Rica - Sede Occidente.

Not only has Fernanda spent hundreds of hours in her role as the Educational Scholarship Program Administrative Intern, but she has excelled in her University courses.  She was recognized as "Graduacion de Honor", having scored above 90 on all her college coursework over the past 4 years. We are so proud to see this energetic, resourceful, and dedicated young woman reach this goal. She is now focused on completing her thesis and community service hours to be eligible to obtain her  Degree of Licenciatura as a professional Social Worker.  

Throughout her university course work, Fernanda was gaining valuable experience as a Program Intern by working directly with school teachers, counselors, psychologists, social workers, students, parents, and governmental agencies to help keep our 30 scholarship students on track in their pursuit of a high school degree.  And, Fernanda has been a mentor/counselor to many of the students; it is fair to say that a number of these students would have left school if not for the concern that Fernanda brought to her work, and the assistance CAA was able to provide to these financially challenged families.

Additionally, Fernanda was fortunate to receive the counseling and mentoring of an Education Committee Member who is a retired but licensed Social Worker, and guidance from University Social Work instructors.  As Fernanda has expressed many times, the Scholarship Program Administrative Intern role provided her with invaluable hours of real life, practical experience doing exactly what she will need to do in her future career, assessing financial and social needs, and identifying practical interventions for students, families and institutions to improve the lives of Costa Ricans. Additionally, she gained valuable experience collaborating and working with many retired US educated nurses, accountants,  business administrators, and teachers who serve as volunteers and decision-makers on the CAA Education Committee -- helping to develop program goals, financial and social need assessment tools,  monitoring performance of the students that participate in this program, and program marketing. And, Fernanda has received organization administration experience by serving 2 terms as a Vocal on the CAA Junta Directiva (Board of Directors). 

Earning her Bachelor's Degree is a big milestone for Fernanda, but it will be only one of many to come, as she sets her sights on her next objective in 2020--obtaining her Licenciatura and starting her professional Social Work career.    

We are so grateful for the support of GlobalGiving donors, and the CAA Educational Scholarship Program volunteers in Costa Rica.  Because of these collective efforts, we know that this dedicated young professional is prepared to use her social work training and compassion to improve the lives and opportunities of Costa Ricans.  It truly takes a village!  

One of six academic achievement winners (center)
One of six academic achievement winners (center)

On January 25, 2019, the Community Action Alliance’s Education Committee presented scholarship vouchers for school year 2019 to twenty-seven students.  The class includes one 5th year University student of Social Work,  serving as a Program Administrator Intern, and 26 sixth through eleventh graders. We welcomed 6 new students into the 2019 scholarship class, one entering eleventh-grade and five sixth-grade students. 

 At the awards event, we were pleased to recognize and congratulate our three December 2018 high school graduates – each representing the first high school graduate in the family!  Two of the three will pursue university study and one is enrolled in English classes.  Each of the graduates received a voucher redeemable for books at a local book store.

Additionally, we recognized six high academic achievers for year 2018 for earning GPA’s of at least 94; and one additional student, now in his 7th year in the scholarship program, received a meritorious improvement award for earning a GPA of 91. All seven students received a voucher redeemable for books. 

 Not all of our students hit these high marks for we had to drop one student for continued failing grades, however, the remaining classmates and their families appear to understand the importance of education as a strong foundation for future success and want to work hard to take advantage of this opportunity.

As you may recall from our last report, many students saw limited class time last fall because of the near-nationwide teacher’s strike.  Because of this strike, the Education Ministry identified about 250 specific foundational topics that were missed, and each topic must be included as extra instruction this year.  Hopefully, our scholarship students will be able to take this additional load in stride.   

During this strike period, to keep the students focused during their “involuntary vacation”, one CAA member organized and provided special English Conversation Classes for our scholarship students — over a dozen students participated in these classes to improve their conversational abilities.  Students reported the sessions to be both informative and fun!  

This school term, the students received vouchers and assistance of over $6,000 dollars, redeemable for school supplies, shoes, and required school uniforms at our four participating local merchants. Additionally, we identified six extra-special need students for additional, periodic assistance during the school year, and one student that required new prescription glasses.  For school year 2019, we expect to provide almost $10,500 in direct educational support for students in San Ramon, Costa Rica.

This level of educational support would not be possible without the generosity of donors through Global Giving, and through the additional work of our volunteers and supporters. An investment in education is a real life-changer for these students and families desperately looking for a brighter future - your investment now is an investment for life! 

Six New Scholarship Students for 2019
Six New Scholarship Students for 2019
CAA Scholarship Student with CAA Member
CAA Scholarship Student with CAA Member
2019 CAA Scholarship Students with CAA Members
2019 CAA Scholarship Students with CAA Members
Graduation Joy Turns Into Uncertainty
Graduation Joy Turns Into Uncertainty

In our August 2018 report, we highlighted the three CAA Educational Scholarship Program students that are scheduled to graduate high school in a few days, and our attempts to get these students focused on follow-on vocational or university training.  However, those exciting possibilities are now up in the air.  A broad-based Costa Rica labor union strike, instituted the first week of September, shut down most of the public schools in Costa Rica 3- 4 weeks after the Second Term began.  The public school teacher’s strike continues as of this report, although almost all of the other public union employees returned to work 4-5 weeks ago. So, although health care services have resumed, public education students are still being held as hostages. 

The public labor walk-out was called because of a necessary, but unpopular, fiscal bail-out proposal to increase taxes and reduce government public spending to address a long-standing fiscal imbalance that is no longer sustainable. This fiscal law was about to be approved by the national assembly when public workers, including about 63,000 public school teachers and administrative staff, began the strike. Unfortunately, the students are caught in the middle of this economic dogfight and will receive only 3-4 weeks of instruction during this 4 month school term.   

What does this mean for our three potential high school graduates?  At a minimum, this strike has ruined what typically is a very joyous time for most graduating high school students and graduation parties will have a cloud over them. But, the impact of the ongoing strike is much more serious for these individual students and undermines the country's educational framework. These students lost out on most of their final term in high school, but for graduates, the impact may be longer lasting.

In order to properly graduate, the students must pass the “bachillerato” high school exit exams. The closure of schools and absence of teachers caused the cancellation of exam preparatory classes for students, the actual exams had to be delayed until sufficient “volunteers” could be assembled to help conduct/monitor them, and some test content also had to be deleted given that the students didn’t get relevant instruction in this final term.  Additionally, newspapers just reported that the absence of school administrators at work means the exam grades have not been certified and reported to the national database.  These students are in limbo regarding having successfully completing the tests. 

However, students in private schools have not been affected and these students will be way ahead of public school students in applying for and being accepted into the public universities next year.  And, they will be first in line (if not first in “need”) for available financial scholarship assistance, because public school students will be delayed in making application for university admission and confirming that they can get financial assistance. 

Absent financial assistance, CAA’s scholarship students will not be able to afford university or continuing vocational training courses.  We talked to one of our graduating students about the impact of the strike: he had minimal preparation for the bachillerato exams, has no idea how he scored given the delay in reporting the results, is very uneasy about his ability to enroll into university and get financial assistance next year, but he is quite ready for the drama to be over and get to the graduation party!

Although most informed observers understand the need for fiscal reform, there is legitimate debate regarding the appropriate balance of reduction provisions and which groups should take cuts – police, teachers, health care, roads, education and poverty assistance, and the list goes on and on.  Whatever is ultimately included in a fiscal reduction/tax package, many observers agree that the country’s investment in education is critical to Costa Rica’s progress towards a more technically capable labor force to meet the skill requirements necessary to support the growth of the new economy that is replacing agriculture.  

To sustain growth, additional preparation for jobs in the new econony is critial. Young adult unemployment (15-24 age group) is estimated at 22%;  over half of the Costa Rican population has not completed high school and is deemed insufficiently trained for the new economy; and the country’s finances are at a crisis point and not sustainable (October, 18, 2017 report by the 34 member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).  To reduce this youth unemployment situation and meet the needs of expanding business, a proposal is being advanced to formalize Dual Education programs combining on-the-job training with traditional education in partnership with businesses and public education. And, earlier this year, Costa Rica initiated a 4 year comprehensive review of public academic/technical training programs, combined with an expanded English Second Language requirement, to better prepare graduates for higher technology and tourism sector jobs that are increasingly important to earning higher wages in a changing Costa Rican economy. But, absent funding and cooperation from the public education system to solve the fiscal crisis, these worthy initiatives will be frustrated.  

The “legality” of the public teacher’s continuing strike is pending a final resolution in the Costa Rican courts and that will determine if this teacher’s strike will be treated as a “paid vacation”, or if teachers will suffer financially while refusing to work.  However, for many citizens including the private business sector, the court of public opinion has already ruled---holding public education hostage is an injustice to vulnerable students and a disservice to the country.  And, exceptionally generous (relative to the private sectors) public salaries and benefits/pensions must be reduced if Costa Rica is to avoid sovereign default for domestic internal or external financial obligations.   

As a small group of volunteers working diligently to foster education in San Ramon, Costa Rica, we have found these last 3 months to be very difficult to watch, but in some cases a cause for inspiration as some parents have undoubtedly encouraged their children to continue to study at home despite the school being closed. The Community Action Alliance's volunteers remain committed to help our scholarship students graduate high school and to support them as best we can.  Although our graduating students may have been cut short on Trigonometry or Calculus by the strikes, they certainly got a lesson in Civics by watching the national gridlock that is directly impacting their plans for the future.   

Your continued support through GlobalGiving is a good way to keep the dreams of these students alive in Costa Rica despite these politically and educationally challenging times. With the reality that the government will need to reduce educational financial support for poorer families, our group of CAA scholarship students will need even more assistance going forward.  Please help us make a difference!

Looking forward to Graduation, 2018, 1 of 3
Looking forward to Graduation, 2018, 1 of 3
On July 21st, 2018, CAA’s Education Committee presented twenty-four escuela and colegio scholarship students their second term scholarship vouchers, and encouraged them to finish the school year with strong grades. Having graduated our first high school scholarship student in December, 2016, we are pleased that three students are on track to graduate in December,  2018.  This CAA scholarship program supports students in poverty to earn a high school education; and for most families, a graduation represents the first in the family!
However, the chance to get into a good career path will require more than just a high school education, given that most of the good paying job growth in Costa Rica will be in technical fields and tourism. How prepared are our graduating high school students to get the additional training required to access these jobs?  That is the focus of this report. 

Few Costa Rican public schools appear to have counseling resources to provide career orientation, university or vocational skill planning for students. We have learned that high school counselors spend most of their energy on the socio-economic issues presented by a large student population leaving little time for career and higher education counseling.  And, no U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics or Employment Commission equivalent agencies exist in Costa Rica to help students identify the demand for jobs, required skills, and applicant to job matching, required to get workers into the available jobs.  Essentially, a graduating high school or university student is pretty much limited to identifying job fairs and doing their own research to locate employers that are hiring, and available positions----only to recognize that additional specialized training, apprentice experience, or language proficiency is required. Of course, students that are able to tackle this maze themselves, are already demonstrating their resourcefulness, but many others require some coaching and counseling
Recognizing this counseling-information gap, and the importance of additional higher education to get into a valued career, four CAA Education Committee members with knowledge of university admission requirements, financial aid programs, and technical training opportunities, teamed up to offer our three graduating students a career planning, higher education orientation session in a Saturday workshop.  The Workshop covered four important topics:
  • University application deadlines and admission requirements, 
  • Preparation and training available to help students get ready to take the required university entrance exams, 
  • Funding through public university scholarships based on financial need. and 
  • Other non-university technical and language training opportunities (and relevance to the better-paying job market).
This initial orientation session confirmed that our three graduating students, from San Ramon's best public high schools, had received no higher education or career counseling information.  Two of the graduating students received Academic Excellence Awards for their 95 or over GPA's last year, and will likely have the grades to get into a public university, but the third student will need extensive preparation to pass the university entrance exams. And, they were unaware of the time deadlines, financial and admission requirements, and financial aid opportunities to help them plan for further education. At three or four months before graduation, none of the graduating students really had a sense of what to do next.  

As one Education Committee member observed "Costa Rica will always have some agricultural jobs requiring heavy labor for young men that cannot attend or do not do well in university, and many women also do manual labor, but the good-paying career options for un-trained women are much more limited than for men.  It is extremely important, especially for young women, to get early counseling to focus on careers in demand such as accounting, business managment, info technology, engineering, veterinarians, or the law.  Encouraging young women to venture into less traditional roles and supporting them during the process, is of critical importance for Latinas, especially those that were raised in single parent, financially poor households where few opportunities exist other than finding a man and raising babies". 
To fill this information gap for our CAA Scholarship Students, the Education Committee agreed to extend this higher education orientation  session to all our scholarship students, beginning just after completion of the 9th grade.  The last 2-3 years of high school are of critical importance in gaining the grade averages and focusing students on a path that includes higher education or technical skills training. This orientation session will be a follow-on session to our regular December year-end socio-economic/academic interviews that we hold with the student and parents.
By focusing students earlier on the challenges of life-after-high school, these students and their parents should be better positioned to move into the higher or technical education tracts that will prepare them for in-demand jobs.  The CAA Education Committee is committed to provide the additional counseling support necessary to prepare these graduating students for the next big step towards a life without poverty.  
With the support of GlobalGiving donors and our volunteers in Costa Rica, the Community Action Alliance will provide almost $8,000 in educational assistance in 2018 for families in poverty in the San Ramon area, and career and higher educational counseling.  W are all contributing what we can, financially or through information sharing, to build a  better tomorrow for these scholarship students--one student at a time!      
Another Focused High School Graduate 2018, 2 of 3
Another Focused High School Graduate 2018, 2 of 3
Colegio Graduating 2018, Volley-baller! 3 of 3
Colegio Graduating 2018, Volley-baller! 3 of 3

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Organization Information

The Community Action Alliance

Location: San Ramon, Alajuela - Costa Rica
Project Leader:
Scott and Linda McAnally
San Ramon, Alajuela Costa Rica
$12,354 raised of $15,000 goal
164 donations
$2,646 to go
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