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
Give the Gift of Education to Children in Poverty
Give the Gift of Education to Children in Poverty
CAA Students, 2022, Prep for Univ. Entrance Exams
CAA Students, 2022, Prep for Univ. Entrance Exams

Our nine graduating Colegio (high school) students are heavily involved in classes, and, are anticipating graduation in December.  And, eight of those graduates are taking two more university admission entrance exams in October in addition to final Colegio exams before graduation.  The eight university applicants will face 2-3 months of uncertainty waiting for a January notification of scores and acceptance. In Costa Rica, each public university compiles a ranked list of eligible students by exam scores for available slots in each degree field. Some students will not rank high enough to get into their preferred career field, and decide to begin university in another field.  Although it may be disappointing not to be accepted into a student’s preferred field, some students starting university in another field can switch career fields – by earning excellent grades, but only if a slot opens in the preferred field.  

During this period of university acceptance uncertainty, students and their families must still complete financial aid applications and be prepared in the event the student gets the opportunity for admission.  Absent a government scholarship and housing/food support, none of these students are likely to be able to attend a public university.

CAA’s member volunteer and expert in university financial aid conducted a March workshop for our students to give them the admission and financial aid application deadlines and advice. We will continue to assist on a family- by- family basis with aid applications and the complexities of gaining a scholarship.

For those who are not accepted into a public university with a financial scholarship, the road ahead is to find a job that will pay enough for tuition at a private university, or just give up and take a low paying job.  Students may also try to attend the public technical/trade school (INA) while continuing to re-take entrance exams and hoping for admission to a public university.

How can these students overcome the academic losses of the past four years? The other 20 non-graduating students face the daily challenge of trying to keep their grades up despite having lost so much in-person class-time.

By official estimates, the “teacher strike & pandemic affected” students have lost as much as 2 years of subject mastery. We are told that the public schools have relaxed tests/grading in recognition of lower achievement expectations. However, this lower bar does not help with the university admission tests – those standardized tests are the same today as they were 4 years ago.  It is clearly disappointing for our students to realize that being a “good student” in high school isn’t enough to enter a public university in their preferred field - only the “best students” throughout the country get opportunity.  

These students desperately need after-class tutoring (primarily in math, Spanish, and English).  We learned first-hand how deficient most of our graduating scholarship students are in math during the 16 sessions of prep/refresher courses that CAA sponsored from July through mid-September.

 However, it appears that waiting until the year of graduation to participate in these university exam refresher courses is too late to significantly improve university admission prospects. Almost all of our students were below expected levels (by university standards) when they entered high school in the 7th grade, and continued to lose ground until graduation.

These students desperately need ongoing tutoring beginning early in high school. Most of our students lack home academic support for school work—few have educated parents or older siblings who can help, and many lack adequate access to books, or Internet/computer support.  From parent feedback, our students’ public-school teachers are not very helpful when students ask help in locating tutoring resources. Now, CAA is being challenged to find ongoing tutoring for many of our high school students.    

 Arranging tutoring is a big challenge! We continue to search for tutoring options for our students, but the logistics, and costs present challenges. For example, it cost $1,000 for these special refresher courses for 8 students this year. Furthermore, our scholarship students are attending 5 Colegios around San Ramon, and many of the students are bused in from outlying barrios. The bus transport schedules, at an individual student level, dictate the student’s availability for after class-time tutoring. Colegio campus officials are reluctant to allow non-certified teachers/tutors to use classrooms or be on campus.   

Some of our scholarship students are lucky enough to live near a CAA member who agrees to assist as a tutor.  My wife and I provide English tutoring each Saturday for 2 young women in our rural pueblo; sixth and eighth grades. A few other CAA members provide tutoring in their homes for a student in their area.

 Despite the limitations and challenges, most of our scholarship students will be the first in their family to graduate high school, and some will master university studies. Achieving these important milestones would not be possible without the collective investment of our supportive GlobalGiving donors, and CAA’s resilient volunteers. On behalf of these San Ramon students, we are forever grateful to those help us alleviate poverty through education.  Together we can continue to make a difference, one student at a time. 

-All photos used with permission of subjects-

Math Refresher-Solve for X
Math Refresher-Solve for X
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CAA Academic Excellence Award Winners, 2019, 4of5
CAA Academic Excellence Award Winners, 2019, 4of5

CAA has for many years awarded our top ranked students a special academic excellence award voucher, and about eight of our students are usually in the running for academic awards with all grades at 90+; and at least three to six of those have posted all grades at 94+. Historically, only young women have earned CAA’s Academic Excellence awards – it has been difficult for the young men to break into this elite group. Four of the five Academic Achievement Award winners, from 2019, are shown in the photo. These young women had a lock on the top spots for most of their high school years – and we proudly recognize them.

This year and last, CAA did not issue the academic excellence recognitions because the Education Ministry replaced numeric grades with a Pass/Fail system due to the pandemic disruptions. However, the Education Ministry resumed numeric grades for 2022, and our students just received their first of two report cards for the First Term. Alisson, CAA’s Program Administrative Intern, is now collecting the report cards, and we are hopeful that our students have been able to get their grades back on track, based again on a numeric grade scale. We will review the report cards in person with the students/parents in July in preparation for Second Term classes in August, and again after the 2022 classes end in December. In 2023, we hope we can again identify and recognize another group of academic excellence students for their work. 

What are the other challenges faced by these 2018-2022 students?  According to UNICEF, 37% of children in Costa Rica now live below the poverty line (Swissinfo.ch/UNICEF, May 4, 2022). And, the Education Ministry reported in local news that public school students over the past 4 years have lost almost 2 years of instruction due to the two teacher’s strikes of 2018-2019, followed by the Covid pandemic disruptions of 2020-2021. Although the system has tried to add a few months of additional classes, it remains to be seen how much ground these 2018-2022 students have recovered, especially the most disadvantaged. 

In fact, the President of Costa Rica just decreed that the standardized “FARO” tests should not be required for students in 2022, and the Education Ministry is considering the elimination.  A student’s score on this standardized test in selected subjects was to represent 40% of the weighted test scores used to determine a student’s final grade; and a low score would jeopardize university eligibility which caused protests by students and their parents. Will another standardized national test be substituted to measure learning across campuses and years? The public university faculty association insists that Costa Rica continue annual standardized testing of achievement in the last years of elementary and of high school. Time will tell how this local testing issue will be resolved, and how Costa Rica will measure academic proficiency going forward.  

Fortunately, Costa Rica as a member of the 38 OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), participated among 600,000 other students from OCED and non-OECD countries (79 participating countries-economies) in the OECD’s PISA  standardized tests in 2018 (Programme for International Student Assessment). These tests focused on age 15 students in reading, math, and science proficiency. The most recent OECD PISA  was focused on reading proficiency and the results were reported December, 2019. The next math focused PISA test, originally scheduled for 2021, was rescheduled for 2022 due to Covid and results should be available next year. (Source-https://gpseducation.oecd.org)

Costa Rica’s 2018 PISA reading proficiency results demonstrated that only half, 50%, of Costa Rica’s students scored at or above the minimum level for reading proficiency, behind Chile’s 60% among PISA's participating Latin America countries.  Mexico, Brazil, Columbia scored close behind Costa Rica, and Argentina ranked the lowest at about 38%. Costa Rica’s average score was 426 compared to the 487 average of all PISA participating countries. And, in the math portion, Costa Rica’s proportion of students scoring at or above the minimum level of proficiency was only about 40%. China led in overall scores.

PISA 2018 reflected the need for improvement in reading comprehension, math and science even before the impact of Costa Rica’s 2018-2022 educational disruptions. This PISA report indicated:

  • " A large share, over 10%, of advantaged CR students had to repeat a grade"; (emphasis added on "advantaged");
  • “ Socio-economic status explains 16% of the variance in reading performance in Costa Rica (OECD average: 12%)”;
  • " 27% of children in Costa Rica live below OECD's defined relative income poverty line";
  • “ However,10% of disadvantaged students (in Costa Rica) are academically resilient (OECD average:11%)". 

We are optimistic that CAA’s socio-economically disadvantaged scholarship students will demonstrate that very important trait of “academic resilience”. Two other PISA 2018 findings could also be very significant:

  • Costa Rica students “average level of life satisfaction is one of the highest of all the countries and economies participating...”, and
  • Costa Rica students “strongly believe in their own ability to perform, especially facing adversity, compared with other PISA participating countries…” 

These PISA 2018 captured beliefs may very well account for individual academic success despite poverty. We are hopeful that the disruptions of 2018-2022 have not shaken these incredibly important drivers of life satisfaction and academic success.

CAA’s eight 2022 graduating students that endured the 2018-2022 disruptions may be able to avoid the FARO final tests, but all of these students are facing the challenge of standardized university entrance exams – these tests are at the same level of difficulty as pre-pandemic. CAA funded the cost of those exams, and we hope to locate pre-exam prep/tutoring resources to get these students ready for the tests. Our scholarship students must do their very, very best work if they hope to qualify for public university admission given the limited number of openings available, fierce competition from private school students, and our students' absolute dependence on government scholarships. That PISA 2018 reported “strong belief in their own ability to perform…” is now of critical importance if our students are to achieve the dream of university education.

And, speaking of university and graduates, CAA’s hard-working Scholarship Program Administrative Intern, Alisson, received her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, with Honors, from UCR last week.  She is continuing her classes in preparation for her required thesis necessary to be licensed; all done while responding to the needs of twenty-nine CAA scholarship students and program administration demands.  Alisson will continue in her role as CAA Scholarship Program Administrative Intern for the next year or two until she is licensed. She is an important role model for our students, and we congratulate Alisson on this important Bachelor’s Degree milestone!

We send our heartfelt thanks to all of the generous supporters of these students through GlobalGiving, and to the many volunteers who donate their time and money to help turn the dreams of these students into reality.  Without these combined efforts, the last ten years of CAA educational scholarship support for these students would not have been possible.  Please help us continue to keep these dreams alive, one student at a time.

[all photos used with written permission of the subject(s)]

AVEM, Bachelor's Degree in Social Work, May 2022
AVEM, Bachelor's Degree in Social Work, May 2022
5 Years Later- Taking University Entrance Exams!
5 Years Later- Taking University Entrance Exams!
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2015 CAA Scholarship Class, some 4th/5th grade
2015 CAA Scholarship Class, some 4th/5th grade

 

On Feb. 11th and 12th, the Community Action Alliance’s Education Committee will present scholarship vouchers to twenty-nine high school students, and one additional student is under evaluation for late addition to the 2022 class. The new class will include at least 5 new students to fill vacancies.

Eleven of our 2021 class of students had to do extra work during the three-week January special classroom session to try to pass classes to advance to the next level. This special session was established by the Education Ministry to try to make up for lost Covid related class-time. Hopefully, all will be cleared to move forward when high schools resume in-person classes on February 17th.

And, we celebrated the December 2021 high school graduation of four of our students.  All four are continuing their education through university or technical school courses in 2022, and we wish them the best in those advanced studies.

Additionally, this 2022 scholarship class again includes our second University of Costa Rica social worker career student who will receive her Bachelor’s Degree in 2022.  Alisson serves as the CAA Scholarship Program Administrative Intern, and has done an excellent job with our students, families and teachers all while carrying a full course load in which she scored almost all 90’s or above! Alisson is also pursuing a second degree in Economics and Social Planning. We know that she will be well prepared to enter the workforce in a couple of years and contribute to improving life in Costa Rica. 

Because of delays in getting the grades of students, we have had to postpone our regular Academic Excellence Awards, but we feel sure that some of our regular straight A students will still be in that position when we get those grades. Each will receive a special voucher redeemable for books at a local book store.

Over the past 10 years that we have been working on this project, a few photos might remind us of what we have helped to accomplish. I found a photo of the 2015 Scholarship Class with CAA and Education Committee Members, see above.

Many of the young elementary children you see in this photo, probably 4th,5th grade, are scheduled to graduate high school in 2022 or 2023; and the older students have already moved through high school.  In total, eleven of our students have graduated high school as of 2021. And, Fernanda, third from the left in the photo, helped all these students while attending university, and is now a licensed Social Worker assisting other Costa Ricans!

This is another of my favorites. Jorge (in 4th or 5th grade in this photo), is now about to graduate high school; Committee Member L.L. presented his scholarship award vouchers that year.

We regret that Covid protocols over the past two plus years have made it impossible to hold large, full class awards events, and therefore, we have missed the opportunity to get full class photos due to Covid restrictions. 

University Admission Frustrations! Some of our graduating students made excellent university admission scores but were still frustrated to learn that they were unable to get into their preferred university in their preferred major career.  Largely, this is because of Covid delays in instruction - current university students have not been able to graduate on their scheduled timeline, and that has reduced the number of new admission openings for certain majors in the three most desirous public universities. As in everything in this Covid environment, flexibility and adaptability are the traits needed to keep moving forward academically! 

How We Are Responding! Education Committee Member Johanna is organizing a Zoom session for later in February, to provide an orientation to the 2022 expected class of high school graduates.  This session will help the students and their families get focused on some of the quickly approaching deadlines for university entrance exams, and the admission and financial assistance applications that will be required for university admissions in 2023. As a former financial aid and admissions officer with UCR, San Jose, Johanna is well qualified to help these students prepare themselves and their families for the applications necessary for university admission. Gaining a better understanding of the admission process now, could reduce frustrations later. Thank you, Johanna!

CAA expects to provide about $17,000 in direct educational support for 31 students in 2022.  We will provide them with vouchers redeemable at local participating merchants for required uniforms, shoes and school supplies, and we will provide them with Covid safety supplies, assistance with special medical and counseling needs, funding of required school insurance policies as financially needed, and payment of the cost of university entrance exams.

This level of educational support would not be possible without the generosity of many faithful GlobalGiving donors, and our network of annual individual supporters. We thank you for sponsoring  the educational dreams of these students - an investment in education for these students is an investment for life.

The last two photos reflect the optimism and spirit of these students in their quest for a better life through education -- thanks to you, the future looks brighter.

 

(All photos provided with permission)

Jorge, 4th-5th grade, 2015, receiving vouchers
Jorge, 4th-5th grade, 2015, receiving vouchers
Aspiring Student Graduated H.S. 2021;on to Univ.
Aspiring Student Graduated H.S. 2021;on to Univ.
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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].

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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
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Organization Information

The Community Action Alliance

Location: San Ramon, Alajuela - Costa Rica
Website:
Project Leader:
Scott and Linda McAnally
San Ramon, Alajuela Costa Rica
$21,384 raised of $30,000 goal
 
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