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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
Give the Gift of Education to Children in Poverty
Give the Gift of Education to Children in Poverty
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. 

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

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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
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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

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