I spent January in the small town of La Cruz teaching English to twenty-three seventh graders for four hours a day. Jumpstart camps are held all over Costa Rica to prepare kids for entering high school in February, when the Costa Rican school year begins. (Seventh grade is when Costa Rican kids enter high school.)
Most Jumpstart camps are run by Peace Corps TEFL volunteers, but the Oregon chapter of Partners of the Americas fields three or four camps a year, depending on how many volunteers step up to teach.
The Jumpstart curriculum was developed by a former government organization called Multilingüe, and has been taken over by the Peace Corps. My first thought on seeing the curriculum was, “That’s the kind of stuff I write for beginners!” Of course it’s much, much better. The short-term camp format allows for lots of speaking practice, games, activities and colorful materials. The curriculum came with everything we needed. We spent most of our planning time personalizing the lessons for our group and making posters and signs for the classroom.
I had three partners in the classroom: Cristina took a two-week vacation from teaching English to young adults in the INA program to come to La Cruz and teach to a younger group. Daniel, a Peace Corps volunteer, came to replace Cristina for the second two weeks. Airon, an SED Peace Corps volunteer working in La Cruz was also there almost every day. She knew lots of good games, and organized some wonderful snacks from a local baker.
The four Oregon camps are coordinated in Costa Rica by the organization Aliarse through their Evolc project (www.aliarse.com.) Our camp in La Cruz is sponsored by the Santa Elena Development Corp. They’re interested in helping locals learn English so they can work in the local tourist industry.
While there was a large luxury resort, developed by Santa Elena, on the peninsula 22 km away, as well as several smaller hotels and several excellent beaches, I didn’t see too much of the tourist industry. I preferred to spend my weekends relaxing at home. La Cruz is an unspoiled small town with a couple of small hotels and restaurants but virtually no tourist-oriented retail. The town has spectacular views of the bay. Walking downtown to view the sunset was a pleasant evening activity.
In La Cruz, Aliarse uses a homestay with a family that rents out small apartments very close to the school where we worked. We had room and board: eating the delicious home-cooked Costa Rican food left us plenty of time to work on lessons (and recover from each day with a nice siesta.)
My four weeks of teaching was hard work, but energizing and positive. It was wonderful to spend part of the winter in warm and windy Guanacaste Province enjoying the good food and incredible views while at the same time helping a bunch of seventh graders gain some confidence in communicating in a foreign language.
You don’t have to live in Oregon in order to volunteer for this program: our teaching group this year included two people from Portland, one recent Portland State University graduate, a couple that someone had run into in New Orleans at a Habitat for Humanity project, and two people from London. We had two camps in San José and two camps in Guanacaste. Spanish fluency and/or EFL teaching experience are the main skills looked for. Volunteers pay only their own expenses; there are no additional charges for the privilege of volunteering as with some other programs. https://www.facebook.com/JumpStartCR/