Teachers with Flair & Understanding
Teachers with Flair & Understanding
Teachers with Flair & Understanding

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Tales from, anecdotes on, and insights into international school education from a Costa Rican perspective. Welcome to the CRIA family!

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January 4, 2022

9 Essential Questions to Ask When Considering International Schools in Costa Rica

You’re a parent and that means you’re absolutely sure that you want the absolute best for your child or children. Defining that “best” is the hard part, especially when considering international schools in Costa Rica: What do all these acronyms mean, does the school align with your priorities and, most importantly, will your kid(s) be happy there? These nine questions will help. #1: What is the school’s vision and mission statement? How do they work to achieve these goals?  It’s important that your vision and goals as a parent are seen, understood, and reflected in the school you ultimately choose for your child or children.   The best schools in Costa Rica will know this and embrace your questions. Their academic mission and vision should be very clear on their website and throughout all communications. And ultimately, these should resonate with you: Your values, vision, and mission should align well with the school you choose.  At CRIA: We are proud of our vision and mission, which we share clearly on our website and embody throughout all our practices and policies. We value strong academics and our mission is to provide a college preparatory program from Toddler to Grade 12; our curriculum is aligned to prepare students for success in tertiary education. #2: What is the school’s academic approach and what international school curriculum do they use?  School shopping can be challenging, even when you’re on your home turf. Visiting and interviewing international schools in Costa Rica is an even greater challenge, especially when you’re juggling multiple curriculums, accreditations, and all manner of monikers, acronyms, and labels.   The basic takeaway is this: Most international schools offer some type of international curriculum, usually associated with a country (ex. U.S., British, Singapore, etc.) or the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma. Both the content that they teach and the ways that they teach that content are dependent, at least in part, on that curriculum. This curriculum is of particular importance if you’re only spending a set amount of time abroad or your student(s) plan to attend a non-Costa Rican university. At CRIA: Our English-based, dual-language curriculum foundation is adapted from the Virginia State Standards of Learning (SoL). CRIA’s standards-based curriculum begins in the early years and culminates in a college preparatory Advanced Placement (AP) program and our dual enrollment program with Grand Canyon University, which allows our students to earn credits not only for high school but toward their college transcripts. #3: What accreditation does the school hold?  This is the perfect follow-up to the above question – and an incredibly important consideration for ALL parents, regardless of your residency permanence, future goals, and all other factors.   First things first: Only choose an accredited school. (Believe it or not, non-accredited schools exist.) Accreditation is academic shorthand for quality assurance and quantifiable benchmarks: a strategic focus on academic outcomes within a balanced program, which is then externally accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the US Department of Education (or by Cambridge, in UK curriculum schools).   At CRIA: You may be surprised to learn that some of the best schools in Costa Rica are not dually accredited. In fact, CRIA is the only U.S. and MEP-accredited school in Guanacaste province. We have both U.S. accreditation (MSA) and Costa Rican (MEP) accreditation (link is a download), which means that your student will receive transcripts and a diploma recognized both by the U.S. and Costa Rica. #4: Is it easy for students to transfer to Costa Rican, U.S., or international private schools? What is the international college acceptance rate?  A perfect follow-up to the follow-up, this question digs into the heart of the matter: Accreditation ensures quality and curriculum influences learning, but everything comes down to your lifestyle and future goals. Do you plan to live in Costa Rica forever? Do you already have a date to return “home” (and transition your kids back to school there)? Will your children attend university abroad?   At CRIA: Life has taught us never to say never, so we help you hedge your bets all-around. With dual accreditation (U.S. and Costa Rica) and an international college preparatory curriculum, we make it easy for students to transfer to U.S. or Costa Rican primary/secondary schools, as well as for acceptance to Costa Rican, U.S., and international universities. We have a 100% graduation and college acceptance rate, and our recent acceptances include Brown University, Seton Hall, Bucknell University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Florida, and UC Berkeley.   #5: What is the makeup of the student body?  While almost all international schools in Costa Rica offer a certain level of diversity, however you define it, what you’re really looking for is a good fit for your family.   Is there a majority nationality? What language dominates the lunchroom, hallways, and playground? Are there other students with a similar national background to your […]

December 21, 2021

5 Ways a Costa Rica Education Helps Students Stand Out on College Admissions

Ambitious students (and their parents) often ask, what do colleges look for in an application? The good news: Despite the seeming ambiguity that surrounds college admissions, the answer may be more clear-cut than you think. Even better, a Costa Rica education at CRIA, one of the top international schools in Costa Rica, can give your student a leg up. We know that this veil around the college admissions process is often a primary source of stress for high schoolers, who are either looking ahead to future admissions or staring down their junior-year applications. Because there is no set checklist to get into college – no step-by-step guaranteed in. The whole process can feel ephemeral and subjective.  Try to approach applications from an end-goal perspective: What do colleges ultimately want? In short, they want students who will contribute positively to their university environment. They seek students who have demonstrated proven success in various facets of academic life. And they select students who trend upward – who accept challenges and show positive growth patterns. So, as you tackle each application, ask yourselves: How can I demonstrate that I’ll flourish here? And in that, CRIA can help.  #1 – Colleges Seek: Students Willing to Challenge Themselves College admissions love students who challenge themselves, both as a sign of good character and as an indicator that the student will strive to succeed in university-level courses. A Costa Rica education, particularly one at an international school, demonstrates not only a willingness to face challenges but also the gumption to overcome them.  CRIA Delivers: It begins with your student’s route to choosing one of the top international schools in Costa Rica: If you moved to Costa Rica from abroad, then your college applicant has already faced the challenges of uprooting his or her life, moving to a new country, tackling a second language, and acquiring a new culture. If you chose an international school as a Costa Rican student, then your child has stepped outside his or her comfort zone and into a school environment comprised of many cultures, languages, and even curricular challenges. Beyond the unquantifiable, a Costa Rica education at CRIA is very academically rigorous. Beginning even in the early grades, we help you and your student to plan ahead – to build a foundation for future goals. If those include university, then we’ll get your student on track with college counseling, an appropriately challenging course load, and AP and dual enrollment classes, when applicable. #2 – Colleges Seek: Academic Achievement There’s no denying that strong universities seek strong students. If a young person’s goals include higher education, then they should plot a set path to academic achievement: Hard work and a solid foundation in the early years help build the basis for strong high school achievements and, ultimately, a strong college application. What does this look like? It will depend on the university but, generally speaking, and from an academic standpoint, they seek strong grades in core subjects (math, science, history, English, and a foreign language), with a preference for honors classes, AP courses, and dual enrollment. Strong efforts, an upward trend, and solid grades in these courses are often weighted more favorably than straight-As in less challenging courses. CRIA Delivers: Beginning in primary and middle school, we work to build a pre-AP foundation to prepare students for success in high school AP and dual-enrollment courses. Our curriculum foundation is adapted from the Virginia State Standards of Learning (SoL), to make transitions to U.S. high schools and international universities as smooth as possible.   CRIA Profile of a Graduate Our CRIA students demonstrate a strong academic foundation in the following areas: Knowledge and inquiry processes that allow informed decision-making Mathematical and scientific thinking and communication processes Coherent communication in English and Spanish, in the four modalities of language learning: reading, writing, listening, and speaking Responsible, safe, and effective use of technology to demonstrate a high level of electronic literacy for education Analytical and critical reading of a wide range of texts #3 – Colleges Seek: Authenticity We know it’s a buzzword – but it’s also today’s reality: Schools want applicants who are their “authentic selves,” both on college applications and as they enter in and proceed through university life.  CRIA Delivers: At CRIA, we strive to bring out a student’s authenticity – not because it’s a trend or even because it’s desirable on applications, but because self-assurance and confidence are qualities that we believe students should acquire. Self-assured, confident young people are students who know how to identify their priorities, pursue interests, and map out the path to their future goals. Because CRIA is about education: not just schooling, but well-rounded, whole-person education. As one of the top international schools in Costa Rica, CRIA offers some of the best academic programs and the most […]

July 22, 2021

When Choosing an International School, Vote with Your Feet

What do you care so deeply about that you’re willing to actually do something about it? Schooling is likely one of those things. The best Costa Rica international schools offer more than academics: Your choice of private school reinforces how you will raise your children – how you will shape their formative years. There’s an old maxim: “If you want to know what people really value, watch how they vote with their feet.” The core idea is that, while casting a ballot or voicing an opinion is unlikely to vastly change an individual’s trajectory, the personal decisions you make, and especially the places you choose to go, can significantly impact your life.  And so, while “foot voting” traditionally refers to political freedoms, today it also extends to the cultural and lifestyle impacts of voting with one’s feet. And in your case, as a caring parent, of seeking out and eventually choosing one of the best Costa Rica international schools. Because you’ve already voted with your feet once: You’ve either made the life-changing decision to move your family and raise your children in Costa Rica, or you’ve chosen to commit your Costa Rican children to an international education. To introduce them to new people and perspectives. To prepare them for a world beyond today.  And now, you’re poised to cast your next “foot vote” – to choose where to educate your children. How you will shape their formative years. What you will do to prepare them for the competitive world that awaits after graduation.  Education: More than Just Academics at the Best Costa Rica International Schools Great parents give their children the very best opportunities in life. And, for most, this begins with education. Not just schooling, but well-rounded, whole-person education. In Spanish, we use the verb educar to refer not only to schooling our children, but to raising them well, in every sense of the word. Educación is the opportunity to explore and grow, to develop thinking skills and build a solid knowledge base. To become someone who is confident and capable, accomplished and yet always hungry for greater learning. To cultivate the skills required for this ever-increasingly competitive world of ours.  Likewise, the verb’s derivative adjective, educado/a, describes someone who is educated both in knowledge and in the world: As learned as they are well mannered and personable. A critical thinker. A compassionate human. The kind of person you want on your team, in your group, and at your workplace.  International Schools: Trending Toward Global Success This transition to a well-rounded education and international schooling has accelerated for expatriate and national families in every corner of the globe. Over the last 20+ years, international school options have expanded rapidly. A recent report from ISC Research summarizes this trend in great detail: In one generation, the number of international school students worldwide has grown over 500%, from less than 1,000,000 to nearly 6,000,000 students. The driving factor: Parents understand that a quality education is one of the best investments they can make in their children’s future. CRIA is one of the best Costa Rica international schools, not only for our rigorous college preparatory program but for our three-pronged, individualized approach to education:  Think: We teach our students how to learn, to help them develop the critical thinking skills that will carry them through a lifetime of success. Aspire: At CRIA, we care about our students’ goals and aspirations. Instead of trying to hammer square pegs into round holes, we have designed our curriculum around a wide range of student interests, including sports, the visual and performing arts, universal values, health, bilingual language opportunities, and leadership/team participation in co-curricular activities, among others. Achieve: Our student-focused program fosters a positive growth mindset rooted in hard work, perseverance, and personal responsibility. Our students – your children – truly are the future, and we work every day to make it a bright one. Strength in Numbers: The Best Costa Rica International Schools Believe in Education Equity Voting with your feet resides at the heart of this education evolution: In almost every country, there is strong demand for Western-oriented, English-medium international schools. And within those schools, there are large communities of administrators, educators, and families who lobby for equity of access to quality education, for ALL students.  The result, especially in a country like Costa Rica – located close to the United States and Canada and, thus, well-positioned for nearshore contracts and employment – is a strengthening of English-language learning throughout the private and public school systems, further leveling the playing field for even the most disadvantaged students. As another maxim goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.   And, it’s true: As this graph from the University of Winnipeg demonstrates, the English language has become a requirement in public school systems across many countries. Out […]

July 8, 2021

3 Questions to Ask When Choosing an Accredited International School

Hey, parents – you have a big job ahead of you! Raising a good human is fulfilling but hard work. Choosing the school where they’ll spend 5, 8, even 13 years… well, that’s a big component to the journey. International accreditation is the first element to look for in the best private schools in Costa Rica. Why accreditation? The short answer is quality assurance. Of the most prominent international schools, accredited programs offer quantifiable benchmarks: a strategic focus on academic outcomes within a balanced program, externally accredited for quality assurance by either one of the accrediting agencies recognized by the US Department of Education, or by Cambridge in UK curriculum schools.  Accreditation is the first step in assessing the quality of international schools. But it’s not the only question. So, once you have that answered, here are three more questions to ask your candidate schools: Question #1: What standards of content and skills do you teach your students? In education, this is what we call the elevator pitch: the quick, off-the-top-of-their-head monologue that any classroom teacher or school administrator should be able to recite, be it on an elevator ride, shaking hands for the first time, or at school drop-off/pick-up. In other words, this is The Question and it shouldn’t be a hard one. In fact, if the school’s chosen representative can’t immediately tell you about student learning outcomes, in the form of international standards and benchmarks, for any subject, then you should be concerned about the program’s quality. Likewise, if teachers or school administrators begin describing teaching – textbooks, strategies, values, or methods they use, in all-too-familiar language like “we offer project-based learning,” “we are inquiry-based learning,” “we are teaching global citizens,” or “we are an anti-racist focused school” – then you’ve come up against another warning sign. This type of answer – or rather, non-answer, as learning outcomes go – is typical in schools with priorities other than improving student academic achievement based upon academic standards. Not that those textbooks, strategies, values, and methods don’t matter. They do. They’re important. We all want children to experience hands-on learning, to be inquisitive, and to grow into mindful, productive citizens. But none of these answers provide clear focus on defined academic student outcomes that can be measured against worldwide peers.  Because, whether your child is headed to the Ivy League, to culinary school, or to any of the world’s other competitive futures, he or she will be measured against his or her peers. An excellent international school makes sure he or she measures favorably. So, if all you hear are buzzwords about transforming student learning, project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, transdisciplinary learning, multicultural or cultural competency learning, authentic learning, dismantling or abolishing traditional learning, then you’ll need assurance (and proof) that academic focus will not be deprioritized. At CRIA, we care about our families. Our students are, by definition, global thinkers and we, as a school, have built an individualized approach to learning. But methodology does not define the CRIA academic experience: Instead, we stand out for our academic excellence, benchmarks, and learning outcomes. Go ahead, put us to the test: Ask any teacher or administrator, and see what they say! So, ask the question. And if you get one of the above-cited answers, seek greater detail, “I’m not asking how you teach, but want to know what you teach.” What you want to hear: identifiable content, as well as thinking and learning skills, defined for each grade level and subject area.   Put it this way: As you interview candidate private schools in Costa Rica, remember that every class and subject should have easily understandable and defined student outcomes for English, another language, math, science, social studies, PE/health, visual and performing arts.  Question #2: How do you know that my child is succeeding? Promises and declarations are nothing, without facts to back them up. When seeking an internationally accredited program at one of the top private schools in Costa Rica, parents should receive a very understandable answer, at least for high school-level classes.  The three main prescribed content curricula found at Costa Rica’s best international schools are the US Advanced Placement (AP) program, the British A-level program, and the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program. Additionally and increasingly, university dual enrollment programs are also gaining important momentum at the best international schools worldwide. (We’ll discuss more on the differences between these curriculum options, in Part III of this series.) At CRIA, we deliver very compelling value in allowing our high school students to achieve university credit for work done while at CRIA. The fastest growing and most robust curriculum to this purpose is our dual enrollment program, in which we partner with Grand Canyon University to allow our students to earn credits not only for high school but toward their college transcripts. […]

June 17, 2021

Special Education in Costa Rica International Schools: Learning Differences, Second Language-Learners, High Abilities, and Inclusion at CRIA

Special education in Costa Rica is more than a checklist: It’s a fundamental element of a well-balanced and diverse international school. At Costa Rica International Academy (CRIA), our incredible student body is incredible, in part, due to our diversity: One-third Costa Rican, one-third U.S., and one-third from 22 other countries – in total, students from 24 nationalities and teachers hailing from 8 countries. Here’s another fundamental element in our equation for incredibility: CRIA’s demographic diversity brings to the table not only valuable and diverse perspectives, but also a diversity of learning exceptionalities: Some CRIA students are of high ability, some come to us with minimal English (ELL) or Spanish skills, and still others have learning disabilities/exceptionalities that require a learning support program (LSP) and Individualized Education Plan (IEP). That’s where we come in. The best international school programs, including at CRIA, value diversity of perspectives above all, with particular importance placed on the inclusion of a wide range of special needs/exceptionalities within the mainstream program.

June 3, 2021

3 Essential Attributes of an International College Preparatory Program: A Parent’s Guide to the Best International Schools in Costa Rica

Looking for a strong international college preparatory program, at one of the best international schools in Costa Rica? Then you’ll be happy to know that yes, there is such a thing as a Costa Rica-based international school with a college preparatory experience, beginning in Pre-Kindergarten.