Community Action Alliance is excited to participate in Giving Tuesday, an online fundraising event, on November 29. On that day people around the world will donate to their favorite causes at globalgiving.org. To make things even more exciting, Global Giving will give participant organizations a share of a $1.2 million incentive fund that will be divided among participants proportionally based on the final fundraising totals.
Please consider making an online gift to one of these CAA programs on Tuesday, November 29 to help us reach our Giving Tuesday goal AND help us increase our share of the $1.2 million incentive bonus fund!
By Scott McAnally and Mariana Latham, CAA Education Committee
Our nine graduating Colegio (high school) students are heavily involved in classes and are anticipating graduation in December. 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 two to three 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 may 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-and-pandemic-affected students have lost as much as two 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 four 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 that 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 schoolwork. 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 for help to locate 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 eight students this year. Furthermore, our scholarship students are attending five Colegios around San Ramón, and many of the students are bused in from outlying neighborhoods. The bus transport schedules, at an individual student level, dictate the student’s availability for after-class 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 two 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 donors through Education Equals Hope, Inc., GlobalGiving, and locally. None of this would be possible without CAA’s dedicated local volunteers. On behalf of these San Ramón students, we are forever grateful to those helping us alleviate poverty through education. Together we can continue to give hope and make a difference, one student at a time.
With much hope for the future we remain,
Your Community Action Alliance Board of Directors
All of our CAA Scholarship Program 2022 graduates are eagerly awaiting December, when they will graduate high school. Some will anxiously await news of acceptance into one of the three public universities. As you might recall, the university entrance exams are scheduled for August and September. The last class review session concluded on Saturday, September 10. We hope our investment in the two different classes of exam preparation reviews have paid off for these students, but we know that public university admission is now quite competitive, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed for success for these students.
Notwithstanding these high school pressures and anxieties, it was all fun and games at the Escuela de Potrerillos in celebration of Dia del Niños on Friday, September 9. Linda and I volunteered to provide gift baskets for each of the 17 Potrerillos elementary students, and we also delivered a five-gallon tub of Dos Piños ice-cream and cones—the kids eagerly lined up and we packed those cones as fast as we could to keep up! After pizza, ice cream, and games, we assembled the kids to help them learn to throw a Yo-Yo, and all the while, we quizzed the kids on their mastery of beginning English. A few students surprised us, but most were at a very basic level of English as we anticipated. Few have any exposure to English speakers in our rural area. Linda and I are tutoring two local students in basic English (6th and 8th graders) in our home, and we know that many other CAA members also contribute time to tutor students. We are exploring opportunities to organize regular English (reinforcement) classes at the local Potrerillos school, but this will have to await discussion with the local parents (PTA), and approvals.
Working with these young elementary kids on Día del Niños reminded us of the investment CAA has made in education for numerous children, starting in 2013, with students in the second or third grades. Now even that first class, containing the youngest students, is graduating Colegio in 2022!
Time flies, but our recent Día del Niños experience reminded us that it is never too late to make an investment in education for one of these deserving students from a poverty-stricken family in our adopted community.
Whether you donate your time, expertise, money, or tutor a student, it is an investment that will pay dividends for years to come. Please consider expanding CAA’s impact to the community through your service and support—it is a fulfilling journey!
These Potrerillos Escuela students will enjoy ice cream all week!
Scholarship Program Update: 1) Will Six Days of University Math Entrance Exam Prep be Enough for Our Eight 2022 Colegio Graduates? and 2) Second-Term Scholarships Distributed July 15/16
Math Exam Review Initiative
The last 4 years of disrupted instruction (teacher strikes, Covid) created a learning gap for students in our CAA’s Scholarship Program, so we organized six days (12 hours) of special math instruction by a university instructor (civil engineer) to refresh our students’ recollection of the math principles needed for the upcoming university exams. Education Committee members sat in on each of the classes, and it appears that a good proportion of our students were at a loss on the topics and concepts being covered.
The six math prep sessions wrapped up on Friday afternoon, July 15. Our students, and apparently most students in Costa Rica, score poorly on the math portion of the university entrance exams compared to the other topics.
What can realistically be expected from this 12-hour, six session math review class? Perhaps it will help refresh our student’s recall of what they were taught over their five years in Colegio. We sincerely hope it’s not too little, too late.
The math deficiencies can be overcome with focused study/remedial work, but it can take longer than necessary for some students to complete their university degrees. In turn, these graduation-degree delays reduce the through-put of students into these STEM disciplines at the public universities and limits the number of available public university admission slots. Private high school graduates fare much better than public high school graduates in this competition for a more limited number of public university slots.
It may take a much broader restructuring of high school learning, in a number of important disciplines, to make a significant difference in math outcomes for first-year university students.
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 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). 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 announced June 9th that the tests, scheduled for next week, have been suspended. 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. 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:
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:
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, 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.
This photo from five years ago says it all – this dedicated dreamer is taking her university entrance exams this year!
(All photos used with written permission of the subject[s]).
On May 13th, a majority of CAA’s Education Committee members resumed in-person committee meetings after a pandemic hiatus of nearly two years when all our business was handled via emails and phone exchanges, thanks to our structure of university social-work students working as Administrative Interns. As we gather again as a committee of volunteers (masked, of course), it is fitting that we look back on our past, lessons learned, and define a longer term, attainable vision for future services.
A BIT OF HISTORY
A decade ago, in 2012, the Education Committee, under the leadership of Dave Scott, began to develop the structure for the CAA Scholarship Program, and by January of 2013, seven elementary students were identified, enrolled, and received scholarship vouchers for uniforms, shoes and supplies. We thank Dave for his leadership, and to his wife, Doris, who helped immensely as an MEP teacher in those early scholarship program years. Special thanks also go to Johanna Fernandez G., licensed CR social worker, for her insight on program design.
The English Conversation Club program had been in operation for years before Dave brought his conversational English initiative, and focus on education, into the newly organized CAA in 2012. Dave recruited a core of education supportive volunteers to the Committee; and we helped sponsor the multiple years of Book Sales at the Museo Regional de UCR. In May 2014, Dave had to hand off leadership of the committee to make time for other interests. It was sink or swim, and thankfully we are still swimming!
Fast forward to May 2022, the CAA Scholarship Program is now celebrating the end of its first decade of service to San Ramon’s students and their education. A few highlights:
WHERE CAN THE CAA EDUCATIONAL SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM GO FROM HERE?
Although these questions and many more are under discussion in search of paths forward, we know that within CAA’s membership, current and future, there should be sufficient talent and commitment to education to sustain or expand these existing services, or to establish new ways to promote education. Until then, the Committee will do what we have done over the past 10-12 years: We will continue to help families through education, one student at a time!
Dedicated to the CAA Education Committee - Dave Scott (founder), Doris Guzman (Scott), Johanna Fernandez G., Dustin Dresser, Andrea Carter, Lynette Lewis, Marian Latham, Linda McAnally, Linda Dwyer, Fernanda Rojas R., Ricardo Elizondo G., Alisson Esquivel M., Laura Handler, Susan Knab, Keven Murphy (May 2022 roster).
By Scott McAnally, for the Education Committee
There are a few scholarship-related activities to highlight this month.
1. University Eligible? CAA Education Member Johanna Fernandez conducted Zoom orientation and mentoring sessions to assist our eight 2022 graduating colegio students last month. Seven of our students were able to take advantage of this opportunity. Johanna highlighted financial assistance and academic application deadlines and requirements, provided some career guidance based on her many years of experience, and explained the opportunities to get tutoring/classes to prepare for the university entrance exams. As you may recall, CAA's program covers the cost of up to three university exams per student, given that each university has its own exam. For many of CAA's students, graduating Colegio is the first step in the journey to earn a university degree, or to master a trade; we are committed to assist our graduating students gain the opportunity for higher education.
2. CAA's University Scholarship Program Administrative Intern, Alisson Esquivel M. surveyed the beca families and identified some special needs, which were addressed in the last month:
Alisson advises that she plans to continue with CAA in her role as Program Administrative Intern, and we are quite fortunate to be able to continue our collaborative work for a year or so more.
We thank you, Allison, for being a good role model for the Colegio students, and for the dedication and commitment you demonstrate each and every month to assist the students.
Twenty-nine CAA Colegio scholarship colegio students were back in class on February 17 after picking up uniforms, shoes, and school supplies from CAA’s participating merchants. Scholarship Program Administrative Intern, Alisson Esquivel M., did a terrific job working with the students and their families to complete their interviews, remind them of program expectations, and award the scholarship vouchers.
Alisson was assisted by a number of CAA Education Committee Members: Lynette Lewis, Andrea Carter, Susan Knab, Mariana Latham, and Scott & Linda McAnally. We all encouraged the students to work hard in school this year given that we expect eight 2022 graduates, our largest graduating class by far! From the smiles on the faces in the photos, this was a win-win experience for all who participated.
The Committee gives a special thank you to Alisson for setting a positive and professional example for these students. We know she will be busy this year also, as she prepares to receive her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from UCR-SO in April. And then the next chapter will unfold—will she begin work for her social worker licensing, or will she continue with advanced studies? Speaking for the Education Committee, it has been our pleasure to support her professional journey and we look forward to continuing our work with her for the next few years.
By working together, we continue to encourage growth through education, one student at a time!
~Scott McAnally, for the CAA Education Committee
By Scott McAnally, Leader, CAA Education Committee
On Feb. 11 and 12, the Community Action Alliance’s Education Committee will present scholarship vouchers to twenty-nine high school students. One additional student is under evaluation for late addition to the 2022 class. The new class will include at least five 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 17.
We also celebrated the December 2021 high school graduation of four of our students. Three of the 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 one fourth-year University of Costa Rica social worker career student, Alisson, who will graduate 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 delay our regular Academic Excellence Awards until later, 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 bookstore.
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 went back through my old photos, and I found a photo of the 2015 Scholarship Class with CAA and Education Committee Members.
Many of the young elementary children you see in this photo, probably 4th and 5th graders then, are scheduled to graduate high school in 2022 or 2023; 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, who helped all these students while attending university, 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. Lynette Lewis presented his scholarship award vouchers!
I regret that Covid protocols over the past two-plus years have made it impossible to hold large awards events, and therefore, we have lost a couple years of full class photos.
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. This is largely 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 Fernandez G. 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. 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 our many faithful CAA and international donors. Thank you for supporting the educational dreams of these students—an investment in education for these students is an investment for life.
This parting photo of one of our students is all you need to remember.
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