Part of what I appreciate about sending my children to the Monteverde Friends School during our family’s year abroad in Costa Rica is the fact that we parents are welcomed into the community, too. This involvement comes through parent work days, community events like the Christmas Festival and Sports Day, and the warm welcome I receive every time I ask if I can join students and teachers on their community service outings.
Recently, my husband and I attended a parent-teacher meeting where, in response to parents’ earlier request to understand more about the style of instruction in their children’s classrooms, administrators and teachers invited us parents to step into our children’s shoes by attending mock classes. Over the course of the hour, we visited three classrooms: Melody’s preschool class, where we were told to explore and behave like four-year olds; Marisela’s fourth-grade social studies class; and Carlos’ high-school class. Monteverde is a model of diversity and bilingualism—kids switch between English and Spanish repeatedly throughout their day—but because the vast majority of parents at school are Spanish speakers, this afternoon of classes was run in Spanish with translators at the ready for those who might need them.
I started in Carlos’ classroom, situated in what used to be the Quaker’s old Meetinghouse with unfinished wooden walls, a mural with a map of the Americas rotated 90 degrees from its conventional orientation, and stacks of books covering every surface. The musty library feeling of the room is befitting of Carlos, a man whose love of literature and ideas is readily apparent. He and his bilingual, high-school student, Francis, discussed their reading of Don Quixote and the Escher-like, magic cube Francis had made, which can be turned inside out, revealing a series of pen-and-ink drawings depicting Cervantes’ story. We also briefly looked at Marcos Ramirez, a Costa Rican novel written by Carlos Luis Fallas, whom another student described as “our Mark Twain.”
The bell rang and we moved on to Melody’s gorgeous preschool classroom. Melody strikes me as a master educator, whose classroom reflects her ability to pick and choose from the best preschool philosophies—in my twenty-minute visit I saw hints of Montessori, Reggio, and Waldorf inspiration. We started by meeting in a circle on the floor, where Melody pointed to signs that depicted classroom norms in English, Spanish and pictures: put things away after using them; speak in a soft voice; approach others by saying, “excuse me” or “con permiso.”
Melody then invited us to explore on our own in the classroom. I worked through a series of keys to finally unlock a padlock; I peeked at a glass-wing butterfly through a magnifying glass; and I eyed trays set up with sewing tools, a hand mixer and soap bubbles, sand and stamps for literacy work, and beads and sticks for math exploration. Melody’s calm, confident demeanor, and her extremely organized, but stimulating, classroom gave me the impression that her students have been gifted an exceptional setting for exploring, learning, having fun, and coming into their own.
Our last stop was Marisela’s fourth-grade social studies class. Since our arrival in Monteverde, I’ve admired Marisela’s spirited, creative energy. Her lesson was about geological evolution and the formation and motion of earth’s continents over billions of years. She started with a brief explanation of scientific theory, but soon we were doing math (calculating the age of the theory of continental drift), listening to music while painting (Pangaea and other continental formations), and even following along as Marisela lead us in dance.
After our three-classroom tour, we reconvened with a quick discussion back in the Meetinghouse. I noticed a few differences from parent-teacher meetings in the States: a neighbor’s little dogs wandered around the benches; the father in front of me had a couple of carrots sticking out of a mesh pocket of his backpack; and shouts of kids running around, perfectly safe under the watchful eyes of a grade 9 student, out on the field and in the nearby woods drifted through the open doors.
As the meeting closed, I was struck by the concentration of thoughtful, committed people who surround us and our children here in Monteverde: the dedicated teachers; the high-school kids who waited for us non-native-Spanish speakers in each classroom, eager to translate; the administrators who high-five our kids every morning as they walk up the path to school; and the many parents who have become friends of ours over the course of this academic year. It’s been a privilege for all of us to live and grow in the Monteverde Friends School community.