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One World

“Go Global, Be Local”

Partnership with Immersion Abroad Costa Rica Helps Ravens Broaden Their Worldview

By Janice Lewine | Back to Table of Contents


With its pristine beaches, lush rainforests and abundant wildlife, Costa Rica is a favorite destination for ecotourists from around the globe. Yet thousands of the country’s children attend schools that lack books, desks and even electricity. Three thousand miles away, a global partnership helps Ravenscroft students make a difference for these communities — and discover how much their participation gives them in return.

Since 2007, Ravenscroft has partnered with Immersion Abroad Costa Rica to support a local school. Ravenscroft’s involvement has two distinct components: a market hosted by third- and fourth-grade students to raise money for improvements at partner schools, and a Middle School service trip that combines cultural immersion with a hands-on sustainability project.

In the 2018 artisan market, brownie salesman Brett Jordan ’27 looks on as Xander Lamond ’27 demonstrates the elasticity of the slime he’s selling for his project.

“A perfect example of learning by doing”

“The integration of the service trip and the artisan market is a perfect example of learning by doing,” Jessica Yonzon, Ravenscroft’s Director of Global Education, said. “The programs offer opportunities for students to lead themselves to learn, appreciate and understand global issues and cultures; lead with others by collaborating to raise awareness and funds to support their service efforts in Costa Rica; and change their world by taking action to maintain a sustainable partnership with communities there.”

The partnership evolved from separate trips Lower School teachers Denise Simpson and Michelle Schulze took through UNC World View, a program designed to help educators develop a global mind-set. Both were deeply moved by the experience.

“Many schools are unbelievably undersupplied,” Simpson said. “On my first trip back, one of the things we bought was a refrigerator.”

A fourth-grade teacher at the time, Simpson wanted her students to connect with Costa Rica’s schoolchildren. To coincide with an economics unit, she created a market where Ravens could make, advertise and sell products such as jewelry, soap and artwork to fellow students. The market project, which was expanded the following year to include third-graders, consistently raises several thousand dollars each spring to support partner schools.

Student entrepreneurs Jackson Burgess, Christopher Jackson and Liam King, then third-graders, make their sales pitch to a prospective customer at the 2020 market, which took place shortly before the school’s shift to remote learning in March.

Schulze traveled to Costa Rica and Nicaragua in 2016 through an international study grant. “I stayed with a host family and had a wonderful experience,” she said.

A year later, she helped chaperone students on a service trip, purchasing supplies and athletic equipment for several local schools. They visited various markets; toured chocolate, coffee and pineapple plantations; and saw wildlife being cared for at Zoo Ave, a rescue center in San José. Everyone enjoyed the trip, but Schulze felt it lacked one vital component.

“I wished the kids had had more of an immersive experience by staying in local homes,” she said. “[That experience] forces them to be everything we hope they will be, based on our Lead From Here framework — to lead themselves, be communicative and be culturally inclusive.”

Since then, IACR has helped organize memorable homestay experiences as part of the trip. During the day, students typically visit the Ad Astra Rocket Company, tour a geothermal plant, hike to waterfalls and take cooking and dancing classes. In the evenings, they join their host families for an authentic meal, play games and learn Spanish.

Above: As part of the 2019 service trip to Costa Rica, Middle School students including Nathan Emonson ’24 spend time with local schoolchildren, making beaded bracelets and playing soccer.

Ravenscroft Middle Schoolers, with the help of faculty and staff, pitch in to support sustainability projects at partner schools, including building a chicken coop (2017) and building beds and planting crops for a garden (2019).

“Curious to see the impact”

The group also contributes to a sustainability project for the schools, such as building chicken coops and planting gardens. Partner schools have used funds to install electricity in classrooms, purchase ceiling fans and provide shoes for students. The money also supports the local economy, such as when farmers buy fruits, vegetables and chickens for the projects.

Annabelle Hunter ’24 and Alexa Gillon ’24 said that their participation in the Lower School market — where they made and sold hairbows and bookmarks, respectively — helped convince them to participate in the service trip as Middle School students in 2019.

“It sounded fun, and there was a lot we’d be doing for nine days,” Annabelle said. “I was also curious to see the impact the money from the market had.”

Alexa, who has lived in China and traveled throughout Asia, said, “I really wanted to see Costa Rica and help the children there.”

After the cancelation of the 2020 service trip due to the pandemic, funds raised by Ravenscroft’s third- and fourth-graders were used to purchase five new desks at Escuela Barrueta-Atenas and to provide food to vulnerable families in the Penas Blancas community.

The 2020 service trip was canceled because of COVID-19, but funds raised during the market — which took place just before Ravenscroft pivoted to remote learning on March 16 — were still sent to IACR, which used them to support families unexpectedly experiencing dire circumstances.

“The Penas Blancas community — immigrants from Nicaragua who work in the pineapple and yuca fields — was one of the most affected due to the pandemic, so we thought helping them with food would be the best thing to do with the money,” Odie Calvo, IACR’s Executive Co-Director, explained. “Sixteen families were provided with enough to eat for two months. In addition, we purchased five desks for Escuela Barrueta-Atenas. What a motivation to go back to school!”

Schulze summed up the impact of the partnership this way: “The Costa Rica trip is what IACR’s slogan, ‘Go Global, Be Local,’ is all about. It’s how we change their world, but how they change ours as well.”

During their service trips, Ravens also explore the pristine waters and lush rainforests that have made Costa Rica a global hub for ecotourism.

Annabelle Hunter ’24: “One of the best memories”

Annabelle sells hairbows during the 2016 artisan market.

Annabelle remembers her first night in Costa Rica.

“It was really hot, and it was hard to sleep because there was no air conditioning. We were all sweating and sprawled out under the fans, but we adjusted to it,” she said with a laugh.

She and her fellow Ravens enjoyed staying with their host families. “They treated us like we were a part of their family. Our host mom was a baker and made cakes, so one morning we had cake for breakfast,” she said. “I knew enough Spanish to communicate with them because I took it in Lower School. They made it easy to understand them by pointing at things.”

At an open-air school in Guayabo, Annabelle helped build a fruit and vegetable garden. “The kids were excited to see us coming and make the garden for them,” she said. “We built it in one day. We also made bracelets with the kids, danced and played soccer.”

Tasting pineapple at a local farm, Annabelle was impressed by its sweetness. “It was so good!”  Another memory will always remain with her: “We rode horses up a hill and when we got to the top, we ziplined all the way down.”

Annabelle said the trip has inspired her to pursue an International Diploma at Ravenscroft.

“It’s great that Ravenscroft has all these international opportunities. I’d like to go on another trip, possibly to Africa. The trip to Costa Rica was a lot of fun and is one of the best memories that I’ve had.”

Alexa Gillon ’24: “A wonderful experience”

Alexa Gillon ’24 , Chloe Fox ’24 and Annabelle Hunter ’24 pose with their host family in Guayabo, Costa Rica, during their 2019 service trip.

Alexa was born in Scotland but soon moved with her family to China. She lived there for nearly eight years, attending the British School of Beijing and learning Mandarin, which she speaks and writes fluently. She has also studied Spanish, which helped her communicate well in Costa Rica.

“When we first arrived, we got on a bus and drove to our host families. We went by the city center and parks, and we took a ton of photos out of the bus windows. It was amazing to see Costa Rica’s beautiful scenery and architecture,” she said. “We saw waterfalls and the most beautiful turquoise water. We also learned how solar energy panels work at a geothermal plant.”

Creating the school garden in Guayabo, she was touched by the warmth and friendliness of the children. “The kids were so happy to help us, and that was a wonderful experience.”

Alexa’s worldview broadened even more on this trip. She wants to become a physician and possibly join Doctors Without Borders. “It’s an amazing program where doctors work in war-torn or underprivileged countries, helping the sick and injured.”

She encourages her fellow Ravens to travel to Costa Rica when global service programs resume. “If you get the opportunity to go, it will be one of the best experiences of your life. Don’t be nervous about staying with a host family. They’re all incredibly nice. The language isn’t really a barrier either, because you can always use a phone translator!”