Finding good schooling for our two teenagers has been a trip. We’ve only lived in Costa Rica for 6 months so are not experts on this topic by any means. But we get asked a lot about schooling so here’s our experience for what it’s worth.

First, you’ll find a great article and list of private schools here.

Mo and Ryan have been homeschooled from the start. They are now 13 and 14, somewhere around 7th and 9th grades (7th grade English, 9th math…). Unlike in the states where I sold real estate and Hal did the homeschooling, we both need to work here. Homeschooling while working would be nigh impossible, we thought, and since we’d heard so much about the good schools in Costa Rica, we thought we’d send them to school. Besides, we wanted the boys to learn the culture and the language. Being immersed in school would do the trick! So we researched local schools, then spent two weeks visiting schools in our area.

The European School (ES) in Heredia hooked us first. It was the most expensive school* we considered at $500/month each including lunch, not including the school bus ($65 each per month). Our homeschool high school in Key West was this much. Fortunately, their uniform is bluejeans and an ES polo shirt, not that expensive or limiting. Most schools dress you right down to belts and shoes! That gets to be a bit much.

ES offers the I.B. diploma which impresses the world, and all students must graduate with English and Spanish as a first language. At least 65-75% of the kids are ticos, so it’s still a pretty local school. We were promised a Spanish tutor to catch the boys up but s/he never materialized. Since our original plan was to be here for only a year and the boys are very well educated to date, we decided to chance it and sacrifice learnin’ for Spanish proficiency. So, after a month at ES, we moved them to Santa Cecelia, also in Heredia.

A note about ES: we LOVE Ann Aronson, the headmistress there. She is quite strong-willed and opinionated about learning and while politically we may be worlds apart, if it weren’t for the Spanish and our one year limitation here, we would reconsider ES. If we stay longer than a year, ES is high on the list.

Santa Cecelia is one of the many thousand bi-lingual schools. Calling these schools "bi-lingual" is a little misleading… All the bi-lingual schools we looked at offer every class in Spanish except for English. That’s considered bi-lingual. Only one school, Nueva Esperanza, taught a couple of other classes in English.

SC had high marks in math (second in the country) and basketball (first). Math is important to us and a universal language so we figured the boys could at least keep up. And who doesn’t like basketball? SC’s team is the country’s high school champ – trophys everywhere.

SC is $300/month each not including lunch which is $30/month each, they ride the Costa Rica bus (like 50 cents each way each body… the CR bus system is cheap, that’s the way to go). They have a Spanish tutor at $75 month each and the uniforms are ridiculously expensive: $15 polo shirt, $20 light green pants, brown belt, brown leather shoes, $30 gym uniform. Get an outfit for everyday plus two gym uniforms… And the high school shirt color is beige so shows every bit of dirt shows, requiring many of them… It adds up.

Morgan has size 44 – 48 feet and they insisted he have brown shoes or he couldn’t go to school there. Brown sneakers wouldn’t do… so we traveled the entire central valley looking for brown shoes in his size. We found only two pair and bought them both. They are, of course, both trashed by now.

After three months at SC, we realize the only thing they are learning is Spanish. It’s like really expensive baby sitting with a Spanish tutor thrown in… And they are forgetting their math. I’d rather have them stay home, take a couple of hours of Spanish tutoring everyday, keep up with their math and English which we could teach them and still manage to work (we work online). Then let them play Runescape the rest of the day… We could also afford – in time and money – to get them to other classes: art, karate, piano, etc. They are big boys and can ride the CR bus system everywhere.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, though, at SC is that Mo’s ipod was stolen. We told him not to take it, but he said everyone did. Having it stolen was still disturbing, even though not unexpected. The MOST upsetting thing about it is that the school did NOTHING. No memo to classes saying stealing is wrong. NOTHING. No mention of it. We spoke to the administration about that and she said a couple of other kids had things stolen (cell phones, etc) and that they were looking into it. I guess they are still, we have not heard one more word about it.

His ipod is black and has "El Hombre Mo" and our phone number engraved on the back. So if you see it, please call us. Thank you.

At this point, we are running with the homeschooling/private Spanish tutor/Runescape idea. We have advertised everywhere we can think of for a high school homeschooling group – including on this site – and are hopeful we can start or join one. Surely there are other parents out there who will be interested in this. At least in doing social things together!

My only other input runs parallel to what is on TicoGrande’s site: although we were so excited at first about the good education opportunities here because of CR’s literacy rate, we are a bit disillusioned. CR kids can read and write, they have a high level of literacy which is really an accomplishment considering what it used to be like. But there is not a high level of scholarship.

As opposed to the US where public schooling has actually reduced the level of literacy. But that’s another post.

(And don’t worry: Hal will teach the math and the English. I went to high school in KY where we do not boast a high level of scholarship either. I will supervise reading and drama. Of course, we’ll offer drama at our homeschool!)

That’s the plan today. But first, it’s Sunday, a beautiful day, and we are going to a picnic. Pura vida!


*The Country Day school is the most expensive we found at $8500 per year per child. Gulp. Fortunately, we are saved from being bad parents for not sacrificing everything to send them there. TCD school gets pretty low marks in the social area: drugs, extremely unmotivated kids… like a U.S. high school from what we hear. Not for us at any price.

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