Bucks County Herald

Newtown Friends students visit Costa Rica



Seventh- and eighth-grade students from Newtown Friends School visted Costa Rica last month.

Last month, 19 seventh- and eighth-grade students from Newtown Friends School (NFS) journeyed to Costa Rica for a cross-cultural, language immersion experience.

The trip included plenty of adventure, such as a hike in the Poas Volcano National Park to a magnificent view of a large crater with an acidic lake inside it and ziplining high up in the Monteverde cloud forest canopy. The students also had the opportunity for cultural immersion, as they each stayed with a host family for three nights. Accompanied by their Spanish teacher, Maria Feinman, and Science teacher, Jay Mahoney, this was the sixth biennial trip the school has taken to Costa Rica. Their tour was organized and planned by the Costa Rica Study Tours company, based in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Additional highlights of the trip included hiking to see waterfalls, visiting a sustainable farm called Finca Ecológia Don Juan and a nighttime hike in the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, the largest private reserve in Central America with land protected by money raised by children from all over the world.

While in the Monteverde cloud forest area, the group visited Monteverde Friends School, a K-12th grade Quaker school founded in 1951 by American Quaker families who left the United States in search of a nonmilitaristic society. The NFS group attended Meeting for Worship at the Monteverde Friends Meeting, and experienced the bilingual nature of this community.

NFS has also developed a relationship with another school in the area, the Bajo de San Luis School. This very small elementary school, located in a remote area, has only 10 students in first through sixth grades. NFS students enjoyed eating lunch with the younger students and then many played a game of soccer together. The NFS group offered their youthful energy toward a service project where they moved soil from an embankment to expand an area slated to become a playground. The visit to the San Luis School provided a powerful learning experience for NFS students, as they saw how starkly different the lives of the children at San Luis School are from their own.

One of the most significant parts of the trip for the students was the homestays. Each student spent three nights living with a local Costa Rican host family. The majority of the adults in these families did not speak much English, so the NFS students were forced to use Spanish to communicate.

Mia Armbruster, NFS eighth-grade student, was initially nervous about the homestay. She stayed with a set of grandparents whose adult children no longer lived with them, but Mia said, “Their grandchildren would come over to visit when I was there, which was fun.”

Jackson Swartz, also in eighth grade, shared, “I was definitely nervous about the whole trip beforehand, as I knew I would be pushed out of my comfort zone in many ways, but during the trip I just tried to enjoy myself and appreciate all of the amazing experiences we were having each day.” Jackson only began studying Spanish last year in seventh- grade, although he has been pleased with how his comprehension skills have developed quickly, thanks to Maria Feinman’s strategy of immersion language teaching.

On their final day in Costa Rica, the group enjoyed several hours of swimming in the Pacific ocean at Playa Hermosa.

When Feinmanwas asked about what her goals are for the trip, she responded, “The goals are to expose the students to the rich culture of the people of Costa Rica, to practice using the Spanish language, and most importantly, to see the goodness of people in how they open their homes to our students for homestays. I want our students to learn that they are able to connect with people that may come from very different socio-economic and cultural circumstances from themselves with just an open attitude and willingness to try to communicate.”

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