For more than 2,000 students at seven schools throughout Costa Rica, a future in which they can speak, read and write English with ease is now a little closer, thanks to an alliance between the private sector and the Public Education Ministry (MEP).
Through “Reaching Out,” an initiative of The Tico Times with sponsorship from some of Costa Rica’s largest businesses, students throughout the country are now receiving 2,275 copies per week of Central America’s leading English-language newspaper at no cost to their schools, along with training for English teachers.
Speakers at the official inauguration of the program Tuesday at the Colegio Superior Las Señoritas in downtown San José said the partnership demonstrates the kind of private-and public-sector collaboration necessary for the country to advance.
Gerardo Arias, of The Tico Times, and Leonor Cabrera, the ministry’s National High-School English Advisor, are the program’s co-coordinators. Cabrera called the program “an example of how the private sector has united strategically to collaborate in a noble cause… with the goal of increasing the number of English speakers.”
Sylvia Varela, general manager of Pfizer Costa Rica – the first business to commit to the project by sponsoring Las Señoritas, providing copies of The Tico Times for all of the institution’s 1,190 students at a cost of $11,000 per year – told an audience of teachers, students and fellow business executives that corporations have the responsibility “to take on a role in the construction of a better Costa Rican society.”
Six of the other participating corporations and beneficiary institutions are Intel, for the Liceo Experimental Bilingüe de Belén, north of San José; Scotiabank and the Liceo Experimental Bilingüe de la Trinidad de Moravia, east of San José;Wal-Mart Costa Rica and the Liceo Tronadora in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, as well as the Telesecundaria Ujarrás, in the Caribbean province of Limón; Procter & Gamble and the Colegio de Santa Ana, west of San José; and Hewlett Packard and the Liceo del Este in Santo Domingo de Heredia, north of San José. The companies pay for newspapers for the students, and The Tico Times provides discounted subscriptions.
A seventh business, Plycem Costarricense, has developed a recycling program entitled “Assume Your Role,” or “Asume tu papel” (papel means both “paper” and “role”). The company will collect discarded papers from schools and pay the institutions for participating.
“We’re just getting started,” Tico Times General Manager Abby Daniell said at the inauguration ceremony. Twenty-eight other schools recommended by Cabrera for participation in the program are on the waiting list, and all that’s needed is additional corporate sponsorship for those students to join in.
Arias said he came up with the idea for the program shortly after joining The Tico Times staff in August 2005, after taking copies of the paper to some local schools and seeing the needs of English students there.
“I found they have a great need to experience English – and a good way to experience English is to read a newspaper in English that speaks to the national reality,” he said, adding he hopes that in 2007 the program will increase tenfold to reach 20,000 students. “It’s necessary.”
Public Education Minister Leonardo Garnier, also present at the inauguration ceremony, called The Tico Times’ 50 years of publication in English “a heroic act” and praised Reaching Out not only for promoting the learning of English, but also for encouraging kids to keep abreast of their country’s news.
“If one doesn’t read the news, if one doesn’t read editorials, one doesn’t know what’s happening in the world,” he said.
“This effort by The Tico Times teaches something other than English.”
Several speakers, including a high-school senior from Las Señoritas who delivered a bilingual address about the program, emphasized the importance of English in the labor market. However, Garnier appealed to the sensibilities of his female teenage audience by pointing out that learning English has other benefits as well. He said there’s nothing like being able to read Shakespeare or Milton in their native language – not to mention understanding the lyrics of U.S. pop star Pink or rapper Eminem, or being able to watch actors Johnny Depp or Sean Penn perform without subtitles.
The minister also touched on other priorities he has reiterated since taking office, such as improving teacher training, another area Reaching Out addresses. Three sets of workshops for teachers will take place in July, August and September, designed by the Public Education Ministry in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy and The Tico Times.
The topics of the presentations include the integration of speaking, listening and pronunciation in English classrooms; a session on cooperative learning by educator and Tico Times columnist Kate Galante; and a session on using cartoons in the foreign language classroom by Tico Times cartoonist Arcadio Esquivel. The workshops will take place at Procter & Gamble’s offices in Forum Office Park in Santa Ana, west of San José.
In November, sponsors, teachers, principals, students and others will participate in activities designed to evaluate the success of the program.
Representatives of participating businesses said they plan an active relationship with their partner schools, not just a monetary contribution.
Patricia Chico, community relations manager for high-tech firm Intel, whose offices, like the company’s partner school, are in Belén, said that in addition to funding newspapers for the Liceo Experimental Bilingüe de Belén, Intel is also working with the school’s English coordinator to plan special events for students. In September, for example, volunteers from Intel will offer a career fair and courses on vocational skills at the school.
In addition, for every 20 hours Intel volunteers spend working with the students, Intel will donate $65 to the school at year’s end, Chico said.
“This program (Reaching Out) comes as an opportunity to support once more… an area that is so important in Costa Rica: having bilingual people so they can have more opportunities in the labor market,” she added.
Karla López, corporate affairs coordinator for Wal-Mart Costa Rica, which owns supermarket chains including Más x Menos and Palí, said her company’s choice to sponsor the Ujarrás and Tronadora schools at a cost of approximately $3,000 per year benefits the community and the corporation.
“We chose rural zones because we know there’s much more need there,” she said. “And we have points of sale for Palí in both those areas, so it’s a way for Palí to project itself to the community.” Alejandra Cobb of Procter & Gamble, who said her company also funds programs focused on children in their first four years of life, said she hopes Reaching Out will continue to grow.
“English is one of the principal requirements Procter & Gamble has for the collaborators in the business, so (the company) has a great deal of interest in supporting any project on a national level to improve the quality of English,” she told The Tico Times.
“It seems to me to be a good project. I hope other businesses support it.”
How to Contribute
For more information or to sponsor a school, call Gerardo Arias, The Tico Times’ Reaching Out program coordinator, at 258-1558 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.