San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Staff, Parents Create ‘Miracle School’

A true “miracle school” is how Anthony García, coordinator of the Sustainable Schools Project (see story on page 2), described República de Haití Elementary School when explaining why it was chosen as one of three pilot schools for the project.

Walking though the school’s open-air hallways, it’s obvious what García means. Practically every corner of this public school in the middle-class San José neighborhood of Paso Ancho is filled with projects that bring color and life to the otherwise gray concrete building, setting it apart as an example of what dedicated parents, teachers and principals can achieve despite the lack of funding facing the country’s public school system (TT, July 14).

Vivid rainforest murals light up the hallways, and small gardens in the entryway lead to the school’s own butterfly house.

There, students can examine larvae in various stages of development, explained principal Hilda Hidalgo as she plucked a lost caterpillar off the screen and returned it to a leaf.

These projects are possible thanks to parental support and fundraising efforts such as raffles, talent shows and dances, Hidalgo said.

“We don’t have a budget for any of this; it’s all done internally,” she said. The school, which serves 1,500 students in first through sixth grades, receives only ¢8 million ($15,444) from the Public Education Ministry (MEP) every year – sometimes not sufficient to cover operational costs and certainly not enough for the additional projects the school prides itself on. As at many schools across the nation, parents are asked to contribute to help defray expenses. At República de Haití, this contribution totals ¢500 (about $1) per student per month.

“We’re never going to have 100% participation, but many mothers find ways to help – if they can’t give money, they give their time,” said Hidalgo, who is fresh-faced and spunky despite her “almost 50” years.

 Clarita Barrantes volunteers about four hours every day at the school’s library. Her 11-year-old daughter, who suffers from cerebral palsy, is one of eight students in the school’s special education program.

“I said I would do anything to be here with my daughter to help her, and I was thrilled when I found out I could work in the library,” said Barrantes, cutting a letter A out of blue cardboard for a bulletin board.

Names of businesses and organizations appear on plaques around the school, marking projects to which they’ve contributed.

For example, a collaboration between the National Water and Sewer Institute (AyA) and the private plumbing equipment distributor Mapar Docal allowed for a handwashing sink with low-consumption faucets to be installed in the main hallway.

The nonprofit environmental Blue Flag organization supports a project in which mothers at the school make decorative paper by a process of wetting and straining the students’ used notebook paper and setting it out to dry. The product: soft, natural sheets the women decorate with dried flowers and shape into small boxes and greeting cards.

The idea is for the women to sell these products to earn money, but so far they have had little success, Hidalgo explained.

They are looking for businesses such as hotels and stores interested in carrying them.

The nonprofit Plastic Recycling Foundation (FUNDAPET) has also provided the school with containers to collect plastic for recycling.

Can other public schools copy República de Haití’s efforts with the same result? “It’s the responsibility of each school,” Hidalgo said. “The problem is that it’s very common for people (in the public school system) to leave their school behind as soon as their shifts are over.”

Many of República de Haiti’s projects are carried out on Saturdays by Hidalgo, parents, teachers and students.

Hidalgo said she has no doubt students at the school – many of whom are in highrisk situations – benefit from this extra effort.

“They’re so impressionable,” she said. “We work a lot on values and holistic growth.”

For more information on projects at República de Haití school, call 286-5438.


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