San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Alternative Schooling Charts Different Course

Reading, writing and arithmetic is certainly not the only way to educate a child and, while a traditional humanist curriculum has dominated schooling methods for centuries, the world is slowly opening up to other techniques. And so is Costa Rica.

From the UnitedWorldCollege in Santa Ana, southwest of the capital, to the MonteverdeFriendsSchool in north-central Costa’s cloud forests, alternative education opportunities can be found here, though parents may have to devote some time to searching for them.

When searching for a school for a son or daughter, parents should match their child’s needs with the school, advises Jessica Villalta, administrative director at Ovo Montessori in the western San José suburb of Escazú.

“Not every school is for every kid,” said Villalta, who, as director of a 44-student, prekindergarten Montessori school, helps parents decide on the next step in their child’s education. Instead of selecting a school for reputation, she said, “consider the place he or she would learn best.”

Villalta also said it is important to ask a lot of questions. Is the school bilingual? What are the options for next year and beyond? How are classes taught? What is the mission of the school?

While Costa Rica has many good schools, “we have a long way to go to fulfill every need we have,” she said. She’d like to see more Montessori options – a type of learning in which the curriculum is driven by students’ interests – beyond preschool.

Hazel González, marketing director at Colegio Santa Cecilia in Heredia, north of San José, agreed that options for alternative education are limited in Costa Rica.

“What Costa Rica has a lot of is traditional education,” she said. “A large majority of public and private schools offer that same system of schooling and, with it, they lose the human aspect that accompanies learning.”

Her school, a 700-student, prekindergarten-through-12th-grade education center, has put aside textbooks and admissions exams and focuses on developing the individual student.

“We educate the students to understand who they are, what they believe and what they like,” she said. “We aren’t preparing students for exams; we are preparing students for life.”

Beyond mainstream private-school education, Costa Rica offers a strong selection of Christian schools and schools that have put aside testing. There are also schools that place emphasis on conflict resolution, community involvement and artistic development.

The following is an incomplete list of alternative schools in Costa Rica. If you know a school that should be listed here and is not, e-mail the writer at clong@tico We will add your school to our ongoing list on The Tico Times’ blog, which can be found by following links from



Escazú, 2288-6113,

Grades: Pre-K to 6

Language: English, Spanish, French

Number of students: 165

Percentage of foreigners: 35 percent

What makes it unique? Arandú places emphasis on art, weaving it into much of the child’s learning experience, while looking to educate to the different learning styles.

Tuition: $306 to $411 (¢156,000 to ¢210,000) per month.


Complejo Educativo Royal

Guachipelín de Escazú, 2215-1742,

Grades: Pre-K to 11

Language: English, Spanish

Number of students: 100

Percentage of foreigners: 50 to 60 percent

What makes it unique? This school strives to provide personalized attention with diversified instruction and an end goal of developing happy and productive students.

Tuition: $255 to $378 (¢130,000 to ¢193,000) per month.


Colegio Metodista de Costa Rica

Sabanilla de Montes de Oca, 2280-1220,

Grades: Pre-K to 12

Language: English, Spanish

Number of students: 1,165

Percentage of foreigners: 15 percent

What makes it unique? Claiming to be the first bilingual school in Costa Rica, the 89-year-old Colegio Metodista integrates a spiritual education with a strong offering in academics. The school places emphasis on developing a well-rounded student with strong character who is encouraged to follow his or her natural inclinations.

Tuition: $274 to $372 (¢140,000 to ¢190,000) per month.


Colegio Santa Cecilia

San Francisco de Heredia, 2237-7733,

Grades: Pre-K to 12

Language: Spanish, English

Number of students: 700

Percentage of foreigners: 10 percent

What makes it unique? Students aren’t taught to the test; rather, they are prepared for life. Santa Cecilia’s philosophy is to use teachers as guides who help students navigate their own interests at their own pace. The school does not use textbooks, instead emphasizing a hands-on learning experience.

Tuition: Call for information.


Hebrew Day School

Pavas, 2296-6565,

Grades: Pre-K to 6

Language: Spanish, English, Hebrew

Number of students: 23

Percentage of foreigners: 20 percent

What makes it unique? Part of Chabad Lubavitch, Hebrew Day offers an integrated Jewish and secular education that stresses individualized instruction in three languages, with U.S.-accredited teachers.

Tuition: Call for information.


Lighthouse InternationalSchool

Escazú, 2215-2393,

Grades: Pre-K to 7

Language: Spanish, English

Number of students: 200

Percentage of foreigners: 20 percent

What makes it unique? Lighthouse InternationalSchool focuses on educating the whole child, not only in traditional academic subjects. With an emphasis on Christian values, the curriculum focuses on character building, both physically and emotionally, as well as spiritually.

Tuition: $335 to $495 per month.


Monteverde FriendsSchool

Monteverde, 2645-5302,

Grades: Pre-K through 12

Language: English, Spanish

Number of students: 120

Percentage of foreigners: 75 percent

What makes it unique? Monteverde FriendsSchool is a community school, placing emphasis on high involvement of parents in the life of the school, whether assisting with field trips, substituting or fundraising. As a Quaker school, the curriculum includes courses on peaceful conflict resolution.

Tuition: $306 to $349 (¢156,000 to ¢178,000) per month for locals, $450 to $510 (¢230,000 to ¢260,000) per month for foreigners.


Saint Gabriel Elementary and High School

Tibás, 2240-8890,

Grades: Pre-K through 12

Language: Spanish, English

Number of students: 350

Percentage of foreigners: 5 percent

What makes it unique? Saint Gabriel places emphasis on individual attention and providing students with the necessary values to be successful members of society.

Tuition: $219 to $241 (¢112,000 to ¢123,000) per



United WorldCollege

Santa Ana, 2282- 5609,

Grades: Ages 16 to 19

Language: English, Spanish

Number of students: 161

Percentage of foreigners: 95 percent

What makes it unique? With students from more than 60 countries, UnitedWorldCollege focuses its International Baccalaureate curriculum on mediation and conflict resolution with the hope of “exporting” that knowledge back to home countries to build a better world.

Tuition: $20,000 per year (most students are on scholarship).n

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