In Costa Rica, the month of January sometimes feels like un mes de descanso (a month of rest). Coffee picking season has come to the end, children are on school vacations, and endless fiestas are still taking place throughout the country celebrating the new year…is it me or does January 1 feel like forever ago?
While many spend the month relaxing and recuperating, January is a very important month for many Peace Corps volunteers in Costa Rica who are working hard in their communities to facilitate JumpStart English Camps.
What is JumpStart?
JumpStart is a Peace Corps Costa Rica program that aims to prepare incoming high-school students with the basic knowledge and understanding of the English language. For many students, especially in rural areas where English is not taught, this could be the first opportunity they have to get a grasp on the language before beginning full-time classes in February at the colegio (high school).
This year there are 10 JumpStart camps throughout the country. To facilitate a camp volunteers must have a supportive co-teacher, contributions from the community (space, food, materials, etc), and enough enthusiastic students, usually anywhere between 10-20 kids, that are able to attend the camp.
The camp is for the entire month of January, Monday through Friday, 8am-12pm. Students learn basic conversation skills and new vocabulary to describe themselves, their families, parts of the body, and their community and country. But most importantly, students get an opportunity to practice speaking and overcome their vergüenza (embarrassment), which can sometimes be the biggest hurdle of learning a new language (not like I’m speaking from experience or anything…).
Unfortunately, my site, Fila Naranjo, does not have a large population of youth, which has been a barrier for any sort of camp initiatives that have crossed my mind. If you remember my attempted Art & Craft Camp from December 2016, I had three attendees. Three of which were my host nieces.
But hey, it’s all good. I’m lucky to have a volunteer and close friend just two hours away from me who lives in a bigger community, where we partnered together to host an incredible Camp GLOW last July.
Nonetheless, I felt determined to at least try to host a mini JumpStart-style English camp in my community this month. It would be 2 weeks, open to the public, and incorporate fun, engaging sessions aimed to boost students’ confidence with the English language before school recommences in February.
I made flyers and hung them in the local pulpería (market) and waited for my phone to blow up with interest and questions about the English camp. While I received not one call or text, I did manage to recruit 3 attendees. And this time only one of them was my host niece. That’s right people, two new victims.
We focused on the basics – greetings, how are you…, my name is…, I live in…, I like to… – and for the first time ever I really enjoyed teaching English.
Working with a small group of students that were engaged and interested in learning the subject made a world of difference when working in the classroom; especially after being used to teaching a group of kids of all different ages. I might even go as far to say that if I wasn’t leaving in a few months, I would try to start a regular English camp!
Fabiola presenting her “friend”
For many students in Costa Rica, learning English is an extremely valuable skill that opens the door to many new possibilities – working in tourism, international jobs, a higher salary, traveling the world – that otherwise may not be attainable. JumpStart, along with many other English-based Peace Corps programs, serve as a valuable stepping stone that provide youth with the resources and motivation to reach above and beyond their goals through learning a new language.