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Uvita Christian Academy:  Costa Ballena’s Bilingual K-12 School With Heart

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The start of the school year begins today for many schools around Costa Rica, and children of all ages are traipsing off in uniform after two months of loose-living summer fun. 

But one school has already been in session for over a week, and they are the relative new-comer, mixed language curriculum school, Uvita Christian Academy.  This is a private pre-kindergarten to grade 12 bilingual school that offers US-accredited high school diplomas.  With 5 years and dozens of students under its belt, including 2 recent high school graduates who have gone on to post secondary in the US, this school is the only one of its kind in Uvita – and it’s looking to grow.

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Pre-Kindergarten class at UCA

Uvita Christian Academy uses a mastery-based program called Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) that boast more that 40 years of international education experience.  This curriculum requires that all students complete a core of subjects that include Language Studies (English and Spanish), Mathematics, Word Building (Etymology/Spelling), Literature and Creative Writing, Science and Social Studies, plus a variety of non-core subjects.  Every classroom is bilingual, meaning that students are learning each subject in two languages. (For more information on the curriculum, see their website).

Although every university system around the world has different entrance exams, UCA owners, Scott and Brigit Bogard, promise to take the steps needed to get their students to where they want to be after they graduate.  The founders of UCA have already developed a great working relationship with Texas Tech, a reputable university from the US that is about to open a campus in Escazu, San Jose, Costa Rica, with a focus in science, mathematics, engineering and tourism.  Costa Rican doctors, lawyers, and other elite professions will often do their post-secondary study in the United States and other nations abroad. Texas Tech saw the need for an English language post-secondary institution in this growing economy, and decided to fill it.

About Uvita Christian Academy

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Grade 1 pace books in the UCA curriculum

UCA has a four quarter system, with four 9-week terms, broken up by three-weeks off, that begin in February and end in December.  This type of schedule allows for parents of students to plan travel and holiday excursions without impacting their child’s workload.

The school grounds are broken up into five classroom divisions, where two teachers will typically share between similar age groups and focus on their expertise in the curriculum subjects.

The youngest students begin by learning English and Spanish, with the teacher focusing on whichever language the students need more work.  The school is focused on teaching the phonics of English and learning how to read by building on the foundation of sounding out letters through songs and games.

A disciplinary system begins in the earliest grades that involves teaching the children the value of good behavior through rewards and punishments.  Director Scott Bogard says that UCA teaches morals at this young age because it’s when their brains are forming the most and what they learn at this age will stay with them the longest.  Their goal is to connect life to learning for their young students, who are encouraged to be creative and to learn how to negotiate in their school environment.

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Grade 3 desk showing flag system for teacher-student interaction

Goal setting starts in the first grade, and children set their daily goals and then fill them out when accomplished.  Bogard says that at UCA, “learning is the constant and time is the variable.  All students learn at different rates of speed, and some have learning gaps from other education systems.  When they begin at UCA, each student can take a diagnostic test, which will identify the mastery concepts that the students hasn’t yet learned.  UCA helps our students fill in the gaps first before moving on to more challenging concepts.  Once they get it, they’re not held back and get through it more quickly.”

Most of the work done by students is in an individual learning setting.  Every student from the 2nd grade onward has their own desk and workbooks, with which they mainly work at their own pace.  When a student completes their goal, it is a teaching moment at UCA.  The student will put up a flag at their desk and wait for the teacher to come around to explain the next concept.  The flags are also used to ask for further explanation, or to make requests.

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Traditional grade school educational decor

Big classrooms are also used for subjects that fare best with the more traditional socratic teaching method, like art class or physical education.  But UCA believes that the individualized method is great in that students don’t feel like their are in competition with one another.  They don’t know where the other students are at and are therefore not focused on going too fast or too slow.

“Students in this system always have something to do, and they also learn how to be organized by coming up with plans to accomplish their goals so that they can have play time,” says Miss Estefanny, Grade 2-4 teacher.

In the older grades, students have even more freedom to plan their day to go exactly how they want it.  They are also rewarded for good behavior, and the students who make the honor roll are taken on a fun trip every quarter.  Regular school trips for older children include excursions to San Jose and the National Theatre, Art Museum, and the Quetzal Research Lab.

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Miss Irina, Grade 9-12 teacher setting a science focus in her classroom

Individual learning stations in high school classroom

Teachers at UCA are hired on their qualifications as education professionals, and most have worked at the school for multiple years.  “These are sharp people who know their stuff,” says Bogard.  “Our grade 9-12 teacher, Miss Irina, graduated from Purdue University with a degree in chemistry, and her goal is to make science and math fun for her students by interacting with these subjects on an every day scale.”

UCA has also cultivated a strategic alliance with Greenhead College, who send one of their best students to the school every term from their United Kingdom campus in order to teach biology and ecology to UCA students.  Their passion for the environment in Costa Rica is evident and it translates to their students, breeding a desire to protect their local environment.  Students have set up a variety of recycling and sustainability programs in collaboration with these teachers, and learn an increased appreciation for the incredible environment that surrounds them here.

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Learning biology and ecology from Greenhead exchange teacher, Miss Gem

Although this school is a Christian establishment, UCA claims to be more about integrity than religion.  The school’s tag line is: ‘Loving God, Building Communities, Sustaining the Earth,’ which shows a more comprehensive message that stresses an education based in love.  UCA’s students bring home values and pride in their work – a message that any parent can get behind.