Rio Muchacho Environmental School
managed by N. Mears
As in many parts of the world, here there is urgent need for education that not only prepares children for future employment, but that prepares them with good human values, and teaches them to responsibly manage the natural resources that they will be entrusted with.
The Community School
The creation of Río Muchacho Community Environmental School was in response to the lack of an adequate educational institution and the urgent need for environmental education. Work to create the School began in 1992 and 1993 was the first school year.
The School is constructed on land donated by one of the grandparents, and the construction was a community effort; each family donated materials from their farms such as bamboo, thatch, wood and stone etc. There are 3 open classrooms, a composting toilet, and a kitchen area for preparing school lunches, as well as a small garden area. The first classroom was built with assistance from Alandaluz Ecological Hotel and the others by the parents.
Each year there are between 35-45 students, pre-school to 6th grade. There are 3 teachers who teach several grades each.
The curriculum is based on the national model, but is carried out with alternative teaching methods. The aim is for the classes to be more practical and creative, and incorporating human values and environmental issues as an integral part of learning. This has required the re-education of the teachers, who were previously trained according to the national system of memorization and non-participatory learning. We have also incorporated some Montessori methodology into the system.
The Environmental Education
Theoretical classes are complemented with practical work. The environmental education focuses on issues affecting the children's immediate environment e.g. care of the river, deforestation, erosion and non-sustainable agricultural practices. Within the school grounds the children have a tree nursery, and each year they produce fruit and forest trees. The students learn about growing vegetables and practice growing them in the school gardens. Composts are made for use in the vegetable garden and nursery. A lot of emphasis is put on rubbish management and separation; the organic goes either to the compost toilet, the garden compost or the banana circle; the little inorganic waste produced by the school is either reused or taken for disposal.
One limiting factor in the Environmental Education is the prior knowledge of the teachers; the level of awareness in the field is usually very basic or non-existent. The teachers receive training with us at the beginning of the year but if they change, the process has to be repeated.
There have been many positive repercussions from the creation of the School. The community, once very dispersed, now works together in many projects. The School has created a centre for the community, a place which is used for meetings, courses and talks as well as fiestas, football, bingo etc.
The School is registered with the Ministry of Education, which means that the graduates are able to go on to High School. Most have either gone to the closest villages; Canoa or San Vicente or have not continued with their education, though 2009 was the first year in which a graduate of the school went on to university. The school often receives visits from groups of teachers who come to learn about how to implement environmental education in their own schools.
While the School has been very successful, funding is always a problem. Even though the school is registered, it receives no funding from the government. Parents pay a fixed amount each month, regardless of how many children they have in the School, however they are unable to pay very much. Other funds come from some organisations (e.g The Sloth Club of Japan and The Rotary Club friends, family, volunteers and tourists. We have also received support from the Give a Kid a Backpack Foundation, in the form of much-needed backpacks containing school materials.
We continue looking for a secure source of funding, and are always very grateful for any fundraising efforts on behalf of the children, by former or prospective visitors!
If you have access to any school supplies for the environmental school this is always much appreciated e.g. generally we need:
Story books in Spanish (especially if they are environmental or based on human values)
Environmental Education books for teachers and students
Scissors, puzzles, art supplies and educational toys for 5-7 year olds
Laptops for IT education - these can be second- (or even third-) hand, so long as they are in good enough condition!
Tooth brushes, tooth paste and second hand clothes for children are always very welcome too