Middle Schoolers Lend Helping Hands on Service Learning Trip to Costa Rica

"I feel happy that I had a chance to help Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica. Learning about what they've experienced makes me feel grateful for what I have." — Josh Cheung '23

"I feel happy that I had a chance to help Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica. Learning about what they've experienced makes me feel grateful for what I have." — Josh Cheung '23

Costa Rica was the destination for 15 seventh and eighth graders who traveled to spend their spring break immersed in local culture and the spirit of service, helping families in need. They were based in the beautiful and historic city of Heredia, which is located 11 kilometers to the northwest of the capital, San José. Students spent the majority of their time in a vibrant neighborhood known as La Carpio, where Nicaraguan refugees have forged a growing community.

Soon after touching down, they got settled and dove into their service week with gusto! They were aided by Gail Nystrom, founder and Executive Director of the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation — established to improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable populations there. She led students through the neighborhood, shared its history, and identified the needs of local families in order to arrange students' daily work projects.

Trip co-chaperone Heidi Rubenstein-Brethel, Dean of Ninth Grade and Head of Physical and Health Education, kept our community abreast of many of the group's activities in real time:

"We connected with children at a Montessori school today and began painting a mural for them."

"Back in La Carpio this morning! First, we painted some telephone poles with bright, happy designs for people to see as they drive through town and then we helped build a wall made of cinder blocks and cement for a family. We mixed the cement by hand and carried the blocks to fill the holes. It was very rewarding work!"

"After lunch, we went to another job site in town where we made and mixed cement by hand and loaded it in buckets for local people to make cinder blocks for the construction of their houses. This was very labor-intensive and meaningful work. We also took a walking tour of the houses by the river, where the families live in poor conditions. We were able to see how our efforts were going to be useful in this community."

"We finished our day in La Carpio by watching a play put on by a group of local women. They told the true story of one woman's journey to Costa Rica and the hardships she faced. Then, Gail took us on a special walk to the new school that just opened today! It will serve 2,500 kids from La Carpio who would not have received an education otherwise — this is monumental for the city!"

"During our final day, we took some of the local students to the Children's Discovery Museum of San José. Each of our students was paired with a younger child and responsible for guiding them through the museum. They had a blast, and students from both schools were sad to say goodbye at the end. They thanked us again for the work we had done and assured us that Dwight will always be welcome in La Carpio!"
In addition to service work, students enjoyed a number of excursions, including a visit to a coffee plantation to learn about cultivation, processing, and good practices; dance lessons; a trip to Arenal Volcano; and a ziplining adventure!

However, it's evident from students' reflections that their engagement in community service impacted them most profoundly of all:

"I really enjoyed the community service aspect of the Costa Rica trip. I loved exploring La Carpio and making new Costa Rican friends. Working to improve people's lives made me proud of Dwight for taking action. It was a rewarding and eye-opening experience." – Isabella Venturini '23

"I loved working with the kids in La Carpio and putting smiles on their faces!" – Tristan Fraley '23

"I felt very proud of myself for helping the people of Costa Rica, and I loved how kind and thankful they were when we were helping them." – Jack Yoon '23

"After the trip, I felt like I understood the living conditions of the people in Costa Rica and it felt good to have been able to help them." – Valentina Figueroa-Sanford '23

Co-chaperone and Middle School math teacher, Brad Meeder, affirms their sentiments. "This service learning trip to Costa Rica was one of the most meaningful trips I have chaperoned. We were only there for a week, but it felt like we developed an incredibly strong bond with the people of La Carpio," he shares. "It was an eye-opening experience for students, as many of them had never seen such conditions first-hand. They immersed themselves within the community and completed an assortment of projects that benefited the residents of the neighborhood. Students took pride in knowing their actions were directly impacting the community in a positive way, and many returned with a renewed perspective and appreciation for the things they have."


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