Who Said Learning Has to be Boring?

Yesterday JumpStart´s 10th camp of 2013 kicked off in San Carlos de León Cortes, a small town in Costa Rica´s Los Santos region. There, coffee has been in season since December, and the harvest will last until March. Many families in Los Santos depend on the income they earn from picking the grano de oro (golden bean) during the summer months. With that in mind, we made sure to create a schedule for JumpStart San Carlos that left time for those kids who normally help with the harvest to do so for a few hours hours each day. Nevertheless, some families are making a significant financial sacrifice by allowing their kids to participate in our afternoon camp. We hope to show them that this project is a worthwhile investment!

The rising seventh-graders at JumpStart San Carlos come from five different communities. Those from San Francisco and Bajo San José didn´t have English teachers during elementary school, meaning they were at risk of entering high school with no background in the subject. The camp is being led by two Peace Corps Volunteers: Bradford, who organized it, and Whitney, who traveled from Isla Chira on Costa Rica´s Pacific side to help out all month.

Bradford and Whitney began the afternoon by passing out a cup of M&Ms to each student. For every color, a different question or subject had been written on the board, like “What do you do for fun?” and “Favorite Sports.” The kids took turns taking out their M&Ms and describing themselves as they placed the candies one-by-one back into the cups. In the classroom, promising to give chocolate to the students who participate always grabs everyone´s attention! To help their kids get to know their new classmates and feel more comfortable, our volunteers facilitated the activity mostly in Spanish. They then switched to English and spent the next few hours teaching what's always covered at the beginning of any introductory foreign language course: greetings and basic introductions.

Near the end of the day, Whitney pulled out a large, round parachute and led the kids outside. Everyone grabbed a handle and chose one of the new phrases or vocabulary words they´d learned. With balls on top of the parachute, the kids swung it up and down. Every third swing, Whitney called out two of the different words and phrases, and the corresponding students had to run under the parachute and switch spots with each other.

It was so nice to see the students smiling as the dove under the parachute, dodged the balls, and shielded their eyes from all the dust being stirred up. They had seemed stiff and uneasy all afternoon. JumpStart Los Santos is shaping up to be a real success! At the end of camp in February, it would be interesting to see if the students have learned enough to describe themselves with the M&Ms activity entirely in English!