By Aaron Braverman
MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica – Tucked away from the road in a picturesque cloud forest town, the Monteverde Friends School has provided an educational experience focused on nature, community and integrity for more than 60 years.
The vibrant school was founded in January 1951 when Quakers first arrived in Costa Rica as a place to educate their children. While preparing for their move to Monteverde, classes were held in a coffeehouse in nearby Heredia. The school moved to Monteverde in August 1951 and has been on its current grounds since around 1957.
“History tells a lot about the way we do business,” School Director Francisco Burgos said. “The school was created to figure out how to educate and not lose connections to the English-speaking world, but still allow for Costa Rican culture.”
Burgos has been the head of school since June 2012, marking the first time a person of Latino origin has served in that position.
“There’s a more definite connection,” said Amy Cherwin, the school’s third and fourth grade teacher. “They can be more comfortable with him.”
Burgos was born in the Dominican Republic and received most of his education on the small island of Hispaniola. After attending university, he worked for several years developing mobile libraries for rural Dominican communities.
“In a country where mobile libraries disappear, it has a tremendous negative impact,” Burgos said. “I wanted to make and provide access to kids and schools.”
Burgos then ventured to Guatemala and Costa Rica for two years, teaching at small schools before returning to the Dominican Republic to rejoin his library project. It was there he met his future wife, a Peace Corps volunteer from Pennsylvania. They grew close, and in 2003 they moved to Vermont where Burgos earned a master’s degree in sustainable development. After studying and working in various parts of the United States, he returned to Costa Rica to lead the Monteverde Friends School.
The school teaches integrity and conflict resolution at an early age. In kindergarten, students discuss interpersonal conflicts at a small classroom table called “the peace table.”
“We understand a promotion of cultural diversity,” Burgos said. “We can avoid conflict by how we live and learn, integrity and simplicity.”
The school tries to keep tuition at a reasonable level, while offering 42 percent of students some form of financial aid this past year, Burgos said. The funds for the aid come from intense fundraising across the globe. Tuition ranges from $120 to $300 per month.
“The school has a social responsibility to be as manageable as possible,” Burgos said.
Since Burgos’ arrival, the school has begun an $81,000 renovation, the largest single infrastructure improvement in its history. A new kinder area for young students and meeting house are part of the construction that will be completed this spring. In addition, Burgos has engineered a reinvigorated parent’s organization to improve communication and encourage greater parental involvement school-wide.
“[We focus on] how we can support our kids by supporting each other.” Burgos said. Creating a strong community outside of school creates a better classroom environment.
“Community is a Quaker testimony,” Cherwin said. ‘’The idea of creating a sense of community with parents and classroom is important. We need to be a team to best support the children. It’s critical and the school sees it as a priority.”
The school currently serves 114 students, ages 3 to 17. The staff of 27 and the students hail from the United States, Canada, South Africa and, of course, Costa Rica, among others.
Burgos is constantly learning and growing as a leader in his new position. Still, he maintains excitement about the future and upcoming changes.
“The possibilities are incredible,” he said.