This February, seventh and eighth grade Spanish students had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica, where they immersed themselves in the country’s language and culture while studying its impressive environmental sustainability efforts. Faculty members in Hewitt’s world languages and science departments collaborated on the trip’s itinerary to design an intentionally multidisciplinary experience that encouraged students to connect their classroom learning to real-world experiences in San Jose and Monteverde. As they journeyed far beyond the walls of Hewitt, students discovered that they were not simply practicing their Spanish, but in fact using the language to understand how Costa Rica’s commitment to conservation practices and environmental education has led the country to become a global model for sustainable development.
Students were excited to use Spanish to communicate in a variety of authentic settings throughout their trip. During a scavenger hunt, they split up into teams and explored the town center, visiting local businesses to gather information about Costa Rican culture, such as the ingredients to a local rice and bean dish called pinto as well as the lyrics to the country’s national anthem. Later, they studied traditional Latin American music and rhythms during a dance class in which they learned how dance a salsa, merengue, and bachata. Knowing that food is a wonderful way to learn about another culture and build community, the students also participated in a cooking class, where, yet again, their Spanish vocabulary was put to use as they used local ingredients to prepare patata empanadas and pastel de chocolate. Students remarked on the pride and sense of accomplishment they felt at their ability to communicate in Spanish, noting that many of the activities they participated in on the trip helped them improve their language skills. “I learned a lot of new Spanish vocabulary in Costa Rica,” said one seventh grader. “It’s been easy to remember and use those words now that I am home because of the experiences I had learning them, like learning the word cascada in front of a real waterfall.”
While in Costa Rica these intrepid travelers also learned about the ecology of the Monteverde Cloud Forest and the ethics of environmental sustainability, which run deep through this small country. As they visited local businesses and organizations, they experienced firsthand the incredible biodiversity, natural resources, and sustainability practices of Costa Rica. After learning about organic farming and the history and process of harvesting crops like coffee, sugarcane, and bananas, students toured Hotel Belmar, where they met with employees to discuss ecotourism and the hotel’s commitment to implementing renewable energy, sourcing food locally, and recycling all of its waste. As one seventh grader shared, “I didn't know what ecotourism was before I took this trip, but now I understand that it is about making sure you’re taking care of the world while still creating fun activities and experiences for visitors to your country.”
Some of the best souvenirs these students brought back from their trip were the insights and inspiration they gained from seeing the ways in which Costa Ricans have implemented sustainability measures into their daily lives. Hewitt’s environmental activists were excited to connect their learning in Costa Rica to real-world problems and actionable solutions back at home. After visiting the Monteverde Institute, a research institute committed to education for a sustainable future, one seventh grader observed, “I saw some projects we can incorporate here at Hewitt. All of the food they make comes from the plants they grow there. It was good to see how they’re doing it successfully because the middle school Service and Sustainability Committee is trying to start growing food for our dining room.” Another student shared that the many rain gardens she saw in Costa Rica made her excited about her efforts to create rain gardens in the flower beds outside of Hewitt. “A rain garden collects rainwater and other water runoff in its soil,” she explained, “so it is a low maintenance way to grow plants sustainably.”
Throughout their adventures in San Jose and Monteverde, Hewitt’s seventh and eighth graders proved themselves to be burgeoning global citizens whose knowledge and experiences connect them to communities far beyond New York City. Though they were traveling in a new and unfamiliar country, students utilized their understanding of the Spanish language and a joint commitment to global sustainability to find common ground with locals. As one eighth grader marveled, “Even though we were from a big city and many of the people we met lived in a small mountain towns, we were able to communicate and connect because of our shared language.”