SELAL IV: Puerto Jimenez

Stanford Environmental Leadership and Language Program takes off again

Dancing, games, and field trips were only a small part of SELAL this past July. This was the fourth time we collaborated with the Professional Technical High School in Puerto Jimenez and community leaders to provide English language, environmental, and leadership programming to twenty-two 10th-12th grade students. We had a great mix of students eager to take advantage of their vacation time with SELAL.

The two weeks were a whirlwind of activities and each day brought new opportunities for students to engage in English language learning, strengthen their leadership skills, learn more about the resources in their communities, and connect with community leaders and fellow classmates. A typical day involved the morning hours dedicated to lessons focused on English, professional development, and other topics, while the afternoons were often dedicated to guest speakers, workshops, and field trips to interact with the people and places in their communities. This included biologists, nature guides, NGO directors, park guards, and a variety of business owners. One ecolodge even invited us back for dinner at their lodge! The SELAL participants maintained a level of enthusiasm throughout the program, which they often displayed through their engaging questions to the local experts and general interest in all of the topics discussed.

The Stanford students brought an energy that was infectious. They helped facilitate the program, including talks on leadership and activities related to improving self-confidence. There were also lots of opportunities for cross-cultural exchange and they all learned Tico and American expressions. The fun learning environment allowed the SELAL students to excel.

We watched many students gain more overall self-confidence and, in particular, increase their confidence in their ability to communicate in English. Parents also expressed to us how they had noticed changes in their children during the program.

To better understand the effectiveness of the program and changes in the students' environmental responsibility, leadership abilities, and English communication skills, we conducted surveys and interviews. We will share the results from our analyses with community members, school administrative staff, and parents.

This iteration of SELAL saw some changes from previous programs. We created a specific position for English instructors in both locations, who dedicated time to formal, innovative, and fun English instruction. We collaborated with Lapa Rios to recruit an intern for our English instruction while she also worked with the staff of Lapa Rios to strengthen their English skills. We developed a local coordinator role to guide the program, liaise with local experts, and to ensure that the program would run smoothly. Our vision is that a coordinator in each location could eventually help lead SELAL in the future.

There is strong interest and motivation on the part of and our collaborators to continue working as part of SELAL. We continue to integrate lessons learned into the program and adjust its structure while also building in adaptability so that SELAL is a replicable model for other communities. We are exploring ways to provide continuity to SELAL students during the school year to engage them in opportunities for interactions with community leaders, English practice, and skill strengthening which will improve their future employability.

We would like to thank the following people, businesses, and organizations for their support in Puerto Jiménez: Karen Leavelle (Osa Birds), Alberto Herrera, Merlyn Oveido (Danta Lodge), Lapa Rios, Juan José Jiménez (SINAC), Artes de Osa, Gloria and Toby Cleaver (Iguana Lodge), Lana Wedmore (Luna Lodge), Hansel Herrera (INOGO), Diego García Godínez (INOGO), and the CTP Puerto Jiménez and its school board.

If you are interested in learning more about SELAL or in volunteer opportunities, please contact Katherine Dennis (