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Bringing Costa Rica to Spring Hill

Acuña Teaches Students about Costa Rica

Out-of-town visitor Rosiberta Acuña was scheduled to return to her home in Costa Rica on Sunday. While the exchange teacher was in the United States, she got a chance to sample American cuisine, do some sightseeing, teach geography and Costa Rican culture to groups of school children and, thanks to her Sunday departure date, experience a Northern Virginia snowfall Saturday afternoon.

"In Costa Rica, there are two seasons. The rainy season and summer," said Acuña, through her volunteer interpreter, Spring Hill fifth-grader Federico Salazar. "We have more climates. San Jose, for example, has mountains that are colder, but not like here."

Acuña provided lessons as an exchange teacher at Spring Hill Elementary in McLean last week, but also visited classes at Lake Anne Elementary in Reston, a Spanish immersion school and Woodburn Elementary in Falls Church. She was visiting through a program, "Hands Across the Water," which sends teachers from the United States to Costa Rica, Australia, New Zealand and Netherlands and then brings teachers from those countries to the U.S. Spring Hill teacher Betsy Canaga, Acuña's host during her visit, spent two weeks in Costa Rica in July.

<mh>Gathering Ideas

<bt>Canaga read about the exchange program in a professional journal and thought it sounded interesting. She signed up to visit Costa Rica simply because she had never been there and didn't speak Spanish. There she met Acuña, who has a husband and two daughters back home.

Acuña, who hails from the Provincia de Guanacaste, oversees 38 schools, which include grades kindergarten through eighth, and three high schools back home. So while she was teaching the children at each grade level at Spring Hill about Costa Rica, she was also learning about schools in the U.S.

"I have lots of ideas to take back home like putting the father of the family in the process of education," Acuña said.

Canaga said that while she was in Costa Rica, one of the things she noticed was that the parents generally are not as active in their children's learning as they are here, something Acuña wants to try and change when she returns.

She said the U.S. utilizes more resources such as computers, televisions, texts and books compared to Costa Rican counterparts. Even without as much access to these resources, Costa Rica has a 96 percent literacy rate, according to information Acuña hands out to people she meets.

"You have a really good system of learning," Acuña said. "I've learned more than what I've been teaching."

<mh>Learning Experience

<bt>"This has been a wonderful experience for the class and an eye-opener for the entire school," Canaga said. "Earlier in the year I paved the way for Rosiberta's visit by doing a week on the rain forest."

The students have not only been learning, but also pitching in. Fifth-graders Federico Salazar, Lesley Cruz and Stephanie O'Neill and sixth-grader Diego Rodriguez served as interpreters during Acuña's stay.

For Federico, Acuña's lessons have been more of a trip down memory lane than a learning experience; he was born in Costa Rico and his family returns frequently.

"I speak Spanish at home, but I've never had an experience like this," Federico said. "I've been having fun."

The other students in Federico's class are as interested in Acuña as they are in Costa Rica itself. After she points out her homeland on a map and explains a little bit about it, with the class using the lesson to learn some Spanish in the process, the questions turn from Central America to Acuña.

The students learn her favorite food back home is rice and chicken, and that she has liked everything American she has tried; that there are computers in Costa Rica; that it only gets as cold as about 50 degrees; and that it would take five hours to cross the entire country.