Wenzel cares as forcefully about the quality of teaching and learning children experience in school as she does about the availability of opportunities for children to continue learning productively at home.
In Costa Rica, bilingualism lies at the bedrock of the country’s vision, plan, and strategies to improve learning, livelihoods, and overall socioeconomic progress. Wensel is an English teacher at Barrio Lajas school in Santa Cruz, part of the cohort of bold educators purposefully weaving bilingualism into the tapestry of early childhood, primary, and secondary education delivery in Costa Rica. The country’s policymakers agree with the research which suggests that the earlier children get exposure to a second language and opportunity to learn it consistently throughout their childhood and adolescence, the more likely they will succeed in becoming fluent navigators of the two languages they know.
It delights Wensel to teach children from first to sixth grade. She enjoys the natural inquisitiveness of young learners and their extraordinary willingness to interact, play, and participate with passion, pleasure, and without pressure. Each new day brings different opportunities in Wensel’s classroom. A set of games here, a sequence of songs there, all intermingled within vibrant lessons that are carefully planned by Wensel. Her aim is to foster a welcoming learning environment where children can feel comfortable to speak up, answer questions, and discover the phonemic, graphemic, and constructive underpinnings of the English language.
In all of this, Wensel’s eyes are fixed, not on the grades, but on language learning becoming an integral and enjoyable fixture in her students’ broader lives. She therefore does all she can to help children develop their love of learning and genuine desire to improve.
At the height of the COVID19 pandemic, Wenzel was among a selection of teachers who got early exposure to the Age of Learning Foundation’s ABCmouse Aprende Inglés digital app, as it was being piloted in Santa Cruz. Now that it is being implemented at national scale in Costa Rica, Wensel and her students will have more opportunity to take advantage of solution as an important classroom resource.
Even so, Wensel astutely recognizes that the school day avails only so much time for children to practice English. Costa Rica’s national goals for bilingualism will require not only its schools, but also its businesses and households to become active language learning environments. Additional contexts where citizens of all ages can practice and perfect their abilities to communicate in both Spanish and English.
Wensel points out, however, that not every family in Costa Rica yet has adequate language experience or technological resources to support children’s learning. These are key areas where Wensel hopes to see improvement.
So do we. Insights from educators like Wensel are precisely why the Age of Learning Foundation has been working actively with leading broadcasters like Teletica, SINART, and TVN14 to air our ABCmouse Aprende Inglés show on television. It is also why the Foundation is collaborating with the Costa Rican Ministry of Education to design initiatives that will both expand ABCmouse Aprende Inglés app usage at home and support greater family participation in offline language learning activities.
With help from Wensel, and other teachers like her, the Age of Learning Foundation will continually receive the feedback we need to constantly improve the contextual relevance, cultural sensitivity, and learning and development impact of our work.