For years, I have wanted to do site visits on three very special therapeutic programs in Costa Rica – New Summit Academy, The Bridge, and Pure Life. I finally had the opportunity to make this trip, and I am so pleased that I did! It was also a special treat for me to be able to visit these schools, having lived in Costa Rica myself in my much younger days. I was eager to see how these unique therapeutic programs would integrate their location in Central America into their programs.
On our first day, the three other consultants traveling with me and I spent the day at New Summit Academy, a therapeutic boarding school. Heather Tracy, Andrew Myers and Danny Recio were the founders of this school over 16 years ago. Today, the school is made up of modern, environmentally friendly, purpose-built structures that are spread across the beautiful 7-acre campus. Perhaps the hallmark of their program is the way the students engage with the local community and countryside in the various “aventuras” that have been designed for them. They also engage in community service and are all assigned a host family where they can have a home stay experience and develop relationships with the Costa Ricans in the local community. Academics are also emphasized and the boys we met were focusedon both therapeutic and educational goals. While on campus, I had the opportunity to meet some of the students and enjoyed our lengthy conversation over lunch. I am often really impressed by the maturity and insight that kids in therapeutic boardingschools have, and these kids were also impressive.
The Bridge is a completely separate young adult transitional program that was founded by the same team as New Summit. These over-19 young adult men have very often started college but then found themselves overwhelmed and unsuccessful. The Bridge serves as a fresh reset for these young men, as they discover how to balance independent living skills, internships, community service, and work in the local community. They also take advantage of the “aventuras” that are a signature part of the program, and participate in “homestays” with local families. We were lucky enough to witness a graduation of two of the students, and what impressed me the most was that the homestay families and their children were also there. As a Spanish speaker, I was able to understand their heartfelt, emotional words of love and appreciation for the young men who had come into their lives, and found myself reaching for the box of tissues being passed around,too!
We then took off for the southwestern coast to join the students and staff at Pure Life, a young adult wilderness program. Base camp has been carved out of a magical site in the mountainous rain forest not far from the Pacific coast. After meeting the half American, half Costa Rican staff and touring the site, we got to meet the kids. That was a real treat, as we arrived just in time for dinner that had been prepared by the co-ed group of students. My colleagues and I split up so that two of us were with one group and two were with the other. Night fell and we all sat around our respective picnic tables eating, talking, asking questions, and laughing a lot. For being in a therapeutic wilderness program, I was struck by how joyful it was and how much the kids all enjoyed being together. The next morning, one group went on a hiking expedition that would lead to homestays, and the other group went to the beach for a surfing expedition. We met up with the kids on the beach where we got an intro to surfing from the expert field guide, and then the kids got their turn to surf. But the best part was we consultants were also given a board, a partner, and went into the water! I can now see why they talk about “surf therapy” – not only are there physical skills to learn, but trying to get up on a board can be a bit anxiety-provoking as well. Soon, though, the ed consultants were having as much fun as the kids and it was a morning I will never forget.
Costa Rica is a one-of-a-kind country that offers a beautiful environment for learning, healing, and growing up. What a treat it was to return and see it through the eyes of young people who are there to improve their own lives.
Rebecca (Becky) Grappo, M.Ed, like Michelle Grappo, has seen dozens of therapeutic schools and programs throughout in the United States, and prides herself on finding the right therapeutic school or program for the individual needs of a student. Therapeutic boarding schools outside the US are rare, and traveling to Costa Rica to see these programs was a first. If you’d like to learn more, send us an email at [email protected]