Katherine Stanley Obando ’97 had a life-changing experience at Derryfield in tenth grade. That year, faculty members Joel Vargas and Natalie Koepp drove their Summerbridge Manchester (now Breakthrough Manchester) student teachers through some of the poorest parts of Manchester, to help them understand the world their future students were coming from. The experience, and her subsequent time with the Summerbridge program, “lit a fire” for Katherine and set her on a path of teaching, with a special focus on underserved kids. From Summerbridge Manchester, she moved on to direct an afterschool program during college, served as a Teach for America corps member in Arizona, and then worked as an English teacher and education reporter in Costa Rica. While in Costa Rica, she came to the attention of Nobel Peace Laureate and then-President Oscar Arias, and joined his staff as a speechwriter in 2007.
In Costa Rica, tourism has long been an important industry. More recently, attracted by a well-educated workforce, multinational companies are choosing to locate there. So while Spanish is still the language of the home, English is increasingly the language of commerce and socioeconomic mobility. Recognizing this, the government mandates that every child have comprehensive English instruction starting in first grade. However, Costa Rica is a country with a significant rural population, and is challenged to supply qualified English teachers to those areas. In 2008, President Arias tapped Katherine to coordinate the launch of a national initiative to address the challenge, an effort that led to the creation of the Costa Rica Multilingüe Foundation. Its mission is to improve the teaching of foreign languages, particularly English.
Now Katherine, who also works as a freelance writer, editor and development officer in San José, directs Multilingüe’s program JumpStart Costa Rica
, which offers one-month English immersion camps for rising seventh-graders in low-income areas nationwide. Its goal, Katherine says, is to “provide the kids not only with the basic skills they need to get by in their high school English classes, but also with overall academic and social preparation to help make sure they don’t drop out during that high-risk seventh-grade year.” It is also a professional development opportunity for the Costa Rican teachers who participate, giving them new strategies for making their classes “more dynamic and effective in improving students’ communication skills.”
The growth and success of the program, which is completely financed through individual donations of $25 and up, as well as institutional sponsorships – visit jumpstartcostarica.org
to learn more – has been impressive. “We began in 2012 with one camp; thanks to a partnership with the U.S. Peace Corps, we grew to 14 in 2013, 35 in 2014 and 36 in 2015,” says Katherine. “Overall, we have served more than 1500 students directly and nearly 12,000 indirectly through our teacher training.”
This is the journey that started with Spanish classes at Derryfield, and a trip through the back streets of Manchester.