Guanacaste Private Schools: Your Kids Might Turn Out Smarter Than You Are

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By Karl Kahler

If you’re thinking of moving your family to Guanacaste, Costa Rica, you may be wondering if the schools here are as good as the schools back home. But what if they’re even better?


The Guanacaste coast from Coco to Tamarindo has some outstanding private bilingual schools, and therein lie huge advantages for both parents and children.

Attending these schools, your English-speaking children are virtually certain to learn fluent, perhaps even unaccented Spanish. This is a valuable skill they will have for the rest of their lives.


In addition, they will be exposed to multiple nationalities, cultures and ways of thinking, broadening their worldview and making them well-rounded global citizens. And with the excellent academic programs offered here, they will be eminently prepared to attend universities in the United States, Canada or Europe.

An Arkansas boy in Mexico


When I was 8 years old, my family moved from Arkansas to Durango and later Torreón, Mexico, where my father was director of two private American schools for four years and my mother was a teacher.


I arrived not speaking a word of Spanish, but by my fourth year I won 2nd place in a Spanish oratory contest competing against top students from all over Mexico’s 10th-largest city.


After Mexico we moved to Lonoke, Arkansas, and when two Venezuelan scientists arrived to study local fisheries for two weeks, I was hired to be their translator — at the age of 12.


I also attended the 10th grade in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and when I later enrolled in Spanish IV at the University of Arkansas, I actually spoke better Spanish than the professor.


It’s almost shocking how well children become totally fluent in a second language while attending a bilingual international school. This will give them options that will benefit them for the remainder of their lives, personally and professionally.

La Paz Community School


La Paz, founded in 2007, is an excellent school located at the entrance to the Mar Vista housing development between Brasilito and Flamingo.


It has 370 students, pre-K through 12, ranging from 1 year old to 18. About 60% are Costa Rican, the children of local families who want their kids to be bilingual, and possibly to attend English-speaking universities in other countries. About one-fourth are from North America and the remainder from Europe, South America, Asia and Africa.


La Paz also has a second campus in Comunidad, near the Do It Center, with 250 students from pre-K through 10th (with 11th and 12th grades being added over the next two years). The students here are about 80% Costa Rican.


To serve both English and Spanish learners, La Paz uses a biliteracy program called “Two Way Dual Immersion.” Its website explains: “Students are immersed into the Spanish and English languages through a balanced and socioculturally relevant academic experience where approximately 50% of their day is spent on Oracy and Literacy in each language.”


“The Two Way Dual Immersion approach with the proper supports in place is the fastest way to conversational language acquisition,” said Abel McClennan, director of La Paz. “Some of our students arrive monolingually in grade 9 and then graduate with a bilingual International Baccalaureate Diploma, which demonstrates fluency in both languages.”


Asked about how they prepare students for college, he said, “Top performing IB [International Baccalaureate] graduates have access to the top universities in the world, and many universities award credit for IB courses completed in high school.”


Name: La Paz Community School
Location: At Mar Vista development between Brasilito and Flamingo
Grades: Pre-K through 12
Enrollment: 370 at Brasilito campus, 250 at Comunidad campus

Costa Rica International Academy (CRIA)


CRIA is another top school, located on the southern outskirts of Brasilito. Founded in 2000 as the Country Day School, it has 450 students and is the largest private school on this coast.


On a tour with Lois Maré, who is the curriculum director, admissions director and college counselor, I was impressed by the spacious campus, air-conditioned classrooms, 6,000-volume library, gym facilities and professional-size swimming pool.


Maré said 35–40% percent of the students are from the U.S., about one-third from Costa Rica and the remainder from 24 other nationalities.


“So children are sitting in a classroom, and there’s someone from Argentina, someone from Israel, someone from South Africa, and they get a very international, broader perspective on the world,” she said.


How does CRIA deal with new students enrolling every year who may speak zero English AND zero Spanish, and who need to be taught math, science, social studies and everything else in one of those two languages?


“We have a very wide variety of language learners, both English and Spanish, so they’re given differentiated assessments and tasks and instruction,” Maré said. “Our program, from toddler through Grade 2, is a dual-language program, so 50% of the instruction is in English, 50% in Spanish. Year by year we rotate the academic subject by Spanish and English, so that students are exposed to different academic language and vocabulary for different subject areas.”


The school offers band, physical education, competitive sports, chess club, National Honor Society, student government, yearbook, robotics club, and arts and crafts.


CRIA is known for its excellent academic program, backed by a dozen Advanced Placement classes in which high school students can earn college credit. The school has dual accreditation in the United States and Costa Rica.


“We’ve had kids go to Ivy League schools three years in a row now from this tiny little school here at the beach,” Maré said.


Name: Costa Rica International Academy (CRIA)
Location: 500 meters south of Reserva Conchal in Brasilito
Grades: Pre-K through 12, currently beginning at age 2 but starting at age 3 next year
Enrollment: 450 students, toddler through grade 12; 35–40 percent from U.S., one-third Costa Rican



Educarte is a pre-K through 12 school near Tamarindo that offers bilingual education, especially in primary, with more Spanish in high school. The school is accredited by the Costa Rican Ministry of Public Education.


“Probably the most difficult part of managing an international school is that many students have to learn both languages, English and Spanish,” said Letizia Guglielmino, an Italian woman who cofounded the school in 2007.


Educarte describes its mission as “To be an educational organization that promotes the development of skills in its students and that offers an education that contributes to their integral well-being, and is committed to their academic, emotional, social, and physical growth.”


Name: Educarte
Location: Between Huacas and Villarreal, near the JSM gas station
Grades: Pre-K through 12
Enrollment: 320 students, including from France, Italy, Germany, Russia, Argentina and Israel, though fewer U.S. students than most schools

Journey School


Journey School near Tamarindo was founded by Christa Niven when she moved to Costa Rica in 2017 with six children.


“We had six children at home, and they all needed something different, and there wasn’t really the right school for all of them,” she said. “So we made the decision that we were going to offer a different kind of program.


“We’re bilingual, we’re project-based and we’re multi-accredited. We currently have U.S. and Costa Rican accreditation, and we’re almost finished with an application for an International Baccalaureate, and soon we’ll be applying for Canadian.”


Journey teaches half the day in English and half in Spanish, offering complete immersion for both English learners and Spanish learners. Science and Costa Rican social studies are taught in Spanish, math and history in English.


Name: Journey School of Costa Rica
Location: On the highway from Huacas to Villarreal, right across from Educarte
Grades: Pre-K through 12
Enrollment: 230 students from 34 countries who speak 26 languages; about 25% are either Costa Rican or Nicaraguan, 15% Canadian, 10% U.S.

Tide Academy


Tide Academy is one of the few private schools located in Tamarindo, offering bilingual education, with Spanish immersion up to the 4th grade.


Kindergarten has a bilingual teacher who teaches 50/50 English and Spanish. The 1st through 4th grades have a main English teacher and a main Spanish teacher. After the 4th grade, most classes are taught in English, with Spanish as a second language personalized to the level at which students arrive.


“The biggest thing we tell people is we’re going to do as much as we can, but our school is only four days a week, so if you want to learn any language, you have to practice outside the school walls,” said Chelsea Lisaius of Vermont, who founded the school in 2011. “They’ll pick up the language much quicker, and you need a community effort to learn the language. However, we will be working hard to give you a foundation.”


Name: Tide Academy
Location: On the main road in Tamarindo, across from the Auto Mercado
Grades: Pre-K through 12
Enrollment: 70 students from some 15 countries, including the U.S., Costa Rica, Canada, France, Italy, Chile, Israel

Pacific Waldorf School


Pacific Waldorf School offers bilingual elementary and middle school education near Tamarindo.


The school follows a Waldorf model of experiential learning through blocks of classes — for example, four weeks in English, four weeks in Spanish and four weeks of math in each language. Roughly half the curriculum is in English and half in Spanish. Students can also learn French and German, as well as swimming, gardening, painting, drawing, knitting, physical education, music and more.


Its website says, “Here, on our beautiful campus surrounded by nature, we teach our children with love, respect, and a deep understanding of the needs of the child through all their phases of development.”


Name: Pacific Waldorf School
Location: Cañafistula, between Villarreal and Veintisiete de Abril, 10-15 minutes from Tamarindo
Grades: Pre-K through 7, and offering 8th grade next year
Enrollment: 65 students, about half from Costa Rica, with others from France, Belgium, Italy, Turkey, Costa Rica, the U.S. and Canada

Dolphin’s Academy School


Dolphin’s is the only private school in Playas del Coco, offering bilingual education for students at all levels. It opened in 2005 as a day care and has been at its current location since 2015.


Classes taught in English include language arts, history, geography, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Dolphin’s offers classes in finance, marine biology, band and physical education (basketball, baseball, aerial gymnastics).


Its website says, “At Dolphin’s Academy School, students have the opportunity to develop their creativity, imagination, talent and skills through a calendar that provides dedicated spaces for them, while growing in knowledge in a safe and loving environment.”


Name: Dolphin’s Academy School
Location: Playas del Coco, 300m west of the big anchor at the entrance to town
Grades: Pre-K through 11, in a Costa Rican system where students graduate from high school in the 11th grade
Enrollment: 250 students of some 60 nationalities, including the U.S., Canada, Russia, Czech Republic, France, Iran, Panama, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Mexico. Most students are from Costa Rica, many of them born here to parents from elsewhere.

Lakeside International School


Lakeside is a bilingual school on the highway between Comunidad and Playas del Coco, with a student body that’s about 70% Costa Rican.


“At Lakeside we combine a challenging international curriculum with a holistic approach to learning,” says Rena Willis, general director, on the school’s website. “Our passionate, dedicated and highly trained staff challenges each of our students to reach his or her individual potential.”


The school offers what it describes as child-centered education, small class sizes, dynamic and experienced teachers, a holistic approach to teaching, international mindedness and an integrated and challenging curriculum with clear learning outcomes.


Name: Lakeside International School
Location: On the road between the Liberia highway (Hwy. 21) and Playas del Coco, 2 km west of the Delta gas station at the crossroads in Comunidad
Grades: Pre-K through 11 (students graduate with a Costa Rican diploma from the 11th grade)
Enrollment: 400 students currently enrolled, with 70% from Costa Rica and the rest from the U.S., Canada, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Russia, China, Argentina and Uruguay

This link offers a healthy background on (private) education in Costa Rica, as well as some resources for schools not in our Guanacaste region.   While I’m not sure how current the information is, you’ll find it another good reference point.