Alumnus leads high school trip to Costa Rica

Group photo of students and alumnus Christopher Banas in Costa Rica.

Published October 16, 2019

Christopher Banas (EdM ’12, Spanish Education) brought 27 Amherst High School students on a trip to Costa Rica to engage his students interculturally, as well as improve their Spanish proficiency. Banas has been a Spanish teacher in Amherst High School since 2016. Previously, he worked at the Health Sciences Charter School for four years where he did two service learning trips to Puerto Rico.

The students entered a rural school named Escuela Agua Azul (EAA), in a small village outside La Fortuna in central Costa Rica to help 60 children, from kindergarten through sixth grade. EAA is a two-room school with a separate building with bathrooms and another with a small kitchen, where they prepare food that is grown on school grounds. According to Banas, the students that attend EAA are children of migrant workers and these children walk up to three miles each day because they know the importance of education.

While there is a commitment to education in Costa Rica, school supplies are low in impoverished communities, so the Amherst students spent months collecting supplies to bring with them. According to Michelle Bernardi, a Spanish teacher who accompanied the students to Costa Rica, the Amherst students brought reams of paper, coloring books, games and puzzles for the little children.

The Amherst students donated their time and labor, helping to paint the school, pull out old vegetation and plant fruit trees because the more they grow, the more they eat. Part of the students’ cost of going on the trip was to buy the paint and landscaping supplies once they arrived in Costa Rica.

“In the short week, my students were challenged physically as well as mentally when it came to using Spanish in all of their daily interactions and encounters,” said Banas.

“The first two days were difficult, but by the end, they were no longer afraid of using Spanish with a native speaker. As their confidence increased, they saw the value in what they were learning in the classroom and most importantly, they saw how a little bit of kindness and hard work to help others can make the world a better place.”

Banas explained that these reasons are why he will always select a service learning trip.

Everyone participated in a friendly game of soccer at the end of each work day. “Playing soccer really made everyone come together and it gave me a sense of satisfaction to see everyone getting along so well,” said Banas. “It was a great way to end each day.”

Banas believes the Amherst students’ experience in Costa Rica has changed their perspective on education.

“I will forever remember the smiles on kids’ faces when we showed up and how sad they were when we left,” said Amherst sophomore Joey Murak. “We meant a lot to them and it was really good to feel that.”