As a Sociology and Education student at Vassar, I’ve always been really interested and involved in hands-on opportunities to work with students and gain experience planning and teaching. It’s always been frustrating for me that, as a college student, it’s really hard to balance a schedule filled with challenging coursework AND put all of the energy you want to into working with students in your free time. These “extra” programs were always what really inspired me and grounded my coursework in what I loved to do. After a short internship over winter break, working in one classroom with a mentor teacher for 3 weeks, I realized how much that kind of “apprentice” position helped me to grow and push myself with constant support available – not to mention the satisfaction of being able to focus ALL of your energy into one group of students and school.
The Cloud Forest JYA program is very similar in setup – you work with one mentor teacher all day, every day, and really become part of the classroom family and the school community. My school also requires me to do a credit of independent study while away, which has allowed me to push myself further in my interest in sociological research while simultaneously helping the school with larger issues related to school growth and improvement. My decision to choose this program was largely based in that mentor teacher-intern relationship, which I’ve found is an awesome way to step into and get TONS of experience teaching, as well as the opportunity to spend an entire semester just focusing on field work and my independent study.
It was really awesome to work in a smaller, private bilingual school – while it wasn’t necessarily one of my main reasons for choosing this program, being able to teach in English, with a student population that speaks Spanish as a first language, has really been an interesting dynamic. Also, my own Spanish has improved in leaps and bounds. Second of all, you're in the middle of the rainforest! That means we get to use the outdoors in our teaching a lot - it's not uncommon on a nice day to see all of the classes outside, in the forest, really utilizing the outdoor resources. I would also say that for my semester, there were only 2 interns – usually there are more, but I get the sense that it’s typically a relatively small group of interns. This allows you to feel less like just a student in a JYA program, and more just an important part of the school community; you become really close to all of the teachers and staff, and it’s just a really awesome, relaxed and supportive community.