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Schools & Program Visits - Feb, 2000 Issue #66 

Integrity Shores
Cost Rica
Jerry & Maxine Dow

A Visit Report by Anne Lewis, IECA, CEP
November, 1999

The Integrity Shores High School campus is located on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, a car trip of approximately one and one half hours from San Jose, the country’s capitol and major air terminal. San Jose is in the mountainous interior part of Costa Rica. The area’s natural beauty made me feel as if I were at home in Santa Barbara except that the vegetation is even more lush.

The people in San Jose seem more European than Latin; there are many emigrants from Germany and the Scandinavian countries and a lot of the architecture is French. San Jose is a modern city; you can find a latte, a face lift or an Armani suit. Delta, United, and American all fly in from the US.

The drive from San Jose to the Integrity Shores campus has been compared to drives in the Swiss mountains. In the winter they even have some snow. Comparing Costa Rica to Switzerland goes beyond the mountains: Costa Rica is known as the Switzerland of Central America because it is a peace loving country and has no army.

The road takes you through coffee plantations, little towns with farmers herding cattle down the highway, and past soccer fields filled with the families from the community. We passed the stunning new 35 million-dollar Marriott that opened in December, which is about 15 minutes from the Integrity Shores campus. Integrity Shores High School is located in a small village known for its excellent surfing beaches. The oceanfront site was formerly a modest resort that Jerry and Maxine Dow spent several months renovating. With the psychologist, they went through every room and “teen-proofed” it, doing their best to make it safe.

The School’s large blue and pristine white front gate sets the tone for the clean and orderly campus beyond. The main building is a straight walk from the gate. You can see through its large screen doors to the ocean. Inside the building you step into a large, sunny and cheerful dining room, a space for informal relaxing, a spotless kitchen, and the psychologist’s office with windows opening onto the dining room (observations of students couldn’t be easier). On the subject of the psychologist, he said that he and his staff are looking forward to working with the students in this setting, and will be able to bring the students’ issues before them 24-7 for self examination.

Jerry and Maxine plan to have faculty members live on campus and some are there now. Two families came down from Santa Barbara to help with the renovation and were there when I visited. They live in apartments that were suites when the site was a hotel. The suites are small, but no one seemed to mind because everyone simply wants to be outdoors. Some of the faculty children are being home-schooled, and some are attending a school in a neighboring village where their Spanish is getting a lot of use. While I was visiting, one of the children had a birthday party on Sunday afternoon. All of the villagers were invited and came.

Students who enroll in Integrity Shores will stay in the oceanfront dormitories on the other side of the dining hall from the faculty housing. Jerry and Maxine plan to use a behavior modification modality to stimulate a change in the students, so new arrivals will be housed together in a dorm that is easy to supervise. As the students gain trust and behave more responsibly, they will move up a hierarchy of privileges. Jerry and Maxine plan to have them move into larger rooms as they succeed in the program and finally move into suites where they will be able to cook some of their own meals and practice independence under the care of the staff.

The classroom had not been completely wired when I visited, but this should be completed by the time the School opens in the spring. Other than this, it is ready for students to continue their academic work through an independent study program. Kenny Smith, a teacher from Santa Barbara who has been in Costa Rica since the summer, is looking forward to supervising the students’ progress. Kenny and his wife have home-schooled their four children, so they are very experienced in a self-paced approach to education. The building that will become the library was stuffed with books when I was there.

Maxine is a registered nurse who was working in surgery before she and Jerry moved to Costa Rica. She will be the on-site nurse. One and one half blocks from the school is the office of an English speaking doctor who networks with others throughout the country. A clinic is about 12 miles away and a complete hospital about 25 miles or 35 to 40 minutes away. I asked about medical air transports and was told that it would not be possible.

Generally the feeling on the campus is a lot like paradise. The rhythm and sound of the surf set a tone of healing and wholeness. It sucks you in and you want to disconnect your cell-phone. Materialism and “stuff” have little appeal in comparison to the natural beauty. You have to be on your toes, though; an iguana might waddle by and surprise you.

The beach is loved not only by surfers and walkers. Sea turtles have chosen it as a place to lay their eggs. I was told that Integrity Shores has been asked by the Costa Rican government to help with observations of the turtles’ egg-laying and, when indicated, the transplanting of the eggs. I was told that 5 of the 6 species of sea turtles can be observed on this beach, but I don’t know that for a fact. One thing I can believe from my own observations is that Costa Rica has more varieties of orchids than any other area in the world. They’re prolific.

In addition to observing the sea turtles, Jerry has arranged for the students to take part in an environmental camp that is located in the mountains above the School. A high ropes course is part of the camp.

When I returned to Santa Barbara I was telling a family about Costa Rica and the School site. The young man with whom I was working asked, “Why do you have to mess up to go to this school?” The answer came from Integrity Shore’s psychologist who said, “The heartbeat of our efforts needs to be kids who need another chance at life.”

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