Baylor Education Students Teach English to Elementary and High School Students in Costa Rica

  • Full-Size Image: BU students in Costa Rica 2019
    Baylor students heading out for a work day at the schools. (Photo courtesy of Randy Wood.)
  • Full-Size Image: 1st grade class Costa Rica 2019
    Santa Elena Elementary School first grade class with Baylor Students. (Photo courtesy of Trena Wilkerson.)
  • Full-Size Image: Costa Rica all 2019
    Baylor students accompany Santa Elena Elementary School students and teachers on their annual field trip. (Photo courtesy of Trena Wilkerson.)
  • Full-Size Image: Costa Rica sand pit 2019
    Baylor students built a playground sand pit for the Santa Elena Elementary School children. (Photo courtesy of Trena Wilkerson.)
  • Full-Size Image: Brian Lizano
    Brian Lizano, '22, pre-business and a citizen of Costa Rica with Dr. Randy Wood and the bus drivers who have driven Baylor students during several trips. (Photo courtesy of Randy Wood.)
  • Full-Size Image: Randy wood on Costa Rica 2019
    Dr. Randy Wood with Baylor students at the technical high school. (Photo courtesy of Randy Wood.)
April 5, 2019

Baylor student returns to serve in his home community and advises students on how to achieve a U.S. college education

Media Contact: Lori Fogleman, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-710-6275
Follow us on Twitter: @BaylorUMedia

by Gabrielle White, student newswriter, Baylor University Media and Public Relations

WACO, Texas (April 5, 2019) – The Baylor University School of Education hosted a mission trip over spring break to San Jose, Costa Rica, taking a group of 19 students – including a Baylor pre-business major who grew up in the community he returned to serve – and faculty members to work in an elementary school and high school in the rural community of Santa Elena.

Members of the Costa Rica education trip had the opportunity to teach classes that helped Costa Ricans practice their English and participate in a community philanthropic event to help the schools and the Santa Elena community with their education and English skills.

“It was an amazing experience with the teachers, community members and students at the school,” said Trena L. Wilkerson, Ph.D., mission trip staff leader and graduate program director in the Baylor School of Education. “We learned so much and had a chance to engage in cultural activity so that we all shared our backgrounds. Dr. Randy Wood and I began this partnership 11 years ago. It has been a wonderful experience where we have developed lasting friendships. One of the best things has been watching the children grow up over the 11 years and see where they are now. When we go back each year and see them—again it is like family.”

Students and staff members divided into two groups during the week to work at the elementary school and the high school, based on their area of interests. With each group warmly welcomed by students, teachers, administration, community and staff, students worked at the high school under a Baylor faculty member who prepares students for secondary teaching. Other Baylor education students focused on serving the elementary school children because of their high energy to engage in activities.

“It is not where you are working, but that we are working to help students continue to understand the extreme importance of education and how it can help move them and their families away from poverty,” said Randy M. Wood, Ph.D., mission trip staff leader and professor in the Baylor School of Education.

Building lasting relationships

The group’s main focus was to help the students with their English, but they contributed to their education in other ways. The group taught lessons in mathematics and Texas history, and they took the entire school on a field trip to explore their environment and cultural areas. The team also provided school uniforms and classroom supplies for students and teachers. This time helped build relationships with both students and teachers, Wilkerson said.

“The main way we helped them practice English was just to speak it back to them and encourage them to talk back to us in English,” Wood said. “At the high school we taught classes in English and then had small groups which did work exclusively in English. As with any foreign language, practice is very important. It is also important for student to jump out there and make a few mistakes so they can be better. In the elementary school, students helped the English teacher with grammar and reading classes. Outside of class we tried to encourage the students to use their English in conversation.”

Along with working with the elementary and high school, Wilkerson had the opportunity work with the mathematics department at the University of Costa Rica in a teaching project. The team also made a visit to the Methodist Home and School in San Jose.

An exciting addition to this year’s team was Bryan Lizano, a Baylor freshman and native Costa Rican. Lizano was born in Nicaragua but moved to Costa Rica when he was 3 years old. When he came to Texas to attend Baylor in the summer of 2018, it was his first time in the United States.

Sharing experiences

“The trip was amazing, I want to repeat it,” Lizano said. “I visited both the elementary school and the technical high school from which I graduated. I had the chance to share how it is to study in the U.S., what it is required and expected for those who aspire to study abroad, and also, I had the chance to serve. Together with the group, I helped students practice and learn English, garden a yard in the elementary school where kids grow plants for the school cafeteria and translated on many occasions for both professors and students in our group. The best part of the trip was to play soccer with the kids in the elementary school and get to see my parents over a couple of nights.”

The trip was impactful for Lizano, as well as the students from the Santa Elena community who hope to study in the U.S. Lizano got to meet with ambitious students who, like him, encountered many challenges in the process of planning a university education abroad, and was able to develop friendships with members of his group and the community he visited and served.

“I learned that the actions I am making today have some kind of effect on other people’s lives,” Lizano said. “Especially in the community where I am from, which is also the same community our group visited, I found there is now a big number of students working hard in school with the aspiration of pursuing an education abroad after I became the first student from such school to achieve a higher education abroad in the U.S. This situation shows that our actions and accomplishments are making a positive effect, which in the long term may potentially benefit the community in very different ways.”

Growing partnerships

After 11 years of the program, Wilkerson and Wood do not plan to stop any time soon. They are planning to expand their partnerships and strengthen relationships and continue to learn from students.

“I’ve learned that the work doesn’t seem to be done,” Wood said. “Each year we go to Costa Rica we see new students, new teachers, new families in the community. I am learning that my love for those who have much less than we do is growing as I continue to see these great kids at school. They don’t have a lot, but they are happy, and that taught me the lesson I know so well: money is not happiness, but friends are.”

Over spring break, Baylor University Missions sent 10 teams of 175 students, faculty, staff and friends of Baylor, who integrated their faith with their academic disciplines and hands-on service at locations in Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, England, Japan, Peru and across Texas. Each Baylor Missions experience fostered informed global engagement that brought together faith, discipline-specific learning and service that contributes solutions to real-world challenges at home and abroad, from health care to education, business consulting to hunger and immigration.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


BU Missions seeks to create tangible opportunities for students to understand how they can use the knowledge and skills they gain here at Baylor University to love people around the world and in the Waco community.

As part of the Office of Spiritual Life at Baylor, our Mission is to nurture theological depth, spiritual wholeness and missional living in the students, staff and faculty at Baylor by offering integrated formational programming, transformative missional experiences, competent pastoral care and worship that is responsive to the Christian Tradition and sensitive to the culture.

Global Missions collaborates with faculty and staff from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds along with our global partners to implement spiritually rich and challenging experiences for our students. It is our hope that the students who participate in our trips not only enjoy the experience (which is important), but also discover a sense of vocation and calling as they see first-hand how they can use their discipline to serve.

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