Sewickley Montessori students see what's in store for them in Costa Rica

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 7:17 p.m.

In December last year, four Montessori Children's Community sixth-grade students began Reaching for the Clouds.

Last month, they got there.

Josh Holland and twins Hadley and Caroline Driscoll, all of Sewickley, and Ben McLemore of McCandless recently returned from a weeklong trip to Costa Rica, where they met and helped make jewelry with the Women of the Cloud Forest in Monteverde, a fair-trade business based in Pittsburgh's East Liberty neighborhood and run by Amy Kofmehl-Sobkowiak.

Last year, Kofmehl-Sobkowiak, who often travels to Costa Rica, helped Montessori students set up a temporary store in Sewickley, Reaching for the Clouds, which featured products made by the women.

Josh said students raised enough to pay for part of their trip, with help from the school and parents, and to donate $1,000 to purchase five citrus trees that were planted by students at the community garden at an elementary school in San Luis. They also donated soccer balls to the school. In addition, they donated more than $100 to Cochran Hose Company in Sewickley that they made by wrapping gifts at the store.

Josh said he thought it was “really cool” to meet the women and help them make the products because it meant they went “full circle.”

While in the area, students also visited a Montessori school, Del Mar Academy in Nosara.

Chaperones for the trip were: Terri Modic, founder and head of Sewickley school; her son, Blaire, who led the group; Laura Stokes, Spanish teacher; and Kofmehl-Sobkowiak, of Pittsburgh's East End, who traveled with her husband, Michael, and daughter, Olivia.

Hadley, who gave a presentation to the school about the trip with the other students, said local students spoke Spanish a little differently than the Montessori group was used to hearing.

“They spoke in a kid way and not proper Spanish that you would learn in the classroom. It was different to hear them talk in casual Spanish,” she said.

Food also was a “big thing,” she said.

Students tried fruits they had never tasted before, such as guanabana, similar to a coconut with a sweet texture, and memones, the size of a large grape featuring sour jelly.

Most restaurants had both English and Spanish menus, but, Hadley said, the Montessori group mostly tested their Spanish to order and tried new foods.

Caroline said the trip provided a chance for students to be more independent and mature while away from their parents.

During her part of the presentation, she also spoke about the physical challenges the students faced while zip lining, hiking, horseback riding to a volcanic area and jumping into a hot springs. Students also had the opportunity to walk across a hanging bridge that overlooked the Cloud Forest in Monteverde.

Ben said he thought the other students were nice, and communication was not much of a problem, especially with the students from Del Mar, which is a bilingual school.

He also talked about the animals he saw at Manuel Antonio National Park, including the white-faced monkey and howler monkey. When he and Josh got up early one day, they were able to look out their window to see several colorful macaws flying by.

Students also visited a local farm where they learned to make tortillas, tasted sugar cane and picked fruit such as guava and went to a local coffee maker to see how beans are roasted and grinded.

Stokes said students have been studying about the region since December to prepare for the trip, but there still was much that was new and unexpected.

“They were so open to learning and absorbing everything. They got to practice their Spanish and learn new physical activities. Everyone got along well, took care of each other and treated each other with kindness,” she said.

Stokes said students got to experience a “little bit of everything in a country that is “full of biodiversity.

“They got the opportunity to know people their age and see what they do and see how their Montessori school works.

“It was an amazing opportunity for this age group.”

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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