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  • Reforestation and Restoration at the Cloud Forest School in Monteverde, Costa RicaLearning by Doing
  • Anna J. Mello (bio), Patricia A. Townsend (bio), and Katie Filardo (bio)

The Cloud Forest School (Centro de Educación Creativa [CEC]) of Monteverde, Costa Rica, has educated local Costa Rican students since 1991. We teach environmental science and land management through students' direct involvement in cloud forest restoration. The CEC's education-restoration model includes science, math, and art. The success of our methodology is measured through our students' commitment to conservation and, starting last year, through monitoring the 10,000 trees planted by students since 1999.

The CEC ( was founded by a group of North American and Costa Rican parents who sought to develop an academically sound, bilingual, and environmentally focused program for kindergarten through eleventh grade for local children in Monteverde. The CEC's first step was to purchase 42 ha of neotropical cloud forest situated atop the Tilarán Mountains. Year-round precipitation, 2.5 m in rain per year and 25% more [End Page 148] in mist on average, supports exuberant and highly diverse plant and animal life and provides a marvelous setting for an alternative school.

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Figure 1.

The Centro de Educación Creativa's campus in Monteverde, Costa Rica, contains primary cloud forest, which is a haven for biodiversity and an ideal site for ecological studies.

Photo by B. Romano

The CEC campus is a former dairy farm with 11 ha of abandoned pasture and 31 ha of secondary and primary cloud forest (Figure 1). When the CEC finalized purchase of the land with the help of the Nature Conservancy and the U.S.-based Cloud Forest School Foundation, a conservation easement was built into the deed, requiring the school to restore 9 ha that had been cleared, permanently protecting the 31 ha that had not been cleared, and allowing school buildings on the remaining 2 ha. Our neighbors reflect a similar composition; on our eastern boundary lies the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, to the north and west, early secondary forest with ecotourism businesses and a hotel, and to the south a working cattle farm.

The CEC curriculum requires that all students participate in student-directed, practical land stewardship projects, which encourage them to value and view the cloud forest with care and appreciation. Over the years, we have observed that the small and isolated fragments of cleared cloud forest on our property cannot regenerate on their own. The root cause is the invasive African star grass (Cynodon nlemfuensis), an aggressive species introduced many decades ago as a pasture grass for cattle, that prevents many or most native seedlings from growing (Nadkarni and Wheelwright 2000).

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Figure 2.

Prekindergarten students get ready to plant their first trees. On a weekly basis during planting season, mid-May at the end of the academic year, each prekindergarten through sixth grade student plants trees in areas designated for each class.

Photo by E. Boris

When the rainy season starts (mid-May, toward the end of the school year), the school's maintenance team and students clear African star grass from the land designated for reforestation. Then students hand-chop 1 m diameter circles and plant a seedling in the center of each circle. Elementary school students and teachers perform ongoing maintenance throughout the year, which includes cutting back the grasses and placing mulch around trees.

At present, CEC students, staff, and volunteers collect the seeds of 14 native cloud forest trees. Students in the elementary school germinate the seeds and place them in bags where they grow in our greenhouse for six to nine months. Some of the most successful species are dama (Citharexylum costaricensis, Verbenaceae), murta negra (Myrcia splendens, Myrtaceae), bambito colorado (Ocotea whitei, Lauraceae), cirri (Tapirira mexicana, Anacardiaceae), guaba (Inga punctata, Mimosaceae), cedro dulce (Cedrela tonduzii, Meliaceae), chancho rosado (Beilschmiedia costaricensis, Lauraceae), guarumo (Cecropia obtusifolia, Cecropiaceae), and lorito (Cojoba costaricensis, Mimosaceae).

Through this process, students learn about soil components, seed growth, and the life cycle of a plant. Younger students hone their math skills while they count seeds and measure soil/fertilizer proportions...


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