Experience, Passion, and Integrity

The La Paz Staff combines for over 125 years of experience at a school that is in its eighth year of operation. This depth of experience allows for superb curricular continuity along with a professional learning community highlighted by longstanding trusted professional and personal relationships.

Welcome to our newest group of incredible educators for the 2014-2015 School Year!

Elizabeth Howard – Dual Language Specialist and K, 1 Spanish

liz howardBorn in Venezuela and raised in the suburbs of Washington, DC, Elizabeth Howard has enjoyed traveling and making cross-cultural connections throughout her life. Elizabeth first came to Costa Rica 27 years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer, and has been working in the field of bilingual education ever since. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of Maryland, a master’s in educational psychology from the University of California at Berkeley, and a doctorate in human development and psychology from Harvard University. On leave from the University of Connecticut, where she is an associate professor of bilingual education, Elizabeth has directed several large-scale studies of dual language education and biliteracy development. Her books include Realizing the Vision of Two-Way Immersion and Preparing Classroom Teachers to Succeed with Second Language Learners. Outside of the classroom, she enjoys knitting, hiking, and cooking. She is very excited to be joining the La Paz community as both a teacher and a parent.

Erika Quiñonez – IB Coordinator

Erika QuiñonezTwo years ago Erika came to La Paz Community School as the Team Leader of the International Baccalaureate Organization Verification Group.  After 8 years of visiting schools all around Latin America, she found the one that impressed her the most, La Paz Community School. Erika is a Computer Engineer from Universidad Latinoamericana de Ciencia y Tecnología in Costa Rica. She also holds another degree in Business Administration at Universidad de Costa Rica. She taught Computer Science for 13 years in several schools around San Jose and then became an International Baccalaureate Coordinator in 2000 and has been working for the IB as a Consultant for candidate schools and Lead Member for Verification Teams since 2006. She lived in Panama City, Panama for two years where she became a High School Principal at a well-known High School in Costa del Este, then she moved to Mendham, New Jersey where she continue working extensively for IB until last July when she return to her motherland.  Erika is a mother of four, one of her own kids is already an IB Diploma holder and another one on the way. She feels very fortunate to join La Paz Community School as it is her belief this school is unique and will make a true impact not only in the community but globally as well.

Christina Gabriel – Grade 10-12 Integrated Science and IB Biology

La Paz Science TeacherBorn in Pennsylvania while spending most of her life in Delaware, Christina fell in love with Costa Rica when she visited in March, 2014 with her students. She is intrigued by the diversity of the environment and all of the amazing things this country has to offer.  She has a strong desire to share her passion for the natural world with her students and is excited to work outside of the United States for the first time in her career. Christina just finished a duel master’s degree in Marine Biology and Coastal Zone Management at Nova Southeastern University in Dania Beach, FL. Prior to La Paz Community school, She taught AP Biology, Earth and Space Science, and Reading for 5 years in Florida Public Schools. Besides being extremely passionate about the sciences, Christina loves sports, being outside, reading, snorkeling, and diving, along with anything to do with the beach. She is eager to share her energy and enthusiasm for learning with the La Paz Community.

Kyla MacDonald – Grade 7-8 Science & Math

Kyla MacDonald_photoKyla discovered her knack for working with children in various capacities, and an interest in learning about new cultures at a young age.  Years later, while working with immigration attorneys in Boston, she was inspired by the sacrifices her clients made in pursuing better education opportunities for their children, and decided she could best serve the international population she so much enjoyed working with, in the classroom, as a teacher. Thus, Kyla returned to school, attending New York University, where she obtained a Master of Education in Childhood Education, and participated in a study abroad program in Brazil.  Upon graduating, Kyla taught for five years at the high performing, nationally awarded “Blue Ribbon” charter school, Harlem Success Academy 1, in New York City.  Seeking a change from life in New York, Kyla moved to Costa Rica, and taught here for one year before joining the La Paz team.  She is deeply committed to providing all children with a world-class education, as well as inspiring and cultivating their love of learning.  Outside the classroom, Kyla loves reading, running, yoga, traveling, and spending time at the beach.

Audrey Lynn Nelson – Grade 4-5 English

audrey nelsonAudrey Nelson hails from Littleton, Colorado, USA. She has worked in education for over ten years, and feels deeply connected to students and colleagues who value adventure and experiential learning. After attending Middlebury College in Vermont, she moved to Seattle, Washington, where she spent a year tutoring and mentoring students with City Year, an AmeriCorps volunteer program. Upon completion, Audrey trekked back across the country and worked for three years at Greenwich Academy, a private girls’ school in Connecticut. She also earned a Master of Arts in Teaching at Manhattanville College. The following semester, she accepted a temporary position teaching Kindergarten in Vermont. She then seized the opportunity to work and volunteer abroad, moving to Costa Rica with nothing but a backpack. Audrey fell in love with the country, the people and the community of La Paz, and is eager to bring her energy and creativity to the English Language Arts department in the lower school.

Abel McClennen- School Director, IB Math and Theory of Knowledge
(8 years at La Paz)

AbelMr. Abel, as he is known by La Paz students, returns for his 8th year at La Paz and is one of the original founders of the school. An active member of the local community, he constantly strives for there to be open communication between community members, parents, teachers, faculty, and students in order to achieve thoughtful and sustainable growth in Guanacaste. A graduate of Bowdoin College in Maine where he majored in Physics and minored in Sociology, Abel’s teaching career began 14 years ago at Souhegan High School, a public high school in southern New Hampshire, where he earned his secondary physics certification. A certified AP and IB instructor/Director, Abel’s innovative educational philosophy is driven by a strong desire to interact with students outside the classroom through coaching athletics, leading experiential education programs, and facilitating project based learning.

Jennifer Cerdas – Operations Manager
(8 years at La Paz)

JenniferJennifer is an essential spoke in the wheel that moves La Paz. She came to La Paz in 2007 and was an integral part of the founding of the school. She lives in Huacas, Guanacaste and she has completed her Masters in Educational Administration at the Universidad Latina in Santa Cruz. Some of her hobbies are listening to music and reading while at the same time Jennifer is a nature loving life long learner. Excited to be a part of the La Paz team for her eighth year, Jennifer is grateful for the unique life experiences offered to her at the school.

Sara McGowan – Grade 2 English-Math-Science, Administrator
(8 years at La Paz)

SaraSara brings her talent, passion, and enthusiasm to La Paz Community School for the eighth year in a row. Prior to receiving her Master of Arts in Teaching and ESOL Endorsement from Lewis & Clark College, Sara facilitated early childhood programs in Finland and Italy. After returning to her native town of Portland, Oregon as a 2nd grade teacher, Sara then decided to broaden perspectives and hone her teaching skills as an international educator in Guatemala and Costa Rica. Whether she is developing the school bilingual program designed to meet the specific learning needs of students or overseeing our early childhood program, Sara’s adventurous spirit and energy are reflected in her professional practice and interaction with children.

Kerry McClennen – Secondary English Language Arts, High School Administrator
(8 years at La Paz)

KerryKerry is a founding educator and high school English teacher at La Paz Community School.  She teaches IB Language and Literature, and shares her passion for dance with the community whenever possible.  Her chosen path in education led her from Chicago to New Hampshire, Brazil, Guatemala, and now Costa Rica, where she has been living, working, and raising her two daughters for the past several years. Graduating from University of New Hampshire in 2001 with a Master of Arts in Teaching English and a minor in Dance, Kerry’s professional career continues to combine both her passions for teaching and the arts. Kerry’s classroom interweaves writing workshops, place-based educational ventures, interactive literature circles, extensive writing development, and interpretive performances into the core curriculum.  Wherever she travels, Kerry’s passion for dance and teaching has touched the hearts and minds of the students, teachers, parents, and communities that surround her.

Brian Crites – Grade 5 Math-Science, Administrator
(8 years at La Paz)

BrianA native Oregonian who is returning for his eighth year at La Paz, Brian Crites has woven his passion for the outdoors into the classroom environment. Soon after earning his Master of Arts in Teaching, Brian pursued international education in Guatemala and Costa Rica. Working with grades 3-6, he has integrated experiential projects into the core curriculum such as; the creation of the La Paz Pura Verde Project, native green space and vegetable gardens, and a school-wide recycling program. Students and colleagues alike admire his variety of interests, which include coaching basketball, surfing, biking, music, and hiking. These passions coupled with Brian’s natural gift for educating, inspire a learning environment where children develop confidence and competence as scholars, mentors, communicators, leaders, researchers, and role models of kindness.

Xinia Gómez Gutiérrez – Grade 3-4 Spanish-Social Studies
(8 years at La Paz)

With recommendations from the Mayor’s office and Ministry of Education in Santa Cruz, Xinia is a legend in the Costa Rican educational community. In her illustrious career, she has touched the lives of children from over 10 schools all over Costa Rica from Limón on the Carribean side, to Santa Rosa on the Pacific side. Her specialty is in primary education as her qualifications allow her to teach all core subjects grades k-6. She brings with her a tremendous amount of Guanacaste cultural heritage in areas such as cooking, dancing, and literature. La Paz is honored to have her as part of the team since our inception 8 years ago.

David Dodge – Grade 4 Math-Science, Scholarship Academic/Social Liaison
(8 years at La Paz)

DaveA native of Oregon, David earned both his Degree in Education and Teacher Certification from Western Oregon State College in 1987. Upon graduation David spent his first 8 uninterrupted years teaching grades 3 through 5 with the Woodburn School District. In 1996, he along with his wife Kelly transitioned to Costa Rica and joined the teaching team at Escuela Tamarindo Elementary School which shut down in the early 2000’s. In similarity to La Paz, this small school’s strong concept of community education was born of local families in search of a viable educational cooperative to suit the specific educational needs of their children.
In his eighth year at La Paz, his experiences over a wide range of grades, schools, and communities have complimented David’s unique concern, style, and personality as an effective elementary school educator. As the 4th grade teacher this year as well as the academic/social liaison for over 30 scholarship students, he is extremely enthusiastic to guide La Paz students in their learning quest.

Kelly Campbell – Drama and Grade 3 English-Math-Science
(8 years at La Paz)

At the age of 9 when she taught her 5 year-old brother to read, Kelly discovered her passion and natural gift for education. Graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Oregon State University, Kelly has spent her entire life fostering personal and academic growth in a positive learning environment. This will be Miss Kelly’s eighth year teaching at La Paz and fifth year teaching third grade. She loves how our school wide themes unite all children in learning together. Kelly enjoys all subjects and being around the children’s positive energy and curiosity.Her favorite subjects are science and math. Kelly has taught in the area for over 18 years along side her husband, the famous Mr. Dodge. The couple moved to Costa Rica in 1996 to live a simpler life style surrounded by the beauty of the people and nature of Guanacaste. Originally from California, Miss Kelly is considering being a DJ or journalist when she grows up. Her hobbies include: laughing,smiling, music, art, yoga, walking,swimming, traveling,and reading.

Daniela Aburto – Grade 7, 8 Spanish-Social Studies
(7 years at La Paz)

Daniela joined La Paz after working as an Environmental Educator for CEPIA, Escuela Brasilito, and Reserva Conchal. She has worked extensively in the Brasilito, Matapalo, and Potrero public school systems to help initiate recycling and environmental awareness programs, and is a native of Brasilito. Her close ties with the community have helped La Paz become further involved as a leader in local initiatives. In her seventh year at La Paz, Daniela is excited to further develop her uniquely experiential classroom experience. She has a 9 year old son named Jagger, and she enjoys working as a team with both parents and students.  Graduated from the University of Costa Rica, Daniela has her teaching certificate.

Neida Escalera Galindo – Spanish Language Support Specialist and Drama
(7 years at La Paz)

NeidaA native of Bolivia, Neida moved to Costa Rica over 10 years ago to settle in the local village of Villarreal. Neida’s passion and expertise is in supporting youth in second language acquisition.  Prior to La Paz she worked at many of the local language schools. While at La Paz for the past seven years Miss Neida’s diverse skill set has allowed her to work with the primary school Spanish/Social Studies, the preschool, and now the primary and secondary school as a language support specialist and drama teacher.  Miss Neida is an exceptionally dynamic teacher who always brings out the best in her students by establishing an enjoyable and active classroom environment.

Kenia Calderon – Grade 9-12 Spanish, IB Spanish Lang. and Lit. HL
(6 years at La Paz)

KeniaKenia is a Spanish educator in her sixth year at La Paz who simply loves to teach and to share her knowledge. Kenia graduated from one of the top schools in Costa Rica, Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica, where she received her teaching certificate. She arrived in Flamingo in 2007, and spent time working at Reserva Conchal and the Jungle Gym as she worked towards earning her diploma. She is a natural born teacher and her passion for the Spanish language and Costa Rican culture is contagious amongst the students in her class. At La Paz Community School she is empowered to explore her teaching philosophy based on the constructive method, where the student learns through self exploration and discovery.

Geneva Garcia-Ellen – Grade 3 English-Math-Science
(5 years at La Paz)

In her fifth year at La Paz, Geneva has had the great opportunity of teaching children from all over the world. She has primarily worked with emergent readers in Micronesia, Fiji, Galapagos, California and New Mexico. She now brings her experience and enthusiasm to La Paz. She received her BA from the University of New Mexico and completed her teacher’s licensure at California State Monterey Bay. She strongly believes in the enrichment of the whole child, including physical, social, emotional and intellectual development. She strives to create an orderly classroom environment in which children feel comfort from knowing what to expect and what the expectations are of them. She is a wife and mother of two young sons. Her interests include surfing, flamenco and writing.

Ximena Bepmale – Physical Education
(5 years at La Paz)

Ximena is extremely happy to work with La Paz students as they move their skeletons from their feet to the head! She is a native of Argentina who has lived in Costa Rica since 2006 while enjoying its beautiful beaches and natural wonders. Having graduated with a degree in Physical Education and Early Childhood Stimulation from Buenos Aires, Ximena has had extensive experience in primary school PE and particularly in the area of swimming. Ximena has been a source of energy and enthusiasm for La Paz students for the past five years. Prior to working at La Paz, Ximena ran a local swimming program for infants and toddlers.

Leonie Jimenez – Preschool, Scholarship Family Liaison
(4 years at La Paz)

Leonie is in her fourth year at La Paz after taking several years off of work to raise her children. Having graduated from the Universidad Latina with a degree in preschool bilingual education, Leonie is honored to be a part of the La Paz teaching team. She has a passion for the thoughtful development of education in Guanacaste and this is reflected through her extended stint as inaugural director of the Guanacaste Foundation.  This foundation is devoted to the construction of public learning spaces in Guanacaste. Her work with the Guanacaste Foundation has also helped her in her work as Scholarship Family Liaison to over 30 scholarship students at La Paz.  Leonie’s classroom is full of youthful energy that reflects her passions of music, art, nature, and play.

Claudia Alfaro – Grade 5-6 Spanish
(4 years at La Paz)

Claudia comes to La Paz from Argentina and has resided in Costa Rica since 2002 while working at La Paz since 2010. Her elementary education studies were undertaken at the University of Mar de Plata in Buenos Aires. Her passion is to teach while always choosing unique manners by which to motivate her students. She is always involved in activities that involve children, including beach games and trips. Claudia is very active in the Tamarindo community as she works with a group of mothers to maintain the Oneida Park in Tamarindo that is dedicated to the children of the region.

Deborah Ellis – Grade 1 English-Math-Science
(3rd year at La Paz)

Coming from her native state of California, Debbie is in her third year as part of the La Paz team. After spending 5 months in Costa Rica in 2005, Debbie and her husband are excited to return and become a part of the community in Guanacaste. After having taught in Washington DC and Los Angeles, Debbie has spent the last 5 years as an Assistant Principal and then Principal of an elementary school focused on integrating the arts and sciences and supporting language development for English Leaners in the Los Angeles area. During this time, Debbie completed her Doctorate in Education at the University of Southern California with a focus on k-12 Leadership. Debbie looks forward to learning from the La Paz community and bringing her learning and experience to collectively provide powerful educational experiences for the students.

Amy Jacobs – Grade 10-11 IB Creativity Action Service (CAS) and Business
(3 years at La Paz)

amy_jacobsMiss Amy grew up in Western Nebraska and graduated from University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in History in 1993.  She worked in retail management for 19 years at The Disney Stores, Build-a-Bear Workshop, and Spyder Active Sports where she focused on management training and regional store openings. Amy now teaches students the real life skills they need in the professional world in both the Creativity Action and Service class and Business class while integrating the love of the Costa Rican community and the experiential learning that La Paz is known for.


Beverly Acosta – Grade 1 English-Math-Science
(3 years at La Paz)

Before joining the La Paz community in 2012, Beverly taught in rural China, urban New York City, and in the cloud forest of Monteverde here in Costa Rica. She earned her bachelor’s degree in education studies from Skidmore College and her master’s degree in curriculum and teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her favorite part about teaching is the “aha!” moment a child has when making a profound connection, not to mention the joyful, spontaneous, and often hilarious instances that are a part of everyday classroom life.

Jonathan Chapman – Secondary Math, IB Math SL
(3 years at La Paz)

Mr. Jonathan joined La Paz in June 2012 as a mathematics teacher. Originally from New York, he earned his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His experience ranges from working in the automotive and aeronautics industries as an engineer at three Fortune 100 companies and a small, individually owned engineering contractor. He believes in Mastery-based educational practices and experiential learning and has a fundamental goal of making mathematics a challenging yet rewarding class at La Paz.  Along with being an IB certified Math Teacher, Mr. Jonathan also is a well-accomplished Mountain Biker who loves sharing his talents with the students.

Pedro Golobios – Primary and Secondary Music
(3 years at La Paz)

Pedro1Alexander Golobios Pedro Madrigal is Guanacastecan singer-songwriter, educator, entrepreneur , producer and freelance artist who has worked at La Paz for over a year.  At the age of 7 he began to explore the first sounds of percussion of the School of Music at the University of Costa Rica, Santa Cruz.  He is a true professional musician who understands the importance of experimenting reading and composing music with a variety of instruments such as Piano, Bass, Marimba and the French Horn. In 2007, he formed the band Santa Esperanza which was awarded the Guanacaste National Award by the Ministry of Culture of Costa Rica for their song called “Medardo Guido Acevedo”.  He is currently engaged in the production of the second album entitled “Guanacaste from within” and loves sharing his passion for teaching music as well as his secret talent of Baseball with students at La Paz Community School.

Adam Zarakov – Librarian & Grade 8-9 English
(2 years at La Paz)

Adam grew up near Los Angeles before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and most recently Medellín, Colombia. He holds a B.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies from U.C. Berkeley and an M.A. in History from American University in Washington, D.C. He has worked as an independent researcher on various projects, as an executive assistant at a non-governmental organization, as a university teaching assistant, and in collections documentation with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Outside of work he enjoys music, photography, movies, cooking, and basketball.

Jonathan Zúñiga Arrieta – Grade 8-9 Social Studies & Grade 11-12 IB History HL
(2 years at La Paz)

A native of the neighboring town of La Garita, Jonathan has earned a Master’s Degree in teaching Social Studies as well as an IB History certification.  This is his second year at La Paz and previously he worked with the Ministry of Education as a social studies and civics teacher. He is an active member of his community who is passionate about the integral development of adolescents.  In the classroom he acts as a mentor to his students as they move along their learning path, and outside of the classroom he helps to coordinate the local band and football team.

Raquel Sarai Mendoza – Art Instructor, IB Visual Arts SL Teacher
(2 years at La Paz)

Raquel Sarai Mendoza is a sculptor, art instructor and quite the coffee drinker. Originally from California, she received her Bachelor’s of Art at San Diego State University and Master’s of Fine Arts at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Before making the jump internationally, Raquel worked as an Art & Design instructor at Westwood College and Woodshop Teacher Assistant at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Since arriving in Costa Rica in 2011, Raquel has taught Art, Graphic Design and English in local and private K-12th schools and has managed to sneak her artwork in a few exhibitions in San Jose. Raquel is excited for her second year as part of the La Paz team as she continues to combine her excellence as an educator and art experience to the school’s curriculum.

Diana Alfaro Castro – Administrative Assistant and Admissions Coordinator
(3 years at La Paz)

Diana Alfaro CastroFour years ago Diana moved to the coastal region of Guanacaste from the county of Abangares in the interior.  She worked for several years in the tourism sector before coming to La Paz.  Having graduated from the University of Costa Rica with a degree in preschool education she worked as a teacher in the preschool on the UCR campus.  At the moment she is working diligently to complete her master’s degree in Education Administration which is a specialty that she is particularly passionate about.  She loves nature, beaches, mountains and practices Yoga and other forms of exercise in her free time as well as traveling to learn about new areas and people of her country.  This is her third year at La Paz and she is grateful to the school for the professional and personal support that they have offered her as she learns something new ever day from interactions with parents, staff, and students.

Lynsey Newman – College/Career Counselor

Lynsey moved from Orcas Island, Washington excited to share in the unique multicultural La Paz community. Lynsey’s four children inspire her daily in her commitment to creating a better tomorrow for all children. She began her journey in promoting education when she founded a parent cooperative public elementary school and a Waldorf school. She has worked as a teacher, coach, camp coordinator, primary intervention partner, college and career advisor. Her passion for humanitarian work has led her to serve as a board member on several non profits executive boards. A strong advocate for peace, Lynsey facilitated an initiative called “Stories from the Frontline”, a program that brought together High School students from Palestine, Yemen, Israel, China, Malaysia, Afghanistan, and Colombia to travel and share their stories of being a youth in a war torn country. Through her interactions with international students, schools and organizations, Lynsey has a great working knowledge of the different global opportunities for youth and is excited to explore the possibilities of higher education, gap year, summer internship and career opportunities with the impressive students of La Paz.

Lilliana Morales Leal – Grade 2 Spanish & Social Studies

Lilliana is finalizing her studies to earn her teaching degree this year and has a graduate degree in Psychology and Special Education. She has worked as a counselor, administrator, and teacher for the local public schools for 5 years. A native of Santa Rosa, Guanacaste Lilliana is working as a teaching fellow underneath the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Howard who is a visiting professor of Dual Language Immersion from the University of Connecticut.

Margoth Diaz – Preschool Spanish (3 years at La Paz)
Dave Campbell – Grade 7 English
Tim Flynn – Grade 6 Math, Science, English