Ep. 192: Reimagining Education for All Students with Sylvia Barreto Benites

Jul 2, 2024 | 0 comments

Today, we have a truly inspiring guest joining us from the heart of the jungle in Costa Rica. She’s the director of the Renaissance Institute (iREN), a trailblazing educational program that is redefining how we approach learning for all students, especially those with learning differences. We’re excited to dive deep into her insights and experiences on how she combines neuroscience, psychology, and pedagogy to create a transformative learning environment.

Sylvia’s journey began in 2020 when she established a small homeschool for teenagers to help them navigate distance learning during the pandemic. This initiative quickly grew into the Renaissance Institute, a unique educational environment in beautiful Costa Rica. 

Throughout our conversation, Sylvia will share her motivations and the personal experiences that drove her to build this unique program. She created the kind of educational environment she wished she had as a child, which resonates deeply with many parents today. We’ll explore how differentiation and a sense of safety are crucial in education, yet often missing. Sylvia believes in creating spaces where students feel safe to make mistakes and learn from them, an essential component in fostering resilience.

By the end of this episode, you'll have a new perspective on how education can be transformed to meet the needs of every child. Sylvia's story is a powerful reminder that with the right mindset and approach, we can create learning environments that not only educate but also heal and empower our students.

Show Notes:

[2:17] – It is a time of real opportunity for change in education right now.

[3:18] – Sylvia describes the motivations she has had in building this unique learning environment in Costa Rica.

[5:05] – In 2020, Sylvia established a small homeschool for teenagers in Costa Rica to help them navigate through distance learning. It grew into iREN.

[8:01] – Students are highly involved in creating and establishing their own learning environment in a way that establishes trust.

[10:12] – It is important for the attention to be given to the students who are doing the right thing. A lot of neurodivergent students are accustomed to being yelled at.

[12:09] – Sylvia has created the program that she wished she had had as a child. Many parents feel the same way.

[13:40] – Differentiation is important, but we can’t differentiate so much that there is no normalcy.

[15:11] – Another missing piece in education is love and a sense of safety.

[17:57] – Create a space where students can make mistakes.

[20:50] – Students want to learn impulse control but often feel like they can’t.

[23:47] – It is a reality that many parents are afraid of their child and fearful that they cannot support them.

[26:33] – What brings a student happiness? Can we create a sense of acceptance and well-being where a child feels happy in their learning environment?

[27:50] – Diagnoses are important, but many people focus on the negatives which creates a sense of hopelessness.

[30:10] – Sylvia is confident that healing herself and changing her own mindset was the first step in creating iREN for students and families.

[34:01] – Children are struggling, which is what it all boils down to. What can we do?

[38:10] – Grades do not typically motivate a student. Parents care more about grades than students do. We need to help students find their intrinsic motivation.

About Our Guest:

Sylvia serves as the founder and director of the Renaissance Institute in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Established in 2020, the Renaissance Institute (iREN) aims to engage children beyond screens by inviting them to explore a 33-acre forested campus. iREN integrates neuroscience, psychology, and pedagogy to unleash the potential of children facing challenges. The program prioritizes children's social-emotional requirements, cultivating resilience and hands-on learning tailored to each child's unique learning style. With small class sizes, the institute personalizes learning plans to cater to individual educational needs.

Sylvia holds a Master's in Education from Dowling College in New York, specializing in neuroscience and teaching. Being a triple threat herself (dyslexic, ADHD, and defiant), she utilized her understanding of the brain to unlock her own potential, instigating a desire to assist others in achieving the same.

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The Diverse Thinking Different Learning podcast is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or legal advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Additionally, the views and opinions expressed by the host and guests are not considered treatment and do not necessarily reflect those of ChildNEXUS, Inc or the host, Dr. Karen Wilson.