Opening Minds to Endless Possibilities – School ACADEMIA INTERNACIONAL BOQUETE

By Penny Zibula

What’s green and helps children grow? If your answer was broccoli or green beans, you’d be right. And if Academia International Boquete was your answer, well, you’d be right, too.

Parents in the Boquete/David area are fortunate to have a real choice in how their children are educated. Thanks to the efforts and dedication of two Panamanian women, an innovative approach to learning is gaining momentum.

Melissa Vallarino and Carla Rigau knew each other in high school. Both moved on to careers – economics for Melissa and dentistry for Carla – and families. They both lived in the United States, and they both moved to Boquete. It was there that they met again, discussed their concerns for the education of their children and proceeded to do something about it.

In 2009, Academia International Boquete opened with 85 students, and a curriculum built with help from its sister school in Panama City.


Boquete’s International School Teaches Lessons that Go Beyond Academics

At the start of the 2015 school year, which began on March 2, the school had an enrollment of 461 students representing 27 nationalities.

Just over a year ago, AIB moved to a new building, located 18 kilometers from David and 12 kilometers from Boquete. The structure was specifically designed, as a green school.

“We want the students to take care of nature,” Carla explained. “We recycle a lot. Little by little we’re going to make it a green school. We’re going to build solar panels and wind turbines.” Their ultimate goal is to function completely off the grid.

AIB’s approach to learning is also forward-thinking. “it’s not just academic,” Melissa emphasized. “We believe that we’re putting together a person. It’s an integrated education that includes values.”

AIB is currently instituting a new program called “Leader in Me”, which teaches leadership skills and promotes self esteem and respect for others. Students are also required to perform at least 80 hours of volunteer work a year.


The school day runs from 8:00 AM, to 3:30 PM; longer than  that of public schools. However, during this time, students are able to finish most or all of their homework.

Grade levels range from Pre-K to 11 this year, with a maximum class size of 25. AIB will graduate its first 12th grade class in 2016.

The school’s student body includes children who have academic challenges, such as autism and learning disabilities, students who are gifted, as well as 50 shades of average. And, although there are currently no students using wheelchairs, the school is completely wheelchair accessible.

“The most important thing,” said Melissa, “ is to understand that each child is different. We are really personalized. Our programs are tailor-made for each student.”

AIB’s staff consists of 40 including administration, a psychologist, as well as other support staff, and teachers who wear jeans and sneakers, so they can sit on the floor with their students.

The annual fee per student is between $2,000 and $3,000, depending on grade level. However, through the generosity of AIB and private and corporate donations, scholarships are available.

With a philosophy of inclusion and personal responsibility, high academic standards and a well-rounded curriculum, AIB is an option worth considering for expat families and locals alike.

Visit the Academy’s Official Site here!

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