What I’ve Learned from Teaching Film Class this Year at TIDE

Filming a part of the music video on the beach

I have had the honor of teaching an After School Enrichment Class at the TIDE Academy this year and it has been extremely impactful on my (and our entire families’) experience in Costa Rica. The class I teach is called Film Making, and we have had three major focuses this year; learning the deep basics of filmmaking, creating a music video and creating a documentary film. My students have been engaged beyond my expectations. It’s been so much fun to teach them about camera angles, camera movement, exposure, depth of field, etc. I’ve also really enjoyed creating a music video with them, learning about multi-camera shots, time code, syncing audio and so much more. That being said, creating the documentary has been inspiring and enlightening beyond my wildest dreams.

Shot from the Music Video in production

Our documentary is about their school, The TIDE Academy. It’s about what it’s like to attend the school, what it’s like as a parent sending your kids to the school, and what it’s like to teach at the school. I’ve always been a very strong believer in alternative education. The education I want for my own kids is one that encourages them to think and learn and not just memorize and repeat.

The TIDE Academy is not your typical school. It’s different than any school I’ve ever heard about or experienced. We’ve been sending our kids to TIDE for the last 4 years for some portion of their school year. Up until this year, our kids have been at TIDE between 3 and 6 months of the year. This year, we decided to spend the entire year in Costa Rica and they have been full-time TIDE students.

TIDE is a very small school. There are approximately 40-45 students in the school serving grades K-12. Most classes have 4 students, and they cap the classes at 6 students. Some of the students are full-time at TIDE, some of them are students for a month or three at a time. It’s a fluid environment, ever changing and evolving. Just like the tides.

Classroom shot during the filming of documentary

TIDE is a four day a week school and only four hours (or six hours with Enrichment Classes) per day. TIDE’s unique schedule, with shorter school days and 16-24 hour weeks is different than the 35-40 hour school weeks we are used to in Colorado.  Despite the difference, I’ve always felt that the quality of learning is strong at TIDE, the experience is very beneficial and that the kids are getting more than just their basic educational needs met. Our top priorities for our kids are to make sure that they are educated, experienced, able to think for themselves, confident, happy and grounded.

Over the years there have been occasional frustrations with TIDE because it’s a small school that is still growing into itself.  There have been bumps along the way, as to be expected with a new school. Because the school is small and the community is connected, we have been able to be a part of the creation process. Chelsea, (and the staff at TIDE),  is thoughtful, open-minded and connected. Education is tricky, it’s a plain fact. There are a lot of variables and opinions, yet in the end, as parents, we pick and choose what is most important to our ideals and goals for our kids. TIDE has fit into this framework for our family and we are thankful for that.

Up until this year (for the most part at least) our experience and opinions about TIDE have been almost exclusively revolving around our family of five. When we started at TIDE four years ago, our three kids were almost half of the school population and for the past two years, we have been a “part time” family. This year, however, we committed to being a TIDE family. Erin and I are both teaching and actively involved in the TIDE community and are both connected to many of the students and parents at TIDE. This leads me to the documentary we are creating in my Film Making Class.

Our class has interviewed more than 45 different students, parents and teachers from TIDE for our documentary. Keep in mind that TIDE has a population of around 40 students, so we have spoken with a large portion of the TIDE community. These interviews have been very impactful, insightful and inspiring. Every week when I come home from a documentary day at Film Class, I have to immediately sit down and excitedly express to Erin what our interviewees have said and expressed.

Interviewing Chelsea, Director of TIDE

We have four sets of questions based on who is getting interviewed to try to keep things consistent and to make sure we cover everything we want to ask. We have questions for Parents, Teachers, Lower TIDE (3rd to 8th grade) and Upper TIDE (9th-12th grade) – they are all similar but change based on the students’ and parents’ roles and relationships with TIDE.

It’s been absolutely amazing to hear these people talk about The TIDE Academy.

The documentary is still in the works, so I can’t post it yet, but there are a few things that I’ve taken away from the interviews that have been extremely enlightening.

The students are HAPPY at TIDE. Not one student that we interviewed expressed even slight negativity about the school. We gave them a number of opportunities, to be honest, and open with the questions we asked. Not only did we not hear negative things (other than “we still have homework..” or “wish we had better chairs”) they spoke about how happy they are at TIDE.

The students are LEARNING at TIDE. Every student we have interviewed has attended at least one other school prior to TIDE, and every single one of them expressed that they believe they are learning more at TIDE than at their old school(s). Additionally, each one of them also said that, while the content might be harder at TIDE, the actual learning experience and how they absorb the content is much easier at TIDE because of the small classes and intimate setting.

The students feel like they FIT IN at TIDE. We’ve all been there at some level. School can be tough from a social standpoint. Kids can be exclusive, cliques can form and that naturally leads to someone not being included. Outcasts are born and divisions are created. That doesn’t seem to happen at TIDE. TIDE is a family. All the kids expressed how much they felt connected to everyone, from all grades. Some of the kids made reference to being bullied at their former schools, or being considered “weird” and immediately commented about how that is a non-issue at TIDE. Everyone is accepted for who they are. They all have gifts to offer and, incredibly, their gifts are seen and cherished.

The students LOVE their teachers at TIDE. Once again, every single student we interviewed from all grades expressed with the utmost sincerity how much they loved their teachers at TIDE. Each student feels like they are getting personalized attention from the teachers. They expressed how grateful they were that the teachers cared about them specifically and made them feel like an important member of the class.

The students love the SHORT HOURS at TIDE. Kids are kids. There are very few kids that would specifically choose to go to school longer than they have to, but the piece that was impactful to me in hearing this was the fact that the students (and teachers and parents) also feel like their educational needs are being met while still allowing the kids to embrace and explore their creative/athletic/fulfilling sides outside of school with a shorter commitment to the school day. In essence, they still have time to be kids. They still have the opportunity to enjoy their youth. They have the freedom to exist outside of school and be creative, grounded and independent.

Parents say their kids LOVE going to school. Let that sink in for a moment… Their kids love going to school… Every parent expressed how happy their kids are with the school, with their experiences, with their teachers, and with their classmates. Most said it was the first time ever that their kid(s) did not, at some point, resist heading to school in the morning for one reason or another.

Four hour school days WORK. Especially in a class of 6 or fewer students. Every student, parent, and teacher we spoke with expressed their belief in shorter school days. I heard time and time again about how much easier it is to learn, how much faster it is to learn and how much more effective it is to learn with a micro class. When all the students grasp and understand the subject, teachers can move on to the next one. If a student (or group of students) doesn’t understand something, time can be taken to explain further on a personalized basis, and when it clicks, everyone can move on. It’s really an incredible vision into how education can be so much more effective with personalized attention.

The Teachers are truly HAPPY at TIDE. I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but in Colorado, there are very strict guidelines, timelines, and expectations for teachers and their curriculum. In many grade levels, those guidelines are accompanied by a county/state/national test. The success of a teacher (and school) is measured by the scores on the “test” and many teachers feel that they are restricted in their creativity and teaching approach because they have to “teach to the test”. TIDE does not follow that path. Teachers follow a standard curriculum, yet are also given the freedom to explore additional avenues of learning, at their own pace, to give their students more rich and meaningful context. Throw in the fact that their students are happy and love school and you’ve got the ultimate learning/teaching experience.

I feel like I could go on and on, but I will cut it off at that. You’ll have to wait for the documentary to be finished to see the rest 🙂

Getting set up for the “money shot” on the beach

To sum it up, I feel that this has been an incredible year at TIDE. I’m not going to say it’s perfect. I’m also not going to say that it’s flawed. All I know is that my kids are happy. My kids are learning. I’m proud of their school. Their teachers are amazing. And I wouldn’t ever want to re-wind the clock and make a different decision for this scholastic year.

If you want to learn more about the TIDE Academy, check them out at TideAcademy.com.



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