Mentes Brillantes: A Visionary Education in Ecuador

Mentes Brillantes: A Visionary Education in Ecuador

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The foundation of Mentes Brillantes is a story rooted in a mother’s desire to create a unique and supportive educational environment for her child. Sonnia de Carrion, who has dedicated nearly 30 years to teaching, envisioned a different kind of education while pregnant with her daughter. Concerned that unschooling might be a lonely option for her only child, Sonnia sought to create a nurturing, safe, and engaging learning environment.

Mentes Brillantes started as informal gatherings in 2019, where Sonnia’s daughter and children of close friends, who shared similar educational philosophies, participated in English and cooking classes and enjoyed ample free play. The core of this initiative was the joy and growth witnessed among these children, all of whom shared the same religious beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

From Informal Gatherings to a Flourishing School

What began as casual classes quickly evolved into a more structured program. Overcoming numerous challenges, Sonnia and her husband discovered West River Academy, an institution perfectly aligned with their vision of a values-based, safe school. Starting with 20 students, Mentes Brillantes adapted swiftly to the pandemic, expanding its reach to 100 online students. The dedication of Sonnia and her husband, who initially ran the school alone, was instrumental in this growth.

As the school grew, more teachers were hired, and students were divided into grades. By 2022, Mentes Brillantes began seeking a physical location for in-person classes. Currently, they serve 315 students through a mix of presential, online, and hybrid modalities.

Pre-K to 6th grade students can attend school on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, while Thursday classes are available online. Fridays are free for these students. For 7th to 12th-grade students, in-person classes are held on Thursdays and Fridays, with the option to attend online. They have online courses on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and Mondays are free. All in-person classes are available live and online.

A Holistic Approach to Education

The school emphasizes holistic education, incorporating extracurricular activities such as Spelling Bees, Theater plays, choreographies, Art Contests, Music talent shows, and Field trips. These events reinforce the students’ talents and knowledge, providing a well-rounded educational experience.

Assessment at Mentes Brillantes includes four annual tests, which can be taken online or in person. Their graduation program is particularly noteworthy. In the 12th grade, students select a topic they are passionate about and write a research paper. This process includes deadlines, rules, and meetings in English to discuss the topics, guided by project tutors. If a student is not proficient in English, they are allowed to complete the project in Spanish.

At the end of the year, students present their research orally to judges, summarizing their year-long investigation and discussing their findings and conclusions. This exercise helps develop essential soft skills such as public speaking and research capabilities.

Building a Supportive Community

The journey of Mentes Brillantes has been marked by growth and success, primarily attributed to the supportive community of educators, students, and parents and the significant support from West River Academy. The school’s commitment to each student and their families is evident in every aspect of its approach.

Sonnia de Carrion’s vision has flourished into a vibrant community where students learn, play, and grow together. With Jehovah’s blessing, Mentes Brillantes has seen two groups of students graduate in 2023 and 2024, a testament to the school’s dedication and effectiveness.

Looking forward, Mentes Brillantes aims to continue fostering the abilities and spiritual qualities necessary for their students to succeed in life. The collaboration with West River Academy and the strong sense of community promises a bright future for this innovative educational initiative.

Jaco Learning Center – WRA Group in Costa Rica

Jaco Learning Center – WRA Group in Costa Rica

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Collaboration is key at Jaco Learning Center because the teachers, parents and students work closely together to create a learning experience built on creativity, unity and natural learning.  They have created a beautiful learning space that has different sections based on age range. They have an outdoor space, a second-level sport section, a music area, divisions within the building to separate the learning areas and they fill each space with age-appropriate learning materials such as books, craft projects and other educational games and activities. The parents and teachers work well together to design learning themes. In addition to the natural curiosity that comes with living in Costa Rica’s tropical climate, the parents and teachers prioritize critical thinking skills and it is very important to teach the students about how they can directly create a positive impact on their community.

In March, our Creative Director, Rachel Nishikawa, had the fantastic opportunity to visit and meet with the Principal, Brittany. With three of her own children enrolled, Brittany radiates a profound dedication to the unschooling ethos. Her warmth and boundless compassion are evident in every interaction. She gave Rachel a tour of their vibrant learning hub where children thrive at their own rhythm.






We enjoy connecting with our groups around the world because it is fascinating to see how alternative education can be applied in various cultures. In countries where withdrawing students from the government educational system is illegal, families who dare to do so run the risk of being arrested or reported to social services. In order to reduce the risk of this happening, families enroll in West River Academy and demonstrate with their Confirmation of Enrollment documents that they are complying with compulsory attendance laws by enrolling in a private school in the United States. They can also present official transcripts to prove the student has completed grade levels. Worldschoolers and other ex-pats who join learning communities may feel safer being enrolled with a school such as West River Academy.


Grupos WRA: Conozca a Los Castaños de El Salvador

Grupos WRA: Conozca a Los Castaños de El Salvador

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We’d like to introduce you to one of our 102 groups world-wide in West River Academy. Los Castaños is a group in El Salvador that is committed to educating their students in an expansive way.  This year celebrates seven years of educating students and teaching the community about alternative education.

The phenomenon of unschooling can be found in various ways: families who travel and their education is based on the cultures they discover on their journeys; some families do unschooling because their children are high performers in sports; others because they disagree with traditional education and many other reasons.


Los Castaños

If we delve even further into how to carry out unschooling, we have families that do it individually and others in a community manner. Today, we want to show you this latest modality of unschooling, which is in a group-organized way, similar to a school structure outside of the traditional system.

Los Castaños was founded by Claudia Turcios, a Salvadorian who has embraced Natural Learning and is committed to providing practical knowledge for the next generation. Her vision was put into action on November 26, 2016, when she organized a small group of families to learn topics such as agriculture, cooking, managing finances, and the list goes on. Seven years later, her dream has expanded and now provides a solution to hundreds of families. This current year, she has more than 80 students and 20 teachers who share the same vision.

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What is the experience in Los Castaños like?

This alternative and bilingual school consists of children ages 3-18. Claudia and her team are with them on their educational process each step of the way. This is the second year that 12th graders will be graduating and certified by West River Academy.

Their methodology is a mix of Montessori, supported by emotional intelligence with a firm foundation of ethics. This is not a school where you leave your children at the school door mindlessly. The participation of families is essential for the healthy functioning of this institution.

Among their students, they have the competence and training to receive neuro-divergent students with autism, giftedness, and Down syndrome, which makes educational life inclusive and without distinctions in terms of opportunities and activities. Everyone is equally invited to participate in the different educational events offered by the school.

In addition to life in the classrooms, Los Castaños offers field activities that are previously planned and can be seen in their annual calendars—visits to museums and local or national parks. Even everyday places such as grocery shopping for their meals provide a guided experience to cultivate practical life skills.

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“At Los Castaños, we educate for peace.”

Claudia shared with us what a typical day looks like for them. The idea is that the day is flexible and offers an array of subject areas they can learn at their fingertips.

Of its 20 teachers and facilitators, some are permanent for each grade and others rotate to provide different natural learning activities weekly: music, cooking, arts, Kenpo/Karate, studio arts and design, and entrepreneurship. They actively participate in the Recicla 503 program as ambassadors of environmental care. They offer swimming, coding, yoga, mindfulness, and other practical and optional activities.

One of the main priorities to them is to have a comprehensive emotional education program, which promotes “self-knowledge, management of emotions and feelings, management of tension and stress, assertive communication, empathy, interpersonal relationships, conflict management, decision making, critical thinking, and creativity.”

Graduandos Los Castaños West River Academy

Graduation 2023

As we had mentioned, 5 of their students are graduating this year. One of the fundamental requirements at West River Academy is to complete an Biografía Educativa, a written essay about their educational journey from as far back as they can remember until now.

Claudia tells us that this activity was therapeutic for these young adults since they were able to internalize and reflect on everything they had learned. She said that this will have a positive impact on their future as adults, in more ways than we can know.

We are very excited to celebrate all of our high school graduates on December 15, 2023!

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Inspiration for everyone

Now that you know these spaces exist and are a reality, we hope to inspire other families to join, organize, and form a community. Likewise, search within your local area because without knowing it, there may be a school very similar to Los Castaños near you, where your children can obtain alternative, emotional, and ethical education in their community.

All the images in this article are actual photos of Los Castaños. Here are some pictures of its facilities:

Thank you for daring to make a difference and supporting educational freedom!

Happy 7th Anniversary to Los Castaños!