Our fifth day in Manila was our last as a group before we split up to travel to our teaching placements. We began the day with a visit to the Philippine-American Education Foundation, which is the local field office for Fullbright programs. We had a wide-ranging conversation with the interim director about the educational systems of both countries, the political and economic challenges facing today’s youth, and much more. Snack, which we have learned is an important part of social culture here and very impolite to decline, was Krispy Kreme donuts. Believe it or not the delicious sugar glazed treat I devoured was the first Krispy Kreme donut I’ve ever had. I had to come halfway around the world to try Krispy Kreme! I guess that’s what happens when you live in the heart of Dunkin Donutland. The Philippine-American Education Foundation’s office was adorned with college/university pennants given by professors and post-docs who have participated in various exchanges overseen by the foundation. I spotted MIT and Harvard, but Union College was absent. Get on it, Dutchmen!
After lunch we visited Pembo Elementary School, a K-6 public school in Makati. This school educates a mind-blowing 5200 students every day. The size of the enrollment necessitates two shifts; some students attend from 6:00 AM to noon, others from noon to 6:00 PM. It’s hard for me to fathom a school with so many students, which is one reason why this school was so informative and important for me to visit. If this school were located in the U.S. it would be the 5th largest school in the country. Our van pulled around a corner into the central courtyard of the school, revealing a substantial welcoming party that included the school’s marching band. As we stepped out of the van school administrators presented us with honorary sashes. We were asked to pose for countless photos. Before touring the school and observing classes, we enjoyed an introductory program that included remarks by the school principal and the reigning “teacher of the year,” an energetic performance by one of the special education classes, and a song by a very talented and confident little girl. After I had been introduced as a teacher from Massachusetts, the principal, who was sitting adjacent to me, leaned over to show me photos of himself in from of the Massachusetts State House on his phone—he’d visited Boston a few months earlier on a tour of various universities for educational leaders. Here I am with the Principal later on in the day:
Classrooms were colorful. Most had foam mats on the floor for the 40 or so students in each class to sit on in orderly columns:
Every classroom in the school was equipped with a set of construction helmets for students to put on in case of an earthquake. The school regularly conducts earthquake drills similar to how American schools conduct fire drills.
One classroom we visited contained the “Alternative Program” for older students who had earlier in life either dropped out or otherwise left school. They were working on elementary-level academics in order to pass the tests required to proceed to junior high material (which would take place at a junior high school). Their eventual goal is to graduate from high school. The youngest students in the classroom were probably around 13 years old. The oldest was likely in her 50’s. Several young mothers were in the classroom accompanied by their infants. In the alternative program, students come to the school once a week. The majority of their assignments are completed outside of school during the rest of the week. This allows them to have a job or raise a family—the two main reasons why they had to leave the traditional educational program in the first place. I had the chance to talk at length with the principal of the school. I asked him what the biggest challenge facing Pembo Elementary was and he said it was keeping his poorest students in school. He said that the ones that need school the most are the ones most likely to be pulled from school by their parents or by their circumstances. The alternative program gives these students a chance to come back at a later age.
A few “e-classrooms” that I saw were equipped with Android tablets, though classes were not in session at the time of my visit. Each classroom was named after a technology-related term that had been turned (forced?) into an acronym for various school values.
The evening was unscheduled, allowing to me meet up with my friend Christia! Christia and my wife Keba were suitemates in college. I haven’t seen her for nearly 15 years since back when we all went to Union College together. Christia lives in Manila just a few minutes away from the hotel I’d been staying in, so she swung by and picked me up. It is always a treat to have a local host you in their city. It’s even better when you have the chance to catch up after years apart. Christia is both an actress and an entrepreneur. These days she spends most of her time working on her startup Teddy Sage Clothing Concepts. We had a couple drinks at a little place in the Bonifacio Global City area, an upward-trending financial district. We talked about the “good ole” days in college, what we had been doing and how our lives had changed in the intervening decade and a half, and how crazy (and improbable!) it was that Keba and I were only weeks away from welcoming our first child into the world. We also FaceTimed with Keba who was on her way to work back in Boston. You might see a bit of our evening together on Christia’s YouTube channel sometime down the line!
Alas, we had to cut the night short as I knew a very early wake-up call was coming. TGC fellows Angelo, Jenn, and myself needed to check out of the hotel at 2:00 AM in order to catch our very-early-morning flight to Legazpi and the next chapter of our adventure!