Bicol Regional High School is a grade 7 to 12 public school in Ligao City, Albay. It serves approximately 600 students who have passed an entrance exam to demonstrate their proficiency in and dedication to STEM fields. I have been placed in Ligao City at BRSHS for a total of 10 days for the field experience portion of my Teachers for Global Classrooms fellowship. Kristina, my host teacher, is a master teacher at BRSHS. She normally teaches Physics but is filling in these days as the Technology and Media Literacy teacher. Today was my first day at BRSHS with Kristina and my partner teacher, Angelo!
The school consists of a half dozen two story cement buildings arranged around a central lawn. A basketball court with an elevated stage at one end does triple duty for performances, and assemblies. Most students commute to and from school via trike, the Philipinne equivalent of a rickshaw, consisting of an enclosed sidecar bolted onto a motorbike. You can see one waiting for a fare outside the main entrance of the school below:
We arrived shortly after 7:00 AM, in time for the daily flag ceremony. The entire student body stands in orderly lines while the flag is raised. they next sing the Philippine national anthem, which is a pretty awesome anthem, and then another patriotic song, which varies by the day of the week. On Tuesday's it's the anthem for the Albay provence. After the ceremony we headed to the faculty room, where we met several BRSHS teachers and two Senior Education Program Specialists from the Ligao City school district, who had travelled to the school to meet us. After a brief chat, we were ushered to the stage overlooking the basketball court. The student body was seated on the court in rows, patiently waiting for the principal to introduce these two strange new visitors. After a few quick remarks, we were invited to the podium to address the students. I kept it short, mentioning how excited I was to learn from them, and encouraging them to introduce themselves and ask us questions as they see us throughout the day. I'm not a fan of unexpected requests to speak in front of large audiences, but after today and yesterday's surprise address to the 5000 attendees of the Polangui Street Dance Festival, I'm getting used to it.
A pair of honors students, dressed in traditional formal attire for the occasion, gave us a tour of the school. Here are our tour guides, along with the school principal (left), Kristina (next to me), and Noemei (right), another BRSHS teacher who has been hosting us a bit as well.
Before we had an opportunity to observe classes, we left campus to pay a visit to the Ligao City school district offices to meet with Tita V. Agir, the Chief of the Curriculum Implementation Division. She gave a presentation on the statistics and demographics of the Ligao City's school system and of the city as a whole. She then served us "snack" which was delicious pancit noodles and handmade local chocolates. Serving a "snack" to visitors is a Philippine tradition. There's nothing snack-like about it--it's usually an entire meal!
Next we paid a visit to the mayor's office. Mayor Patricia C. Alsua seems well-liked and on-the-ball. It was a short visit as we had already met her during the Arbor Day tree planting ceremony we had attended a few days prior. Here we are in her office, with Tita Agir, Cheif of CID on the left:
We travelled to and from the educational district offices and mayor's office in Ligao City center by trike. What a fun yet somewhat uncomfortable way of travel. The cost, 8 pesos per person, is equivalent to 16 cents. Angelo, Kristina, and myself fit into one. I've counted as many as seven plus a driver riding at once on other trikes I've seen. Here's a quick video of us one our way:
Our first day at BRSHS happened to fall on the day of the earthquake training/drill. All schools in the Philippines conducted an earthquake drill on this day, and every student needed to sign a sheet proving that they participated in the drill. The training consisted of a video, followed by a an evacuation drill with hands protecting heads:
The BRSHS faculty treated us to a wonderful lunch of local dishes, including chicken adobo, malunggay leaves with fish, shrimp cooked in coconut milk, and more. We've really be humbled by the hospitality we've been shown throughout our time in the Philippines.
After lunch, it was time to get into the classrooms. I sat in on a few of Kristina's Media and Information Literacy classes. Students presented projects they had made that introduced the concept of media literacy and digital citizenship. The school year has just recently started, so this was a kick-off project to launch the year. Working in groups, students had produced videos in the style of public service announcements. The level of creativity and enthusiasm was truly top notch. The production values were also extremely high--certainly on par or better than a typical video put out by students at my school. I was really impressed, considering BRSHS's access to technology is a fraction of the resources available to students at my school, which is one-to-one with Google Chromebooks. When she told me that students had been given the assignment only a week prior and had had only two hours of class time to complete the project, my jaw dropped. I think students in my classes would have taken two or three times as long to produce something of similar quality. It is clear that BRSHS students are tech-savvy and talented.
Some points that students made about posting to social media that resonated with me:
"Always use proper grammar and spelling. Do not be critical of others who do not use proper grammar or spelling, they may not have strong English skills."
"Be amusing, not annoying"
"Enjoy the goodness around you instead of making yourself look good."
Class sizes are around 40 students. Between the thin walls, the fans operating in the classroom, and the need to keep windows and doors open for ventilation, there is a lot of background noise. To overcome this obstacle, when students are called on or volunteer to give an answer, they get out of their seat, stand up, and speak clearly and loudly. One could say that the "student voice" in the Philippines is just equivalent to the "teacher voice" educators project in the states.
After students' presentations had concluded, Kristina asked me to speak to each of the classes about media literacy. I chose to ask students about how they used social media, and then compared their responses to some of the ways that my students in Massachusetts interact online. There were a lot of commonalities. Students were familiar with FOMO--both the phrase and the experience. They asked about whether cyber-bullying was an issue in the U.S. and if so how we deal with it. I talked about my districts' experiences with Yik Yak and Street Chat, emphasizing that stopping cyber-bullying requires a community response from the users. Here is my teaching debut in the Philippines:
Actually, speaking to Kristina's digital media classes wasn't truly my debut. During our tour to start the day we stopped in a Physical Science class that was about to begin discussing the Big Bang. I was asked to "teach a little bit about the Big Bang," so I gave an impromptu 5-minute talk about two pieces of evidence we have for the theory: the recession of galaxies and cosmic background radiation. No sweat! Except for the buckets of sweat I have been sweating since I arrived here in the tropics.
I closed out the final media literacy class, and the day, with a class selfie to post on Twitter. We did cover social media, after all!