Back to School

A Warm Welcome

The school year ends in a few weeks in the Philippines, but I was able to visit a small school near San Fernando, where I have been living for the past two and a half weeks.  Bangbangolan Elementary School has about 150 students in grades 1-6.  On the same grounds is Bangbangolan High School for grades 7-11.  It sits on a hill with a beautiful view of the mountains and no other buildings in site.

Ready for school

The principal of the school, Ms. Nancy Nisperos, was kind enough to arrange my visit with less than one day’s notice.  I enjoyed a nice conversation with her about the school and the reason why I was interested in visiting.  

Since this is where McTery and Alzera attend school, I was able to borrow Richard and Prescilla’s Honda and drive through the mountains, further away from San Fernando, to the school.  We passed many students either walking or waiting for jeepneys, where they would cram into the vehicles and hang on to the back for a ride to school.  

Students Cleaning the School?

One of the first things I noticed was that there were students on campus, an hour before school officially began, cleaning the classrooms and the grounds.  Students were also tending to the many plants in front of each classroom.  I saw parents and teachers helping as well.  They were even sweeping the street in front of the school.  This happens every day.

Many students were eyeing me from around the school grounds, and everyone that passed me greeted me with, “Good morning, sir.”  It didn’t matter if they were in first grade or high school, they all greeted me.  

Next, I observed the flag ceremony.  Students in the US might begin the day with the Pledge of Allegiance while standing at their desks.  Students in the Philippines gather in the school courtyard for the raising of the flag, singing songs and dancing.  It’s a great way to start the day.  The ceremony was followed by a rehearsal for a school street dance performance that will be presented this week.  The dancers were simply amazing, and every student in every grade participated together.  

Teaching, Learning and Eating

I was invited to visit the fifth and sixth-grade classrooms.  Upon entering, students stood and greeted me (this seems to happen everywhere I travel).  I was able to spend about 30 minutes with each class, teaching them a little bit about where I’m from and school life in the United States.  The students listened attentively and waited patiently as I walked from row to row showing pictures from my laptop.  Every student either shook my hand or thanked me individually before I left.  

Grade 6 (another photo by McTery)

I learned from the students that they attend school from about 8:00 until 4:00, although they arrive much earlier to start cleaning.  Classes are mostly taught in English.  Students also speak Filipino (Tagalog), Ilocano (the regional language) and one or more local dialects.  They often mix three or four languages while speaking!  The school year runs from June until early April.  

I was treated to a delicious “merienda” of noodles, vegetable rolls, corn and Pepsi.  The principal, teachers and I sat in the school canteen while students came and went during their morning break.  It seemed that no one needed direct supervision.  When the principal asked me to give her my impressions from my visit, I started by telling her that I felt a real sense of community and warmth from the school.  It was clear that the students knew that they are part of a larger school community, as well as a city and country, and that they had responsibilities to their community.  Of course, I mentioned how incredibly polite the students were and how eager they were to learn.

At the school’s canteen

Lessons for Home

Most students in the US have many privileges and advantages over the students I’ve visited in Vietnam, the Philippines and elsewhere.  Still, I think we could all learn a lot from how children are raised in other countries.  

A mural at the school

Standardized tests do not measure a child’s ability to greet visitors, respect others, contribute to the school community, care for the environment, clean up after themselves, make do with limited resources, or even to communicate in another language.  

The students I’ve met in my travels are much more advanced in these “skills” than I think most US students are, and these skills go a long way towards being a productive and happy member of society.  I know I will be reinforcing these habits with my future students in Connecticut!

Thank you to the students and staff at Bangbangolan Elementary School for demonstrating important lessons for me to take back to the United States.  

Here are some shots of the fifth graders, who were eager to have their pictures taken.

And a few more photos from my visit

Recycling plastic to make a flower garden
Grade 6
Grade 6
School grounds
Main building
Core values
At the school entrance
I can never get it right.
Great class!
With the principal (on my left) and the teachers

Comments (17):

  1. Paula Agins

    March 13, 2017 at 05:27

    After I read your comments and look at your pictures, I wonder what a teacher from another country would say about our schools and students!

    • Tim Flanagan

      March 15, 2017 at 21:25

      They’re usually surprised when I tell them my middle school stories!

  2. Lori Liguori

    March 13, 2017 at 06:22

    Love this post, Tim!!! So happy you were able to visit such a wonderful school! I loved the mural…….Can’t wait for you to come back and teach our students!

    • Tim Flanagan

      March 15, 2017 at 21:28

      That’s mostly why I’m doing this blog, so I won’t forget what I want to teach later.

  3. Rosie

    March 13, 2017 at 06:31

    First of all Tim, your posts always serve as a reminder of thoughts I carry with me about children and life. From your photos I am reminded that smiles speak in every language. These children are no exception. In addition, their work ethic is cultivated throughout their life. What a way to instill pride in themselves, their school, and country! You are so right, our children have fallen behind in developing traits of caring, responsibilities, and participating in things that aren’t “fun”.
    We miss the mark on several areas in schools as we focus so much on testing and scores as a measure of success.
    The quote on the school wall is eye opening and oh so true! What a reminder to a school’s mission. For children.
    This was a nice way to start my day. I enjoy your posts and learning from them.

    • Tim Flanagan

      March 15, 2017 at 21:29

      Thanks, Rosie. Every school I’ve passed by (even driving down the highway on buses) has murals with quotes like that painted on every wall. It’s a great idea.

  4. Vicky Ann Deledda

    March 13, 2017 at 13:39

    Would have loved this school, and it’s easy to see by the core values and signs of respect shown to you- independently!
    Love the

    • Tim Flanagan

      March 15, 2017 at 21:30

      Very easy to take good photos of these kids!

  5. Diane

    March 13, 2017 at 18:33

    Such beautiful chilldren! I wish my 16 year old could experience a culture where you appreciate having a clean school because you help to clean it. Good manners do go a long way in the world. Stay safe.

    • Tim Flanagan

      March 15, 2017 at 21:33

      I’ve heard of US parents dropping their kids off in an African village for a week or month, just to teach these lessons. There’s a lot to be learned.

  6. Deidre Toole

    March 21, 2017 at 16:57

    What a wonderful way to live life! I admire the respect that the children and adults have for the school and each other. They certainly have much to teach us here in the USA!!!!

    • Tim Flanagan

      March 24, 2017 at 00:51

      It would be great to magically transport our kids to one of these schools for a week – just to see how things are done.

  7. Bruce Yarnall

    March 25, 2017 at 20:04

    Everyone cleaning the school before it starts is great. We can’t even get students to throw away their water bottles.

    • Tim Flanagan

      March 26, 2017 at 23:17

      And the only people using water bottles here are the tourists.

  8. Monica Schnee

    April 20, 2017 at 17:45

    Reading your post and returning to work after South Korea made the difference between our schools and those in Asia even more startling. We have forgotten to teach and celebrate so many of the basics – hard to teach respect for the place we spend our days in teaching and learning, harder to make kids understand that taking care of our places, our environment, our food and each other are the bases for community building.

    • Tim Flanagan

      April 21, 2017 at 04:40

      Very well said.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *