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.
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.
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.
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.
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