On a Sublime Mission to Educate Underserved Schools
Five Fil-ams have chosen to take part in Teach for the Philippines—a program that trains high achieving filipinos to teach in struggling public elementary schools in the country
They are committing the next two years of their lives to teaching, for the betterment of public education in the country.
One is continuing a legacy.
Another one is taking a leap of faith.
The rest plan are in it to connect with their Filipino roots.
For the next two years, these Filipino-Americans will embark on a bold journey and a once-in-a-lifetime experience — as part of the inaugural class of Teach for the Philippines
Fil-Ams Adam Crayne of San Jose, Lesley De Leon of Chicago, Leslie Espinosa of New York, John Navarra of San Francisco, and Leah Villanueva of Florida will join 49 other Filipinos (including Christophe Henares-Chuidian, who studied in Boston but was recruited in the Philippines), as part of this historic corps in the Teach for the Philippines.
Their success would impact the lives of 22 million elementary school students in the country.
Among the other 49, four are based abroad (Australia and Japan, to name a few). The rest are young professionals and graduates from some of the top schools in the Philippines including De La Salle University, University of the Philippines and Ateneo De Manila University, among others.
“These are the trailblazers who will set forth the path for all future enrollees,” said Michael Vea, co-director of US Strategy: Recruitment and Selection at Teach for the Philippines.
“These people are the future leaders and have joined, to make a difference in the country.”
As an organization, Teach for the Philippines traces its roots from the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation, which advocated for functional literacy and better training for teachers and school administrators from 1999, until it transitioned into Teach for the Philippines in August 2012.
The mission remains the same: remove the educational disparity that plagues the country.
“Every child, no matter where you are should have access to a high quality of education. But the reality is, sadly, that is not the case,” said Vea.
The launch of the Teach for the Philippines program comes at a crucial time when the country is revamping its educational format, and trying to retain teachers and keep them from going abroad.
The educational inequality is too substantial.
The state of education in the Philippines
Philippine national hero Jose Rizal once said: “Ang kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan” (“The youth is the hope of a nation.”)
However, looking at the shocking numbers of the youth in the Philippines today reveals that every year, two million Filipino school-aged children drop out.
700,000 children do not complete elementary school; about 1.36 million will not finish secondary school. Another million school children will be unable to enroll, due to poverty.
During “The State of Basic Education: Gaining Ground” presentation last year, officials found that from 2001 to 2010, only 51 of 100 school children enrolled in the first grade graduate from high school.
Adding to that is a dearth of teachers, who either find jobs abroad or change professions, in order to work elsewhere.
The innovative and new program Teach for the Philippines (TFP) aims to bridge the achievement gap between children from low-income backgrounds and their wealthier peers.
“At the end of it all, only 14 percent graduate from college,” said Stanly Sy, public relations and emerging media officer for Teach for the Philippines.
As a way to compete with other countries around the world, the Philippines revamped its old system where students attend 10 years of schooling (grades 1 to 6 elementary level and first year to fourth year for high school level), to a K-12 system (primary education to Grades 1 to 10 plus two years of senior high school).
Department of Education officials hope with this new model (which takes effect on 2016), by making primary education compulsory, it would lead to less drop outs and higher-educated Filipinos.
“…the new K-12 system will produce graduates who are more prepared for college education,” wrote Erica Delos Santos for IConnect newsletter. “The program is expected to provide a clear view of which career they would take. This may lead to less drop-outs, and more chances of success in graduating from whatever course they choose.’
Adding to the country’s high drop out rates of its students, is the bereft of quality teachers. Some of the best and experienced Filipino teachers have already left the country, part of the 10 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who leave for lucrative jobs abroad in the US, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan.
Thoughts of a former teacher
Ernesto Pamolarco Jr. is one of the many Filipino teachers who have left the country for a better life and earn a higher wage elsewhere.
“We don’t have an opportunity to make a quality living in the Philippines,” said Pamolarco, who taught in Caloocan City for 15 years before becoming a special education teacher in New York.
“We cannot blame those Filipino teachers. They want to have a bright future for themselves, their family and kids. If I didn’t make the sacrifice that I made, what future will my children get when I’m gone in this world?”
Though critical of the country’s new educational format, (he believes the poor will be adversely affected having to pay for two more years of transportation, books and fees), Pamolarco of the Association of Fil-Am Teachers of America (AFTA) says that programs like Teach for the Philippines where it focuses on training teachers will improve the quality of education in the Philippines.
“The solution is to hire the best and committed teachers who will teach the students not just what is in the book but teachers who will inspire students to love to learn beyond the classroom, to dream and explore opportunities available to them,” he said.
“I think this is a good program,” he added. “These Fil-Ams will share their knowledge and education and give back to the students.”
Teach for the Philippines: Bridging the ‘education resource’ gap
At its core, Teach for the Philippines proposes that the best response to address the country’s education resource gap is place the most promising young graduates and young professionals in the nation’s most under-served schools.
The teaching fellows will undergo training to prepare and support them in their two-year commitment to teach in public schools.
In the inaugural year, the fellows will be placed in one of ten public elementary schools in Quezon City where the “ideal” teacher-to-student ratio is 1:45, with 1:50 as acceptable. (In California, a teacher-student ratio of 1:22 is already considered sizable.)
Fil-Am fellows will partner with native Filipino speakers, when they begin teaching.
Teach for the Philippines officials have targeted the third grade as the critical age range, where these teachers could make the most impact.
“The studies show by fifth grade, that children begin to drop out,” said Vea.
“In the eighth or ninth grade (equivalent to first or second year high school in the Philippines), some have already dropped out. So we want to encourage and develop learning habits early.”
Sy said the goals for the program are two-fold: For the fellows, after transforming their classrooms into collaborative learning environments, they will gain an appreciation for the difficulties that public school teachers face daily. When they move on after two years and pursue careers in their own fields, they will leave as strong advocates for education and continue to support the public education system for the rest of their lives.
For the students, the aim is to have increased national achievement scores and increased rate of transition into higher education, decreased dropout rates, acquire competencies required by the K+12 curriculum, gain skills necessary to make them globally competitive individuals, and most importantly, acquire a sense of possibility.
Fil-Ams on a mission
The Fil-Am fellows arrived on Sunday. They come from all walks of life, across the United States of America, where decades ago, their parents immigrated to an unknown and foreign territory to make a better living and set up the best future for their children.
Gauging from the qualifications, their parents succeeded. Half of the Fil-Am fellows have master’s degrees. Most of them are already entrenched in a profession where they earn a nice living.
But something has beckoned them to come to their parents’ motherland, even if it seems that only their Filipino blood and lineage connects them to the Philippines — a country completely foreign to them.
“I feel like there was a whole generation of Filipinos that left the country and now, their products are aching to go back and make a difference,” said Leslie Espinosa, a performer in New York City.
As fellows in the program, these Fil-Ams will spend the next two years completely immersed in the educational system in the country, making the average salary of a teacher, will have to find a place to room and board, and sacrifice their first world comforts to teach and make a difference in the lives of students in a third world country.
“This is going to be difficult,” said Vea, who is also a teacher in New York’s KIPP schools. “They will work 40 hours a week, not including grading homework and creating lesson plans during the weekends.”
“And I can’t stress enough the kind of financial sacrifice they are making,” he added.
The average yearly salary of a teacher starting in the United States is $30,000. In the Philippines, it is $3,000. These Fil-Ams will make about $500 a month for the next two years. Healthcare will be covered but that’s about it.
“This is not for everybody,” said Vea. “Realistically, there are only a handful of people who would be willing to do this.”
Adding to that significantly decreased income are other challenges including culture shock, homesickness, and adjusting to a brand new environment.
Here’s what one fellow tweeted when she arrived to the Philippines.
“This heat is melting my ice cream too fast & making me tired!” tweeted Lesley De Leon, a former events marketing manager in Chicago.
But these are meager sacrifices, according to these fellows. The goal is to give back, many of them said.
“I plan to deal with these scenarios as I do with life – just trust God and the universe, and be positive, and know that these storms will pass,” said Leah Villanueva, a 32-year-old teacher from Florida.
Villanueva, who earned her Master’s Degree in 2012 from the University of Florida, said that she has the rest of her life to make money.
According to Villanueva, the next two years of her life with Teach for the Philippines is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and that financial gain does not correlate to success, but rather one’s richness in life experience.
For Adam Crayne, a creative writing teacher from San Jose, he’s following in the footsteps of his grandfather and other relatives, who were well-known teachers in their days in the Philippines.
“I’m continuing a legacy,” he said. “My parents are very excited about me doing this.”
De Leon said sometimes in life, “we all have to make a leap of faith.”
“Sometimes the only form of transportation is a leap of faith,” she said. “This is the inaugural class. We are the first to do this. We don’t know what to expect. This is going to be a huge leap going across the world and everything that we’re familiar with.”
For John Navarra, this is just another extension of the work that he’s currently doing in San Francisco.
The University of Michigan graduate has dedicated his career to advocating and supporting underserved populations. He is also a strong advocate for education as a tool for lasting social change.
He said that he intends to use the knowledge and network that he will make as a fellow to further the mission of creating more educational opportunities for Filipino youth, even after the Teach for the Philippines program.
“I want to spend time as a fellow, so that when I continue the work of advocating for change at the policy level, I am speaking from experience and my heart – not just my head,” he said.
Vea, a Teach for America alum, beams when he speaks of these Fil-Ams and the sacrifices they are making in the next two years.
“I think that so many people talk-the-talk but not many walk-the-walk,” he said. “So many people talk about ‘I want to go back home and make a difference. I want to affect change or inspire,’ but do any of them actually walk-the-walk?
“What these people are doing is walking the walk. That is something we all should be applauding and we all need to support them.”
(LA Midweek April 3, 2013 MDWK pg.2)