Sunday, June 13, 2010

School Year 2010-11 Has Begun!

Boracay Beach

Pictures from the top (Boracay Beach 3x) (Banaue Rice Terraces, Batad Hike and Waterfall 6x) (Sagada Training, Sagada Caving and Hiking 7x) (Calatagan Camp 3x)

Greetings my fellow amigos and amigas! Alas, I am providing a blog update despite a three month sabbatical of not providing an invigorating missive!

The end of March brought the conclusion of the 2009-2010 academic year at the university. Over 850 graduates received their diplomas, with around 100 coming from the College of Education. It was great to watch these students mature from second year students to fourth year students. Observing the bounce and smile, the students grabbed their diplomas from their respective deans which was enticing even if the entire ceremony was nearly five hours long. I was extremely proud of my ten advisees, and some of them are the first in their families to earn a degree in higher education

With that said, many of the students struggle financially to achieve such a dream, so having them reflect on the past fours years and see the future was exhilarating.
The graduating students from the teacher education program needed to submit the final project, a student-teacher profile, which reflected upon their four months of student teaching as well as prepare them for the future which included articles such as a career plan, resume, literature reviews, and vision statements. Knowing that this was a new requirement sent forth by the Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the Dean of the College of Education asked me to come up with a sample portfolio to model to the approximately 100 graduating students.

While doing so as asked, I also inquired to my co-teacher and dean how strict they wanted me to be with the format, professionalism and content of the resume, literature reviews, career plans and reflections. Enthusiastically I was told to go about in American way; and that is exactly what I did…my poor advisees.

They handed in rough draft after rough draft. Grammar errors. Un-cited work. Sloppy resumes. The list continued. Each time, I corrected and edited the errors. One student, really stood out during this process, as he excitedly handed in his portfolio and said:

“Ma’am, please sign off. I am done. I will graduate!”
Unfortunately, his energy and optimism didn’t match his output in his portfolio.

It also was the day before the submission of the final draft. Knowing that finances were minimal, and the it was the third draft, I played a small mind battle in my head of whether or not I should make him redo a few sections in his portfolio. I had seen other students‘ portfolios from other advisors and I realized that I had really pushed my ten advisees. I was very particular on their grammatical structures and the format of the citations. It had seemed, that these were not particularly paid attention to by other students’ advisors. Nonetheless, I remembered the dean’s words of allowing me to be “estricto” and I also knew I needed to be consistent. So, I made the student revise his portfolio one last time.

He was shocked, begged that he had done a fine job. I told him, positively, that he had 24 hours to return me the final product. He debated a bit then said “thanks” and walked out of the office. Not eight hours later, I had a perfect portfolio by this student. When I signed his clearance, tears of happiness ran down his cheeks.

“Ma’am”… "I did it. I didn’t think I could do it…could be a teacher…could graduate! I never thought I could do this, financially and mentally…Thank you!!!”

And with that we embraced. That scene would mimic itself many more times on April 8th, as I greeted the ten advisees and other graduates with hugs of congratulations, each having a degree in hand…

This summer was very busy in every good sense of the word. After graduation on April 8th, I headed to Luzon (the main island) for a month. My first spot was near Calatagan, Bataganes for a high school aged Eco-Camp. It was great to be back in “Camp Syd” mentality and be out of the “professional teacher ethos”. BOOM-CHICKA-BOOM reigned as the camp hymn just like the Green Camp days in Armenia, but this time, it was an accident.
I had a great time with my intimate group during the swimming and snorkeling lessons, as two girls were afraid of the water and by the last day, they threw off the life jackets and snorkeled around the boat discovering various “underwater friends”. One student had so much fun on the first day of lessons, that he decided to take off his flip-flops , against policy, and nicely stepped on a sea urchin…ouch! Luckily, a co-PCV man was around to urinate on his foot to stop the poisoning. This didn’t hinder his future swimming pursuits or snorkeling discoveries the rest of the week…thank god.

The camp structure was on educating the student leaders of various high schools the importance of sea life, from mangroves to coral reefs, swimming and snorkeling lessons, recycling, and learning about aquatic life all in a fun and interactive experiential learning environment. The purpose then was to take the knowledge gained, back to their respected communities and schools and become eco-leaders. To this date, this project seems to be quite sustainable as a few school immediately adopted environmental clubs to apply the information learned from camp.

Next up, was a 20 hour, three different buses trip to Sagada, Mountain Province. Wow! The journey was breathtaking and so unique. I was up high in the mountains where there was not a trace of bamboo, palms, or sand. There were fir trees, I could see my breath and I had, yes HAD to sleep with a quilt! It reminded me much of Appalachia back in the US.

In Sagada, there was a Summer English Institute for sixty local elementary teachers. Six PCVs and counterparts taught and refreshed basic English skills, specifically in speaking and writing. It was a ten day institute filled with some of the best moments of my Philippines tour.

Not only was I amazed at the diversity of terrain, but also how aberrant the Igorot culture is. The teachers were shy unlike the those in the Visayas, and foreigners are commonly seen as tourists, not as people interested in assisting them professionally. However, by the end of the week, rapport was established and friendships are still being endured.

My favorite class was when we had a debate on overpopulation, a current issue facing most of Asia and in particular, the Philippines. After an hour, I had to stop the debate as the teachers were so into it, and it was time for dinner. It was great to see their fervor as they processed and explained their opinions. They too, had no idea they could carry on a conversation for so long in English!

My favorite part of the conference was the last evening we were together. It was a culture exchange program, in which the six of us PCVs, tried to do a country line dance, which I regretfully inform, we did a lousy job. It turned into a caricature and embarrassment as we messed up the subtle steps. Next, the various districts around Sagada did their village dances. Soon they asked us to join in. Without hesitation, Melissa (PCV) and I joined in, others soon followed. As the boys played the gongs, we did our best to reproduce the actions of our fellow counterparts. Regrettably, dancing is a not a fine motor skill I posses, yet it did provide free entertainment and laughs as I meticulously tried every dance movement. The dancing night lasted over two hours with smiles and sweaty bodies embracing each other for the wonderful night. Even though it ended up only as a one-way culture dance exchange, the night was one to remember (and no pictures to prove it :().

I took some time off to discover Sagada on my own as well. I went on a four-hour caving expedition, did some hiking, and jumped off a waterfall. The landscape was breathtaking and I still can’t believe that such a place exists in the tropics of the Philippines. I also, took my time getting down to my next stop, and enjoyed the mountainous ride to the world renown Banaue Rice Terraces, hiked in the rain, and enjoyed the rendition of “Banaue Road, Take Me Home” by our hostel manager.

My last stop was at PCV Christina’s site in Solano, Nueva Vizcaya for a week long curriculum development workshop with her high school English teachers. There, I was charged with the first year teachers, in which we created a road map of how to teach a small pocket book in a six week timetable. I was just one of four volunteers that came to assist in this endeavor. However, this workshop had to come to a quick end, as PC Philippines put a travel ban for the presidential elections. So I took the eight hour night bus back to Manila to fly out back to Leyte, and then finally, a three hour van ride back to site before the May 10th elections.

Once at sight, I caught up on some much needed sleep, and prepared for an all day long summer course. This pretty much filled my time until I would leave for another two-week span of conferencing in the Western Visayas. I enjoyed teaching the summer course, but wow, every day for about six hours requires some intense lesson planning!

My final summer escapade was from May 23-June 6th. I joined 22 chosen PCVs to go to Panay in the Western Visayas to do four, 2-day trainings for the four provinces in coordination with the Department of Education (DepEd). It was a marathon in all senses of the imagination. We would teach the same lesson six to eight times a training, sleep on floors, and then pack up and move to the next training. Our food was provided and was heavenly. Sometimes we were entertained with air-conditioned rooms for an evening’s sleep. We would do one training, caravan-travel to the next training the following day and set-up, and then the process repeated itself. In the end, around 1480 teachers were trained. The target was 2000, but hey, some things are just out of your control, such as the government mandated census count in which the teachers had to take part in with interviews. One PCV volunteer really organized this adventure and it was extremely successful. Kudos to you Justin dear!

After the trainings, DepEd Aklan, put us up for a nice price at their boarding house in Boracay, the most famous island beach in the Philippines. It is a very small island full of white sandy beaches, restaurants, bars, kite surfing, sailing, etc…you name it, they do it. It is not only heavily promoted to foreigners, but remains a place for Filipinos alike. Two nights and one day was enough for my senses, as I needed to head back before the start of classes. I had to return for my 7 a.m. first class on June 7th. I arrived just in time as the night boat came in around 3 a.m. that same morning.

Which now, leads to today. The 2010-11 academic year has been in session for a week. My teaching load seems fair with five classes and I will continue to coach the women’s softball team as well as offer my tutorial services at near by elementary school. There has been a sense of anxiety amongst some, as they see that I am in my last semester at the university. Come November, my time at the university and the Philippines will expire physically, but never spiritually or emotionally.

The upcoming months will bring the last of my teacher trainings and the close out of some major projects (curriculum development, reading modules, etc.). Things will slow down and hopefully, will become more sustainable as I slowly let go.

I wish all of you happy and relaxing summer. Enjoy the heat (as we do every day here) and the barbecue.



June: Mom, Sam, Christina, Sheryll, Jenny Anniversaries: Rhea and Man, Stephanie and Brian, Nic and Andrew
July: Stacie, Laurel, Todd, Elizabeth, Meghanne