Sunday, February 19, 2012


High school honor roll student Jireh Lee Silva recently topped the preliminary round of the Exodus Spelling Bee competition in Prince George’s County, Maryland. She is the daughter of one of hundreds of Filipino teachers who’ve lost or are about to lose their jobs.

“I joined the Spelling Bee on a whim,” she revealed. Jireh (pronounced “Ji-rah”) said she heard about it from one of her classmates and at first didn’t give it much thought.

“I thought I might as well take some risks since it was my senior year,” she added. “I’ve never won money for anything so it felt nice to get something that I know I worked hard for.”

Aside from qualifying for the championship in Atlanta, Georgia this April, Jireh won a $1,000 cash prize. “It felt really good to win,” she gushed. The finals offer a top prize of $25,000 (split $15,000 for the winner and $10,000 for the school).

And work hard she did. “They gave the participants a list of words to study so I looked through that and their definitions and etymology for the foreign words on the list,” she said.

Jireh won the preliminary competition at the Dr. Henry Wise Jr. High School by correctly spelling the word “heliotaxis” that she recognized for its Greek roots.

She was also the 1st girl from the school to make it past the preliminary round.

The 17-year-old teen is the daughter of Nerisa Silva, one of the teachers hit by the Labor Department’s 2-year debarment against the Prince George’s County Public School (PGCPS) system.

The order, which forbids recruiting or extending work permits for international teachers, was part of a settlement after the PGCPS was found to have “willfully violated” rules for recruiting foreign mentors under the H-1 visa program.

The settlement also called for refunding over $4 million in fees unlawfully collected from the Filipino teachers on top of a hefty fine. Nearly a thousand Filipinos were hired by the PGCPS from 2005 to 2010.

Since the penalty was imposed in April last year, the number of Filipino teachers has shrunk to about 600 today. Many have successfully found teaching jobs in as far away as New Mexico and Arizona; many others have gone back to the Philippines, frustrated and angry.

The final and biggest batch of teachers – about 500 of them – will lose their jobs in PGCPS in September.
The PGCPS allegedly promised to help them get their “green cards” so they uprooted their families and brought them here, hoping to find their slice of the “American dream”.

That has immensely complicated the condition of these teachers because like Jireh’s parents, their children have absorbed American life so well that a 2nd exodus, this time going home, will deprive them of a future that’s already within grasp.

And the loss will be felt not only by the teachers and their families, but also the community. Jireh is a member of the National Honor Soceity, National Technical Honor Society and the National Art Honor Society.

She volunteers at the Heartland Hospice in Beltsville, a youth leader and nursery assistant at the Gospel Life Church in Bowie and was one of the 2011 Dr. Jose Rizal Youth awardees.

“This whole issue about the Labor Department affected my family negatively,” she explained. “It has affected my plans for the future in a really big way.”

Jireh and a younger sister live with their parents in PG County. She has an older sister in Georgia while the eldest of the siblings is in the Philippines.

“The best schools aren’t exactly cheap, so even if I have this university that I’ve been dreaming of going to since forever, I don’t have the money to pay the $50,000 a semester that they’re charging,” she shared with the Manila Mail.

“I’ve tried looking for scholarships but this is very challenging. One of our class sponsors sent out a 52-page PDF filled with scholarships that we can apply for but I’m eligible only for about four of them because I’m not a permanent resident yet,” Jireh laments.

She dreams of becoming a doctor or nurse one day. She has applied for admission in Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland in Baltimore, St. John’s University, Bowie State University, Bridgewater College and York College.

“I have outstanding grades and my resume is not too shabby so I’m bound to be accepted in some schools. My main problem is money, I can’t exactly pay for them,” she said.

Talking about her recent winnings, Jireh said she was giving part of it as “an offering to God because I know I couldn’t have done it without Him.”

The rest, she added, will be set aside for her college funds.

“It’s really discouraging sometimes but I’m trying to stay optimistic,” she declared. “I just keep hoping that somehow it will work out for me.”

1 comment:

  1. Informative! this should be happens after a lot of hard work and i really appreciate the kid for this achievement its not easy to topped the preliminary round of the Exodus Spelling Bee but she did it.

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