Sunday, April 1, 2012
PINOY TEACHERS FROM PG COUNTY BLAZE NEW TRAIL IN DC SCHOOLS
When Prince George’s public schools were punished for “willfully violating” federal statutes in recruiting teachers from the Philippines, they not only lost some of their most skilled, experienced tutors but also key innovations that have now found their way to some District schools.
For the past couple of weeks, a small group of Filipino teachers have been volunteering their Saturday mornings to mentor school kids struggling with falling grades.
“We’re here to help the kids because they really need help in the classroom,” explained 2nd grade teacher Lilian Espiritu, one of hundreds of Filipino teachers who lost their jobs because of the US Labor Department’s 2-year debarment order against Prince George’s county public schools in Maryland.
Schools like the Perry Street Preparatory Public Charter School in Northeast DC have hired some, including Espiritu and Marites Curley, president of Metro DC chapter of the Association of Filipino Teachers in America (AFTA).
Curley and other Filipino teachers introduced a free, weekend one-on-one mentoring program at their old school in Bowie, Md. It was widely credited with helping raise test scores – a feat that drew the attention of even the local media.
“We know they (DC pupils) will benefit from a Saturday tutoring program. We used to do this when we were in PG county, in our former school and we saw the results – the kids were passing math, we were passing the Maryland state assessment because that intervention helped them,” said 3rd grade math teacher and AFTA-DC vice president Maribel Rodriguez.
“Our head of school Mr. (Shadwick) Jenkins approached me,” Curley he revealed. “He saw the newspaper front page about our tutoring program. He said ‘I saw you in the newspaper’ and he asked if we could start something like that in our school.”
“He thought our kids needed more help especially since our test is coming in April,” Curley averred, “so even with just 7 or 8 weeks, we can at least boost the skills the kids need.”
Rodriguez chimes in, “We were offering free tutoring anyway so we thought, why not do it here in our own school where we can see that intervention can go a long way.”
“We had our benchmark assessment in school – it’s given during the quarter – and the result of our benchmark test was poor,” she added.
“These kids really need the intervention and through the benchmark assessment we were able to identify what skills the kids are faring poorly and where we need to raise basic proficiency,” Rodriguez stressed.
When we dropped by the Perry Street campus they were only on their 2nd Saturday session but the results were obviously encouraging. That morning the teachers included Curley and her husband Regidor, Rodriguez and her husband Ernie, Espiritu, Beth Manapul and Chiqui Balara.
“It’s really a teacher-generated activity,” explained Horace Franklin, the pre-K-8 school principal. “I like it because it’s a smaller, one-on-one, non-threatening environment and just working on skills that they need to be successful.”
“We are going to continue doing this every Saturday, from 9 to 11 in the morning,” he told the Manila Mail.
“We sent the letters out to all the parents and I’ve already had several parents inquire so we’re really excited. As we do more advertising, we’re talking about it in our community meetings to see if we can get more kids excited to come up and having a good time,” Franklin enthused.
The Filipino teachers’ work has stirred interest from both students and parents. Espiritu tells of one student who she would “borrow” after school hours to give additional tutoring.
“He’s in after-care (where young schoolchildren spend time until they’re fetched by parents or guardians) so I take advantage of that for 30 minutes of reading then testing his reading comprehension,” she admitted.
“I could see not only an improvement in his academics but also in his behavior because we were able to build a relationship. In the past he was so rude, disrespectful and playful inside the classroom – but not anymore,” Espiritu says proudly.
She says the kid’s mother has acknowledged the improvements and thanks her.
“PG county schools trained us to be the kind of teachers we are now,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been doing this for the past 4 years. That’s where we learned to look at test scores, how to make our instruction data-driven so when we came here (DC), we knew what to do.”
But more than the desire to practice when they’ve learned, the Filipino mentors have demonstrated a passion for teaching that has impressed school administrators, students and parents alike.
Husband Regidor Curley, a civil engineer who gave up his job outside the Philippines to start a new life with wife and daughter in America, says he fully supports his wife’s labor of love. He shares her concern for school kids and happy to help teach basic math to some of them.
“This is bonding time for us. After this we can go malling and eat out,” he says excitedly.
“Personally, I want to raise my students’ achievements because in this school, my 3rd graders have the lowest proficiency as a result of the benchmark test. I will move heaven and earth; do anything to move that up,” Rodriguez stressed.
For Ma. Chiqui Balara volunteering in DC schools was a way to keep her mind off an impending crisis. She will be the first Filipino teacher to lose her job at the Beltsville Academy near College Park, Md.
“It helps keep my weekends productive so I don’t think about my problem,” she explained, adding “I feel good when I’m able to help.”
She has an eye open for job opportunities with DC schools and believes that the volunteer work will boost her chances.
Rodriguez says she has a twin sister who’s still teaching in a PG public school. The work permits for the last and largest batch of Filipino teachers expire in September, and the schools are barred from extending them.
“She’s about to be displaced too,” Rodriguez says of her twin. “I’m encouraging her to continue to try finding employment here but she wants to go home already. I brought my family here; my husband gave up his career just to be with me, thinking everything was fine.”
“We’re going to try our best and see what happens,” she says thoughtfully.
That hopeful sentiment seems to reflect their work with DC school children – laying the seeds that grew so well in Maryland and hope they too will bear fruit in the nation’s capital.