Tangled up in Iloilo

Welcome banner at Leganes National High School.

Welcome banner at Leganes National High School

After three days in Manila, our TGC cohort split into groups of two and three for our field experiences. Roma and I traveled to Iloilo City, on the island of Panay, where our host Zoilo met us and guided us around the city. Once in town, we visited some historic churches and the old port area.

Iloilo palms

Iloilo palms

At the Iloilo CIty port

At the Iloilo CIty port

Colorful Iloilo

Colorful Iloilo

Iloilo City

Jaro belfry, Iloilo City

Worshipers at the Our Lady of the Candles shrine.

Worshipers at the Our Lady of the Candles shrine

Roma and I were treated like celebrities when we arrived at the high school in the morning. Students greeted us with a parade, complete with marching band and baton twirlers. Never before have I felt so important!

Welcome banner at Leganes National High School.

Welcome banner at Leganes National High School, complete with life-size photos of our faces

After meeting the mayor and posing for approximately 254 photographs, we presented a brief introduction to the US education system and our schools to an audience of Leganes High School staff and students. Dr. J, our Julius West mascot, was a hit!

Dr. J, now famous in the Philippines!

Dr. J, now famous in the Philippines!

Food has definitely been in abundance ever since we arrived in the Philippines. One teacher joked that TGC (Teachers for Global Classrooms) actually stands for Teachers Getting Chubby. Today we were offered two breakfasts, two snacks, and two lunches. I look forward to our two dinners. I may transform into a hobbit, or a blimp, by the time I leave the country.

Local specialties: lumpia, mango, monkfish.

Local specialties: lumpia, mango, grilled bangus, chop suey

Even more food!

Even more food!

In the afternoon we conducted team-building games with a group of 80 students. We tangled up in knots while building our communication and cooperation skills – and our patience. Of course we couldn’t resist jumping in and joining the fun!

All tangled up during our team-building activity at Leganes National High School.

All tangled up during our team-building activity at Leganes National High School



Among the students at Makati Science High School.

Among the students at Makati Science High School. Can you spot the teacher?

We have now been in the Philippines for three days, but it feels much longer. Each day is jam-packed with experiences. In our time in the Manila Metro area, we visited three schools. Each offered a warm welcome and a different perspective on education in the Philippines.

St. Paul College Pasig is a Catholic all-girls school with over 4000 students in grades K-10. Everywhere we saw encouragement and a positive attitude, from an English teacher who radiated joy to the students who spoke eloquently about a school where they felt loved and inspired. The school’s mission statement, which each staff member could recite by heart, summed it up perfectly: nurture giftedness, shape character, fire excellence.

St. Paul College Pasig welcome sign.

St. Paul School welcome sign

English teacher at St. Paul College.

English teacher at St. Paul School

St. Paul students

St. Paul students

At Ninoy Aquino Technical High School, over 5000 students learn trades such as dressmaking and electronics. Students and staff repeatedly commented that the school was like a family. We saw evidence of close and nurturing relationships both in the structure of the school and in the interactions between and among students and staff. The students and staff even had a habit of finishing each other’s sentences, like many a family around the world!

"I love this school so much."

“I love this school so much.”

English lesson at Ninoy Aquino Technical High School.

English lesson at Ninoy Aquino Technical High School.

Across town at Makati Science High School, we met students who passed competitive entrance exams for the chance to attend a top-notch public school with a rigorous curriculum. In some cases, the students commuted up to two hours each way, stretching out an extended school day even longer. One student I met described how she had trained herself to study on the Jeepney (jeeps converted to small city buses), no matter how crowded the vehicle or bumpy the ride, during her 90 minute commute. Again, we witnessed encouraging, engaging, energetic teachers. A smaller class size, around 30 compared to 50 in the other two schools, allowed teachers to incorporate more movement and interaction in their lessons.

Science lesson at Makati Science High School

Science lesson at Makati Science High School

In a panel discussion with local educational leaders, one of the TGC fellows asked what strengths the leaders saw in their teachers. They cited dedication, resilience, and teaching from the heart. From what I saw, I couldn’t agree more.


Departures and arrivals

My colleague and I were discussing what makes us feel that we have truly arrived in a new country. For her, it is having her passport stamped. For me, it is staying overnight. Following either of our measures, we have now arrived in the Philippines.

Passport stamp

Passport stamp

The East Coast contingent of our cohort gathered in Detroit and flew together to Tokyo, where we met the West Coasters, who had traveled together from Portland.

Departing from Detroit

East Coast cohort

The most memorable parts of the flight to Tokyo were the mountains of Alaska and the movies I watched: Selma, Finding Vivian Maier, The Drop, and The Theory of Everything. Twelve hours on a plane allows for quite a lot of movie watching! From Tokyo, we caught a flight to Manila for the final leg of our journey, arriving there over thirty hours after I’d left my house in Maryland.

Arriving in Tokyo

Arriving in Tokyo

I had expected a chaotic scene at the Manila Airport. Here’s a description from Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco:

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport is your apt introduction to my country. You’ll be struck by the ubiquity of armed guards, enticed by the glossy luxury shops selling duty-free liquor, cigarettes, last-minute presents; you’ll tumble out into a warlike fug – an overcrowded arrival area with desiccated, air-conditioned air, worn linoleum, and creaking baggage carousels; a quintet of blind musicians greets travelers with faves like “La Cucaracha” and “Let It Be”; a larger-than-life, smirking President Fernando V. Estregan welcomes you from a poster taking up the entire wall; a sign declares, “Welcome to the Philippines, the most Christian country in Asia”; beneath it , another, “Beware of pickpockets.” Grasping your possessions tightly, you pass through the gauntlet of taciturn but thorough customs officials before an exit orphans you to the insidious ninety-five degree heat and humidity and the swarming masses of other people’s family members, all of them periscoping necks to stare collectively at you.

Maybe things have changed since that passage was written, since I noticed no armed guards, no signs about pickpockets, no blind musicians. The persicoping family members were there, though, enough for one colleague to declare, “I feel like a zoo animal!”

At the Ninoy Airport

At the Ninoy Airport

Our wonderful hosts Alex and Norberto met us at the airport and shepherded us to the palatial Peninsula Hotel, where we were greeted with warm smiles and delicious drinks.

The lobby of the Peninsula Hotel in Manila.

The lobby of the Peninsula Hotel in Makati.

A great night’s sleep in a comfortable bed prepared me for a day of learning about Philippine culture, customs, and education.

Good morning, Makati!

Good morning, Makati!


Philippines questions

The past two weeks have focused on the end of the school year and cleaning out my classroom. An abundance of snow days this winter extended our school year to June 15. Once we said our farewells to this year’s students, it was on to Project Move-Out. After twelve years in Room 203, I will be relocating next school year.

Down to just a few essentials

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Room 203, all cleared out007

Although I will stay at the same school, I will now teach just one class and will spend the rest of my day coordinating our school’s Middle Years Programme (MYP). My new role offers many exciting opportunities to integrate the knowledge and skills I’ve gained over the last year through the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program. I depart for the Philippines in just three days! I will spend three weeks visiting cultural sites and schools in the country, both in Manila and Iloilo City on the island of Panay.


My students in the United States had many questions about life in the Philippines. I invited my students to write down questions and a little bit of information about themselves to share with students in the Philippines.

Questions for Philippines students

We were fortunate to have five experts among us – students who had lived and attended school in the Philippines and were willing to tell us about their experiences and teach us a little Tagalog. We look forward to learning even more about daily life, school, similarities, and differences.


American oddities

My adorable Italian cousin Valentina and her sweetheart Paolo visited the United States for the first time this month.


Here are a few American things that they found fascinating and unique.

1. Foaming hand soap. Paolo even bought a bottle to take home.


2. Grape jelly Valentina had some on her toast every morning. She said that jam is common in Italy, but not jam made of grapes.


3. Chinese takeout food – even the greasy, salty, nutritionally devoid kind from the places with food photos on the wall.


4. Squirrels. They must have taken a hundred photos of squirrels scampering around DC and Maryland.


5. Drip-style coffee makers. Paolo naturally brought his own coffee maker and coffee to the States, since Americans really can’t be trusted to make proper coffee. Nevertheless, he and Valentina were impressed by the drip coffee process, if not the product.


I wonder what items and events I’ll find to be unique and impressive when I travel to Asia this summer?


Preparing for the Philippines


Image Source: Facebook

One year ago, I applied for and won a fellowship through the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program , a professional development experience involving an online course, a symposium in Washington DC, and international travel. The online course, completed last fall, challenged me and introduced me to new concepts as I collaborated with colleagues around the United States to learn about global education. At the symposium in the winter, I met those colleagues for the first time. What a group of committed and inspiring, fun-loving and fascinating teachers! We talked and talked: during workshop sessions and sumptuous meals and late-night chats. We exchanged ideas, asked countless questions, and dug deep into what it means to be a teacher in an ever-changing global society.

My cohort, consisting of fourteen teachers, will be traveling to the Philippines in just over two weeks’ time. After a few days in Manila as a group, we will split off into pairs and trios. Along with Roma, a middle-school Spanish teacher from South Carolina, I will travel to Iloilo City on the island of Panay, Western Visayas, to spend ten days with the community of Leganes National High School.

I researched Iloilo City and learned that it once rivaled Manila as an economic powerhouse, but fell on tougher times in more recent years. Although it has a population of over 400,000 people, it is not a common tourist destination. Its lack of prominence means that it’s affordable and can truly offer a picture of real life in the Philippines. I am eager to immerse in the life of a true working city and get to know the culture of another country.

Our gracious host, Zoilo, is a techonology and livelihood skills teacher at Leganes High School. He is helping to arrange our schedule during our field experience, which will consist of some teaching, some observation, and some visiting of local sites.

I have much to do before I travel :Vaccinations! Shopping for gifts and necessities! Lesson plans! At the same time, I am finishing up the school year, preparing for a new position next year, studying for my National Board Exams, and welcoming family visiting from Italy. A most busy and most exciting time.


Forging Our Own Trail

Tucked into the Wasatch Mountains, Park City drew us from Salt Lake City for the weekend with promises of gorgeous views and vibrant town life. We arrived during the saddle season between winter and summer, when many businesses were closed. Undaunted, we forged our own way.

Saturday morning, we started early and walked straight up from quiet Main Street and into the mountains.

Park City, Utah


Climbing and climbing

Morning hike with Mike

The trail disappeared and reappeared beneath our feet, becoming mostly snowfields as we climbed higher. We walked past an abandoned silver mine and many closed ski lifts.

Abandoned Silver King mine

Abandoned silver mine

Abandoned silver mine

Park City

Above Park City

Mike hiking near Park City

Finally, up to our shins in snow and completely off-trail, we turned around, and skitter-slid back down the mountain, along steep snowbanks and then through slushy mud.

Mike's death march: mile 3

Park City, Utah

Park City altitude

Lunch at Wasatch Brewpub  and a soak in a hot tub rejuvenated us and our chilly extremities. Though late April is not the most happening time to visit Park City, we found a lively crowd and delicious pizza at Vinto later that evening. In such a short visit and in the offseason, we missed out on many of Park City’s offerings, but we plan to return now that Mike has steady clients in the Salt Lake City area.


Gullah Culture on the Sea Islands

Penn Center painting

The South Carolina Sea Islands are remarkably scenic: giant live oaks curtained with Spanish moss, shimmering water fringed by marsh grass. They are also home to the unique, rich Gullah culture. The Gullah people are descendants of African slaves who live in the Low Country of Florida, Georgia, and  South Carolina. In these isolated areas, they developed their own language and traditions. Sights of those traditions still pepper the landscape: stands selling seagrass baskets and local produce, tiny churches, cafes serving Gullah cuisine.

Penn Center baskets

Penn School

Penn School was established in 1862 by two Northern women, Laura Towne and Ellen Murray, to educate former slaves. It served as a school until its closing in 1948, and is now Penn Center, a museum and community center. Dr. King visited Penn Center during the 1960s to help local people campaign for civil rights. It’s still active in community outreach, offering camps, classes, meetings, and heritage programs to share the history of the Gullah people and improve life in the local area.

Penn School, St. Helena

Penn School

I was touched reading Laura Towne’s thoughts about the value her students at Penn School placed on their education. The worst thought they could imagine was missing a day of school!

Everywhere pride in the school’s legacy and the long history of the Gullah people was evident – in objects they created and in the stories of a resilient, creative people.


Happy Mother’s Day


My mom bakes the best poundcake. It is the smell of home.

My mom has the most infectious laugh. People recognize her from aisles away in the supermarket. As a child, I used her laugh as a location device at crowded events.

My mom is incredibly kind, not just to her family, but to everybody. Her patients from her four-decade nursing career still call her and send her notes. Her friends know they can count on her, and they do: for guidance, for support, for hospital visits and rides to the doctor and pet sitting. She once drove 150 miles at midnight on New Year’s to comfort my broken heart (and helped me choose a kitten the next day to complete the healing process).

My mom is so much fun. Within days of her moving to a new community, she had made friends with all of the neighbors and been recruited to the Social Committee. She is the life of every party.

My mom sings so beautifully, with the most joyous, expressive face. She welcomed my husband into our family by singing at our wedding. It is my most cherished memory of that day.

I learned so much from my mom. Most of it revolves around generosity, love, and keeping an open-mind. I still learn from her, all the time.


Savannah smiles

Our Savannah rental was a restored freedman’s cottage from the 1870s, located near Forsyth Park. We loved the light-filled space, decorated with local art and antiques.

Freedman's Cottage, Savannah

Freedman's Cottage, Savannah

Freedman's Cottage, Savannah

Dee of Savannah Bike Tours led us through the highlights of Savannah, from the river to the park, with some Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil locations in the mix.

Bike tour!

Mike with Dee, our tour leader

Stately Savannah

Forsyth fountain

Savannah 010

At Forsyth Fountain

Savannah Gate

Tybee Island, just twenty minutes from Savannah, delighted us with its wide beach and hometown feel – mostly small houses rather than high-rises.

Tybee time

Tybee beach

Tybee pier

Tybee beach

Tybee pavilion

We ate well in Savannah. A favorite was B Matthews Eatery, where we spent a memorable evening devouring luscious seafood dishes.

Mike at B. Matthews