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Welcomes

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.

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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!