I confess: At first maybe all we wanted was a change of scene.
A few days ago, the heads of the Jesuit schools in the Philippines didn’t hold their meetings in the usual places and in the usual manner. For the normal Jesuit Basic Education Commission (JBEC) meetings, our eight schools would take turns hosting the twice-a-year meeting, where the host school would showcase its best practices–always a rich learning experience.
But not this time.
On the 30th of September, we flew, drove, and sailed to the island of Culion in Palawan. Two reasons for all that travel over air, land, and sea: Some team-building and R&R for some of the most overworked and overstressed people I know, and just as importantly, teacher training for the faculty and staff of Loyola College Culion. LCC, as it is called, is one of our oldest Jesuit schools in the Philippines, having been established 73 years ago. It is also one of our poorest.
In a JBEC meeting in 2007, we were discussing the mission of our network when then-Principal of Ateneo de Zamboanga, Oca Calzado, proposed that we also try to become “schools for others.” It was a play and expansion on the well-known Jesuit phrase coined by Fr. Pedro Arrupe: “to be men for others” or its more politically correct version, “persons for others.” The emerging vision was for us to share our collective expertise and experience in education not just with one another, but with schools that need help, whether in the public or private sector. This trip to Culion was our first attempt to become “schools for others.”
Any remaining suspicion that it was going to be just another one of our usual meetings was immediately dispelled by our first sight of Isla Culion. The moment we set foot on the island, we were greeted with a rousing fiesta-style welcome, complete with streamers, garlands, and a marching band. We boarded the tricycles, all waiting in a row for us and convoyed to the island’s one and only hotel, the Hotel Maya, built just a year ago to promote eco-tourism and generate revenues to support the school’s operations.
The next day was allotted for the workshops and had been carefully designed to meet the needs of the school, as well as to match the expertise of the visiting administrators. Just to give you an idea of the range of expertise in our group of 28 school administrators, eleven sessions were conducted for various groups, some of them simultaneous to give the participants choices. The topics ranged from Ignatian spirituality to classroom management, assessment, student formation, and various subject areas. By lunch, the local school faculty and staff were chatting comfortably with their visiting colleagues, exchanging professional notes as well as personal stories.
I hope the faculty and staff there learned from the various interactions and sessions that day. I certainly did.
Running a school is tough, but try doing that with one with resources as meager as those of Culion’s Loyola College! The quickest fix, of course, is to solicit every possible donation or even to set up a Hotel Maya to support the school. But my take after spending a couple of days there and listening to the people is that more basic than all that, we need to build on the resources already available to the school. And the school’s most important resource is, of course, its human resource: the teachers and staff.
Like the others in our group, I was impressed by their passion and love for the school. Many of them could have opted to work in a public school, where the compensation is double their present salary, but they have chosen to stay. I hope our visit has shown them that they are not alone and that we are willing to help. The next question we will need to discuss is: “How can assistance be extended beyond the occasional workshop so that it leads to real and sustained school improvement?”
After all, being “schools for others” doesn’t just mean helping other schools generously, but also wisely.
Your Scenes from Coron+Culion (Sep 30-Oct 2, 2010) set
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