For a rural community in Iloilo, school head is a modern-day hero
For the past 14 years, Serena Bano has served as a teacher in the coastal town of San Dionisio in the province of Iloilo. She originally wanted to pursue a career in Pharmacy, but because of her eagerness to help others, she found herself in the education sector.
“When I started teaching, there were only four teachers in our town teaching in one school,” recounts Bano.
After being assigned to different schools, where she taught different subjects such as English and Math, she was promoted to school head. Now, as the principal of Siempreviva Elementary School, she manages to find ways to do her duties despite all the challenges.
Majority of her 429 students come from impoverished families. Many residents in the area still rely on fishing, farming and fish processing as their main source of livelihood. Along with 10 other teachers, she teaches part-time while serving as the school supervisor.
“Mahirap talaga maging teacher. (Being a teacher is hard work.) You need dedication and commitment to teach students and see to it that their performance improves,” says Bano.
Not just classroom learning
For Bano, teaching goes beyond lessons in the classroom.
“Teaching is not just about educating students’ minds. It’s about ensuring that students have the ability to learn properly as well,” she says.
According to Bano, teachers, especially those in rural areas, have to deal with various hurdles on a daily basis. One of the most pressing problems is hunger among school children.
“Pag pumapasok ang mga estudyante na walang laman ang tiyan, hindi sila nakikinig, parati sila nag-aaway. Very poor sila sa lessons, ang reading nila slow at wala sila gaanong attention span,” says Bano. (When students go to school on empty stomachs, they have a hard time paying attention in class. They fight with each other. They do very poorly in their lessons. Their reading is slow and their attention span is very limited.)
“As a school head, I had to find a solution to help the kids,” she adds.
To address this, she used Home Economics classes in school to initiate a once-a-week free hot meal of arroz caldo (rice porridge), sourcing contributions of rice from parents and teachers to help cook the meals.
When she found out about the Busog, Lusog, Talino (BLT), the school feeding program of the Jollibee Group Foundation (JGF), she immediately requested that their school be considered as a possible recipient and it paid off.
Siempreviva Elementary School is now on its third year as a beneficiary of the program. The BLT School Feeding Program aims to address hunger among Grades 1 to 6 undernourished public school pupils to help them stay in school and learn better. JGF provides counterpart funding and technical assistance to enable schools to serve lunch for 120 days within the school year. The program caters to students whose weak stamina may not withstand the rigors of daily schooling leading to sickness and eventual dropping out.
“At the end of the feeding cycle, almost all the students who were severely wasted achieved normal weight. The feeding program has even become a great influence on the students to come to school,” says Bano.
She adds that the cooperation of teachers and parents has been helpful. They actively attend meetings to address the challenges of the program and ensure food, service and cleanliness standards are met.
Going the extra mile
Engr. Cora Corbal, Director of the Extension Services Division of the Western Visayas College of Science and Technology (WVCST), which serves as the implementing partner of BLT in Iloilo, says that Bano went beyond the usual implementation. “In addition to the regular school feeding activities, she did her own research and introduced innovations,” says Corbal.
For example, she led an initiative to set up a small room with reading materials for the students. After lunch, they made sure that the pupils, especially those in Grade 1, would spend some time here so they could improve their reading ability.
“We have also been able to set up a temporary feeding center with donations from the local government unit (LGU) and alumni associations. The LGU is coming up with an allocation in their budget as counterpart for the BLT program,” says Bano. This is important in sustaining the program even beyond the support of JGF.
According to Bano, even other school heads have seen the positive results of the program and want to avail of it for their schools.
Erlie Gilo, the teacher in charge of the school’s daily feeding activities, believes that Bano’s role in the program was crucial to its success. “Importanteng importante ang leadership ng principal. Dahil kung siya mismo yung humihindi, siguro malaking challenge sa akin yun bilang feeding coordinator,” (The leadership of the principal is very important to the success of the program. If she was hesitant to take it on, it would be a major challenge for me as the feeding coordinator) said Gilo.
National Teachers’ Month
As the country celebrates National Teachers’ Month and World Teachers’ Day on October 5, it is good to reflect on how educators like Serena Bano show just how important the role of teachers is in their students’ well-being. They have been hailed as modern-day heroes because of their sacrifices for the education of young people. For its part, JGF continues to implement the BLT program and joins hands with teachers across the country in their mission of promoting education and securing a bright future for the country.