Teachers Tin, Jojie, Desiree & Chinky: Teaching the importance of peace and inclusiveness for a better tomorrow
NOT ALL EDUCATIONAL institutions are created with the same paradigm. Many of them take to competition and benchmarking seriously, with the aim of producing students that are “excellent” and “world-class”. Some invest in facilities while others harness state-of-the-art technology as teaching tools. The same schools hire high-caliber teachers that aim to produce top-notch graduates that are competitive and cut-throat. Simply put, these schools aim to become “big” in their league.
Then again, there are schools that aim “big” but for different reasons. Few they may be, they forge paths that many of the big schools dare to do. Rather than train their students for competition or loftier goals, they groom them to become nobler citizens and peacemakers. Thinking with the “alternative” in mind, schools like these are innovators, transforming the way people perceive education.
Such was the vision in the minds of two sisters, Kristine V. Canon and Desiree Villegas, when they first came up with the idea of building a school that is not only a haven for children with special needs but also a place where diversity and acceptance are part of the learning. Together with like-minded educators Katrina ‘Chinky’ Carandang and Jojie Reyne-Santos, they started Create and Learning Paths School (CLP) in Merville, Parañaque City in 2001. Starting with only 24 students in their first year, they are now a K-to-12 institution that serves more than 200 students that come from different backgrounds and life experiences.
Kristine, or Teacher Tin as she is known in CLP, first thought of creating a school based on her experience as a mother of two kids who are both hearing-impaired.
“As an educator myself, finding a school for them was a challenge,” she recalled. Tin is also an award-winning and prolific children’s book author, having won the PBBY Alcala Prize to the now classic, Nasaan Na Ang Sundo Ko?
Together with sister Desiree and friends Chinky and Jojie (all of them have backgrounds in teaching and childhood development), they formed Create Learning Center in 2001. The school initially was exclusive to children with special needs. Nevertheless, they developed a curriculum that was not only attuned to the varied needs and desires of the students but also one that championed progressive education for differently-abled learners. These students usually deal with hearing impairment or neurodevelopmental conditions like autism spectrum disorder, Asperger syndrome and many others. The school’s philosophy was patterned after great education visionaries in Vygotsky, Bronfenbremmer and Howard Gardner.
By 2004, enrolment had increased, with more children with special needs coming in. In order to help students cope with the diverse learning environment, both the administrators and their faculty underwent further training in order to cope. From CLC it became CLP. Six years later, they started to accept students from other backgrounds.
“Since 2010, we realized that inclusion does not only mean including children with special needs,” Teacher Tin explained. “It means including children with diverse cultural, political and other social needs. This is the 21st century, when our students are able to work in diverse backgrounds. Whatever differences they have, they can work together. That’s what we need right now.”
Paradigm shift to peace
While the school was expected to follow the Department of Education’s requirements to offer K-to-12 education, CLP, being a “special” school, tweaked their curriculum into one that integrated for inclusion and peace education. It was Teacher Jojie, who is a special education (SPED) specialist who took charge in customizing the curriculum to integrate the new philosophy.
“For students in CLP, peace is not merely a concept or ideology but a practice,” Teacher Jojie said. “It was something they learned in the classroom and acted on.” The school followed a progressive, learner-centered approach, but in coming up with peace as a philosophy in teaching, the directors anchored the curriculum to include the five pillars of peace education, namely: inclusion, non-violent conflict resolution, anti-bullying, social and economic justice for national building and love for the Earth.
Having introduced a different approach, CLP faced some resistance from the parents and even from some of the teachers.
“Some were uneasy from the setup,” admitted Teacher Desiree. “The parents expressed their anxieties over their anxieties over having their kids interact with children of special needs.” Some of them harbored the notion that the “conditions” of these kids could be contracted upon close contact.
To familiarize new students with the unique learning environment, a “Bayanihan” workshop is held at the beginning of the schoolyear. The kids are introduced to the difficulties experienced by their classmates, which allows them to grasp the struggles of their classmates with their special needs in concrete experiences. On the other hand, students with special needs feel at home and feel more confident now that they are grouped with the students who are different from them.
CLP recognizes that conflict and misunderstanding may naturally arise in any situation, especially if it is within the classroom. Which is why they introduced the “peace circle” in the classroom. Placed in the center of the room is an area rug with the peace symbol in it, and children who are feeling bad after one are encouraged to enter the sacred space of the “peace circle” and allow them to talk or blurt their feelings out. Children caught in a disagreement are made to talk to each other, rather than pointing out each other’s mistakes.
Aside from the “peace circle”, CLP also hosts “morning meetings”, one-hour sessions that integrate Self and Social Awareness class with team building activities, highlighting the school’s basic values that students learn by example.
Aware that bullying can be a major problem in their school given the profile of their students, CLP conducts anti-bullying workshops for students. They are made to understand what goes inside the mind of a bully and how they respond to its provocations. To further remove the stigma of being different, the school also encourages one another to treat each other like family.
Raising Good Citizens for Country and Earth
Part of the inclusion and peace education program of the school is social and economic justice for nation building.
“We want our students to have character more than a drive to earn,” explained Teacher Chinky. “Our job then is to create awareness of the events happening around them and encouraging the students to take an active role as future leaders and members of society.”
CLP set up networks with communities and volunteer groups like Teach Peace, Build Peace (headed by Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Uzman), which allows CLP students to connect with elementary students in Mindanao through workshops and interactions of CLP students with the students from schoolchildren in war-torn areas like Maguindanao and vice versa.
Honing Future Peacemakers
Since its inception, the school accepted students from different backgrounds and with different learning capabilities. According to CLP, 20 percent of the students were made up of children with special needs in a classroom size of 16 students. The relatively small classroom size proved to be advantageous, as it allowed for teachers and students to create flexible paths towards learning, giving the latter opportunity to learn and express themselves in the way they want. Each student has an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP).
Students were also grouped according to their skills set, with the teacher in charge tasked to do the tiering in his/her lesson plans.
“Teachers conduct group sessions first in the first 10-15 minutes of class in which the teacher discusses the topic for the day, followed by a small-group discussion for 30 minutes, providing the kids time to discuss the lesson for themselves. Finally, assignments were handed out, giving each student the opportunity to solve problems on their own for 15 minutes,” Teacher Chinky elaborated.
Teacher Tin noted that while they give quizzes or test, they do not just give paper-and-pencil tests for the sake of measuring the comprehension of the student.
“We want to reach to every type of learner. We are looking at what kids understand and not what they memorized,” she elaborated.
Still, in order to track their educational standing, CLP submitted its Center of Educational Measurement (CEM) standardized test results, which noted the students’ increase in test scores. While the number of graduates are small compared to the standard schools. Some of them were able to finish basic education and can even attend to “mainstream” schools and universities of the country.
This year, their vision and programs in peace and diversity had been deservedly recognized at the 5th Excellence in Educational Transformation Awards, eventually receiving the top prize for their innovative inclusion and peace education program.
“At CLP we consider ourselves as part of a big family that looks out for one another,” said Teacher Tin who received the award alongside her co-founders. “So we accept this award to pay homage to our students from the past till present, because it is their achievements that made this school win, not ours alone.”
When asked what they consider what makes a successful CLP graduate, Teacher Tin thinks it should be an individual who is “a good person, who always chooses to do the right thing even if it’s not popular, and uses his skills and talents for the benefit of others.”
“That person is somebody who never stops learning, whether it’s academic or not. That person will continue to explore, go everywhere and contribute to the world, first and foremost, as an advocate of peace and acceptance.”