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At Large
Child-friendly schools

By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:34:00 12/19/2008

Filed Under: Children, Schools, Education

BOHOL, Philippines ? Micah Felisilda, 12, is president of the ?pupil government? of the Garcia-Hernandez Central Elementary School in this province. A Grade 6 student, Micah says she wants to be a doctor someday, but right now her hands are full being the main voice of the 785 students in school, some of whom, she tells journalists, can be quite a handful.

Asked what she promised her fellow students to get elected to the post, Micah replied: ?I didn?t make any promises because there?s a saying that promises are made to be broken.? Her main project, she said, was to raise enough money to provide the school an electric bell. Mainly, she said, pointing to the brass bell hanging on one side of the main building?s patio, ?so we won?t have to hear this one clanging every day.? Micah and the other members of the council plan to raise the money by going caroling once the Christmas vacation starts and also by ?each of us donating P20 to the fund.?

This early in life, Micah is learning that there are costs tied to being a leader. But she is fortunate in that she is going to a ?child-friendly? school, a designation given to schools that provide children a learning environment that protects their health and safety, makes room for their creativity, and respects their rights and decision-making abilities.

?I never got any formal training or orientation on the child-friendly school,? says school principal Thelma Reid Jalop, who took over the reins of the Central Elementary School only last July but who has already made quite an impact on the school and what she calls her ?stakeholders.? Indeed, seated at the front patio and waiting for our media group was a gathering of parents, local officials, and partners, representatives of firms that provide financial support to the school. A drum-and-bugle corps heralded our arrival, while young teachers held up the school?s initials while doing a winsome dance.

* * *

Jalop relied on readings, mainly materials provided by the Department of Education, to carry out innovations that she thought made perfectly good sense and which have since earned her school the title of ?child-friendly? school.

An initiative of UNICEF, the child-friendly school model ?promotes healthy and protective environments for learning and strives to provide quality basic education in both everyday circumstances and emergencies.? A child-friendly school also ?fosters equality, respect for human rights and participation of all children,? and this Jalop strives to do through a system of consultation among all stakeholders.

One product of such consultations, she said, was the adoption of a uniform (dark blue skirt or shorts with white T-shirt) that, the principal says, was the decision of the students. To help families who couldn?t afford the uniforms, the school asked for donations from their partners, other parents and alumni. It was also the students who drafted the rules on solid waste management within the school, adds Jalop.

A longtime partner of the school is the PMSC, a firm engaged in limestone mining that has helped the school acquire a computer, and helped equip the science room. Indeed, in G-Hernandez Central, we see what can be accomplished by harnessing the combined energies and goodwill of educators, parents, community partners, local officials, alumni and the children themselves.

* * *

Compared with G-Hernandez Central, the Bonbon-Catmonan Elementary School might seem to face lesser challenges. The school is about half the size, with 400 students. But being a ?barangay? [village] school, and with a student body from mostly impoverished families, Bonbon-Catmonan had difficult circumstances to overcome.

Slides shown by the principal, Maria Mel Belano, gave us a picture of what awaited her when she took up her post: dilapidated buildings, broken classroom furniture, and shabby grounds. Even more difficult was the situation of the students: a high malnutrition rate, a high dropout rate, an alarming proportion of non-readers, and very low participation among parents and the rest of the community.

When she took over as principal three years ago, said Belano, she decided that she could not turn around the school by herself or just with the help of teachers. So she sought the cooperation of all concerned sectors, getting everyone involved in ?school planning teams? that, starting at the classroom level, involved parents, students and local officials in crafting goals for the school year, as well as identifying problems and coming up with solutions.

Today, says Belano, the school carries out programs like annual de-worming, vitamin A distribution, giving out toothbrushes and toothpaste to Grade 1 and 2 students, mass haircuts, and even urging students to partner in removing lice from their hair during lunch break.

* * *

More important, the school has also improved the enrolment rate in the barangay, raising the school?s performance in regional and national achievement tests.

Belano also began what she called the ?Teach One Each One? program, in which students in the top 10 percentile of a class are asked to tutor classmates in the lowest one percentile. With some pride, Belano declares, ?Today we no longer have non-readers in Grade 1.?

One program she adopted to foster love for reading is DEAR, for ?Drop Everything and Read,? in which groups of children are urged to ?raid? their small collection of books during breaks.

With some pride, Belano shows us what they call the ?Ireland CRs,? tiled bathrooms which were constructed with donations from an alumna who now works as a nurse in Ireland. ?I tell alumni that they wouldn?t be where they are if they didn?t learn their ABC here,? she says.

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