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The Learning curve

Continuing to read beyond November

The invitation to be a mystery reader for schoolchildren in Tagaytay came at the eleventh hour, but it had to take priority over everything else. It was something I could not resist.

I have always honored Nov. 27 as assassinated hero Ninoy Aquino’s birthday—his 86th this year—but have in recent years been happy to celebrate the day as Pambansang Araw ng Pagbasa, so proclaimed by Republic Act No. 10556. The Tagaytay program was hosted by the Region 4-A Calabarzon Division of Cavite headed by Dr. Joel O. Peregrino.

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The month of November is celebrated as National Reading Month, and each year, the secretary of the Department of Education issues a special memorandum directing all DepEd officials in both public and private elementary and secondary schools to leave no stone unturned in participating in the planned activities.

The Nov. 27 event was an interesting one, because the month culminated in a nationwide synchronized story reading time at 9 a.m. Invited readers were local government officials and other stakeholders, all dubbed “Mystery Reader.” School officials were likewise expected to be readers and, happily, the requirement was that a storybook by a Filipino author be read.

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The specification of a Philippine title was rendered even more important because, when administrator Dr. Cherrylou D. Repia, a former language teacher, asked the young audience what their favorite books were, the answers were all Disney-inspired.

I was ambivalent about this. Should I be disturbed, or at the very least be happy that there was familiarity with books? Of course, we know the advantage of Disney stories when it comes to collaterals and components in other media. And we grownups who work with students should really think of more creative ways of making our homegrown stories more memorable anyway.

When it was my turn to speak, I asked them if they knew the timeless Filipino tale that even Jose Rizal loved, that of the monkey and the turtle. A young boy wanted to retell what the story was all about. I told them that all I wanted them to experience that morning was the joy of reading, and read them lines from Rene O. Villanueva’s “Kay Sarap Magbasa.” Turning to the teachers in the Tolentino Sports and Activity Center, I reminded them that the best gift they can give their students is the love for reading. Were I given enough time, I would have mentioned simple, concrete measures to achieve this: Read to the class every day, and be a reading role model themselves.

The sacred hour of 9 a.m. was near, and the mystery readers needed to be with their respective groups. The Tagaytay schools had transformed the venue into a jungle, so that we had reading nooks named Reading Safari, Wild about Reading, Jungle PaREADise, etc.  The motif was a carryover of reading corners in the respective schools, so no additional expense and preparation were needed. Perhaps a Filipino-inspired theme next time?

I read the classic “Papel de Liha,” about a mother’s countless concerns in her everyday life.  Written by Ompong Remigio and illustrated by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero, it is an ideal read-aloud because the students love the recurring lines that they easily recite themselves—“Kiskis dito, kiskis doon… kuskos dito, kuskos doon…”—as they join me in the reading. They appreciate the many synonyms for the mother’s cleaning-up tasks.

The reading time ended before I meant to wrap up the conversation with my reading group, but, nonetheless, it was worth my drive to Tagaytay.

The celebrity mystery reader, Ronald McDonald (and his accompanying snacks), was difficult to compete with, but it was a delight to have him on the roster of mystery readers, which also included Councilor Lorna Toledo. I concede to all strategies, to anything that would lure students to reading.

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The DepEd is to be commended for the month of reading promotion activities, especially the Reading Challenge for its teaching and nonteaching personnel to read a book a week in November.

What was a true highlight was having the hearing-challenged students lead the anthem and the prayer at the start of the program. The day was a successful festivity that deserves the support of the community. Thanks to Angelika D. Jabines, senior education program specialist of the  DepEd’s Bureau of Learning Delivery, for chairing the National Reading Month.

May all of us continue to read beyond November.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@ gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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