Saturday, September 28, 2013

Intrams = Intramurals

One of the first things I learned about Easter College, specifically the high school, after I arrived was that each month of the school year has a theme which culminates at the end of the month with a celebration of that theme.  I arrived at the end of August to find out that it was Filipino language/culture month, and spent the first Monday of classes watching an assembly that was almost entirely done in Tagalog.

I've been in the Philippines now for over a month, as strange as that is to think about, and that means it's nearly the end of another month, with another theme's celebration.  For September, the theme was Intramurals, the sports and games.  Each grade has been organizing itself into a team that will compete against the other grade levels at various sports and activities, until at the end of the week we will award one class the ultimate winners.

Academic classes were canceled this week as we spent Monday and Tuesday finishing the preparations.  Starting Wednesday morning, the games begin with a cheering competition at an assembly, before teams begin to break down into individual players and smaller groups each going for a different sport or activity.  And I've been enlisted as a judge for some of the activities, including judging the cheer-leading and modern dance competitions that begin and end the week.


 The intramurals started with a parade from the local Baptist Theological Seminary, a street up and over from Easter College's main entrance.  Theoretically, it was supposed to begin at 7:30, so I was in the faculty room at around 7 that morning, making sure I had things together before I walked over to the parade start point with Ma'am Kana, one of my co-teachers in CE classes.  Of course, I forgot to include Filipino Standard Time into my calculations, over and above the standard, "it's high school students, add 15 minutes to everything."   I think we started marching at around 8:15-8:30ish.  And yes, I mean we.  I hadn't been expecting to be a part of the parade, but as soon as it started I found myself roped in and walking with the high school principal, Ma'am May, and the school chaplain, Padie Alice.  I haven't been in marching band since before high school, when I first learned that a series of late nights is not a good idea for little Margarets who want to stay sane and not sick, but it really is amazing how much stays with you, even after 13 years has passed.  The second the drum and lyre team started playing, I was marching.  Knees up, toes pointed, back straight, arms flat to the side: the whole works of being in marching band.  If someone had handed me a flag there would have been drop spins to the beat the whole way back to the college.  As it was, I think I highly amused Ma'am May and Padie Alice.

When our march was over, we were in the gym at Easter college and the students had each processed to their section of the stands.  There were introductions, Ma'am May had a short speech about this year's theme (Greek Gods and Heros), and there was an intermission dance number performed by the college cheer/drill team.  Then the hardest part of my day began, I had to score everyone's banners and cheers! 

And the cheers.  Color me very impressed with the complexity of the routines and the level of organization.  These are grades with between 100 and 80 students, they've had about a week and a half to rehearse, and they were all impressive.  I was glad that I was one of three judges, as I would not have wanted the entire decision resting on my shoulders.  The eighth grade class won first place, which was incredibly fun to watch.  They realized as soon as we'd called the seniors for second place that they must have won, and there was this almighty shriek of glee from 100 voices all ringing out at once.  They'd had these shiny paper plate hats for their cheers, and just like at an American graduation, the second they realized it was over and they'd won that contest, those hats flew. 

After the cheers were all done and the winners announced, it was time for the actual games to begin.  It started with what the faculty called parlor games; most of them similar to the kinds of relay races and somewhat silly games that get played at school field days or family reunions.  Some were familiar, like the three-legged race or the straw-and-ring relay.  Others were more Filipino in origin, like Paper Fish race, where the students had to try moving a paper fish by waving/slapping a poster behind it.  On the whole, slapping the ground with the poster worked best, but even at their best the paper fishes tended to not move in straight lines.  A student might weave back and forth along their line several times before they got the fish to go the correct distance out and then back again.

At the same time as the parlor games were going on, other students were heading outside to try different games or activities.  There was tug-of-war, more straightforward races, and other games or adventures.

I spent most of the afternoon not actually watching the games.  A group of seventh graders decided they were going to get to know me outside of class, and that it was high time I started learning Tagalog.  I now have a list of several different random nouns, a few question words, and two adjectives that I need to memorize.  I can also now sing "Head, shoulders, knees and toes" in Tagalog, as long as I cheat and look at my vocab list beforehand.


Thursday's games were more of the same.  The students were mostly done playing the parlor games, and a good chunk of the day was spent with more formal sports tournaments, like men's and women's basketball and volleyball.  I brought my knitting along to keep my hands busy as I watched, and that's probably what led to most of Thursday being spent with more of my seventh grade girls away from the sports activities.  You see, about four of them were absolutely fascinated with the whole concept of knitting, and with what I was doing with my project.  They were so fascinated that they asked me to teach them how.  Luckily, I brought plenty of needles and some extra cotton yarn along, though I hadn't planned on using them quite like this.

The afternoon was spent with my seventh graders in my little kitchen, teaching four girls how to knit themselves bracelets using the garter stitch.  It was also spent just relaxing and getting to know my students, and letting them get to know me as a person, instead of as the somewhat intimidating teacher who comes in to their Friday English-Speaking class to tell them that they are pronouncing words wrong.  I loved it, loved getting to relax and let them ask questions in their own time, about things they really wanted to know about me and where I came from. 


Friday was the last day of intramurals, which meant wrapping up the last few games, double-checking scores, and then one last hurrah of an assembly, with the modern dance competition as the last bit of earning points before they announced which grade level would win overall.

As with Thursday, I didn't end up watching much of the sports activities.  I sat with the seventh graders, this time braiding hair as much or more than knitting, and chatting with a few of the boys about books and history (their choice of topics, not that I was going to argue much about a chance to geek out on those subjects). 

The final ceremony started out with a laugh, as Sir Bastian, the school biology teacher, gave us his version of a modern dance routine.  It takes a brave, brave man to be that willing to go all out and embrace the ridiculousness, to bring us all into the joke that he was making, and he earned every single cheer and laugh he got in the process. 

After Sir Bastian relaxed all of us, it was time for the Modern Dance routines.  And I thought judging the cheering competition was bad.  The dancers were all incredible, and all very different.  Some were telling more of a story within the song, while others were just incredible uses of their bodies to convey a general emotion or theme.  I have no idea how I managed to objectively score any of it. 

The rest of the assembly was about announcing the winners from every game, and then announcing the overall winner.  The students enjoyed at least the last part, but for me the fun really had been more in the experience of the week, of letting myself relax and get to know the students without having to always be Teacher Margaret.  I think it was good for them as well to get to see me like that. 

More to come in later blog posts, as some very cool things have been happening with and around me this week, but I think this post was long enough just talking about Intramurals. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Weekend Adventures

Earlier this past week, I got a text from Ashley, the other YASCer from my year here, telling me that she was coming up to Baguio for the weekend with some of the people she worked with in Santiago.  She wanted to hang out, and the people she was coming up with wanted to tour around Baguio for a bit.  I put my Friday afternoon into Saturday at her disposal, and off we went. 

Living and working in such a small portion of Baguio, I'd lost track of my first thoughts when I was driven into the city only a few weeks ago.  I'd been so awed and thrilled by what I was seeing as we drove in that my first thoughts had been how lucky I was to get to live here for a year.  Touring around this weekend with Ashley, I rediscovered my awe and joy in Baguio, in the beauty I'm surrounded with in this city in the mountains.  She was as astounded by the views as I had been when I first arrived. 

The first place we visited was Lourdes Grotto, a shrine to Mary built by the Spanish before the American takeover of the Philippines.  It's a shrine up at the top of one of the mountains Baguio is built on, and from bottom to top there are 252 steps up.  Ashley and I both made it all the way up, and we were very glad that we were climbing that amount of steps in Baguio's cooler climate, because we would probably have collapsed mid-way up if Baguio was as hot as Santiago can get.  As it is, the mid-60 degree weather in Baguio didn't stop us from working up a bit of a sweat as we walked up and down.

From Lourdes we headed onwards to the BenCab museum.  Ben Cab was a modern Filipino artist, and the BenCab museum hosts his work as well as other Filipino artwork.  The museum included traditional wood-work and household gods of the mountain provinces, two more temporary exhibits, two rooms full of modern Filipino art, and a room dedicated to Ben Cab's work.  I'm sad to say I'd never heard of the man or his art before this past weekend, but that will have to change.  His work was exquisite, powerful, and had a story inside each painting, a personality within each face portrayed. 

We had just about finished with the museum when the rain started falling.  It would not stop falling for the rest of the day and on throughout the night, which did wipe out some of our planned stops.  When the rains wash through Baguio the mist comes along before them.  In a matter of minutes the other mountainsides are gone.  A few more minutes pass, and the rest of Baguio itself, the opposite side of the street even, is out of sight.  The rest of the world drops away, lost below the clouds that float around you.  It's beautiful, as long as you did not have plans to see anything other than clouds and rain.

After a long lunch of Chinese and more conversation, we decided that the rains still had not cleared enough to see the sights they had originally been planning to take us to, so we instead headed to SM, the mall here in Baguio.  To give a perspective on malls here, this isn't the two-story mall like Beavercreek or the Dayton Mall in Ohio.  This is instead a four-story mall, and it is considered small compared to the malls in Manilla.  I narrowly avoided getting lost in it.  The only way the SM in Baguio could be considered smaller than US malls is that there is only one big department store in the mall: the SM store from which the mall takes its name.  Ashley and I quickly decided that we weren't all that interested in a long mall-wander, and after a brief look around we settled in Starbucks for drinks and a chance to rest somewhere that wasn't moving. 

The rain still had not cleared, but we tried going up to Mining View, high up on one of the mountains, it is supposed to have the best view of the whole city of Baguio.  At least, it does when the mist and rain are not obscuring all sights more than 100 feet away. 

Instead we drove back down to Easter College, and I showed Ashley the Easter Weaving room in all its beauty and activity.  Several people were working on the looms even on a Saturday afternoon, and we had a lovely time watching the fabrics be created before we went upstairs and looked at the goods produced. 

By the time we finished looking around the Weaving Room it was late enough that we simply grabbed dinner and dropped me off back at Easter College.  Ashley and her Santiago compatriots were heading back to Santiago early on Sunday, and I'd been invited to go to Epiphany church with the president of Easter College, Ma'am Brigid. 

Sunday morning stayed wet and rainy.  A driver knocked on my door at around 8:30 to take me the 6k from Easter College into central Trinidad, where Epiphany church is located.  The church service, like most of the ones I've attended here in the Philippines, was lovely, and very high-church, complete with incense and a mostly sung service.  The priest singled me out to welcome to the Philippines and his church at the beginning of the service, explaining that I was here for a year to assist at Easter College.

After the service, Ma'am Brigid took me out to lunch with members of her family: her husband, her son, and her granddaughter.  Her granddaughter was initially a bit shy around me, and didn't know what to think about someone with such strange hair (bright red!).  Luckily, I've spent enough time doing childcare that I always carry around a bit of bubble solution in my purse.  A few times blowing bubbles with her and she was relaxed and playful around me.  After lunch, it was back to SM, there's a children's area with bouncy trampolines and ball pits, and the granddaughter, at three years old, was just the right age for this to be the perfect after-lunch treat.  I talked more with Ma'am Brigid and her husband while we were watching her granddaughter play, mostly about my own family and a little about the rest of my background.  Their youngest child is my age, and living away from the family, so they could sympathize a lot with my parents missing me and wanting to keep in good contact while I'm gone for the year. 

They invited me to go grocery shopping with them, but at that point I had not had a chance to write out my own grocery list and plan for the week ahead, so I headed home instead.  Ma'am Brigid packed me into the taxi and gave the driver the instructions back to Easter College, but it was my first taxi on my own through Baguio. 

Quite a weekend, huh?  I was trying to wait on this post until I had pictures, but my camera is not behaving itself, and the BenCab museum's website is down, so I can't link.  Do yourselves a favor, and do a google image search for BenCab paintings, you will not be disappointed. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


What is it like at my new school? What am I teaching? How are my students?

Those are the questions I've been getting the most often, and, according to my parents, the ones they have been getting the most often from people at church.

My new school is Easter High School, on the Easter College campus. I mentioned in my last entry that I had come to tour the school and had found out a bit of my schedule. I thought for this entry I'd walk you through a week of my classes, and explain what will be covered in each class.

Broadly speaking, I will be helping to teach three levels of Christian Education, which is normally referred to as CE classes. The high school has four class levels: 7th and 8th grades, third and fourth year students. The dichotomy in what the student levels are called points to the differences in education systems. The third and fourth year students are part of the old curriculum, while the 7th and 8th grade students are part of the new curriculum. In a few years time the high school will be continuing on to 12th grade to better match up with other Asian countries.

I help out in teaching CE to the upper three years. Each year has classes twice a week, and I get to participate in most, but not all, of the class sessions. Currently my schedule is Mondays and Wednesdays I have CE with third years. Tuesday and Thursday I have eighth grade. Friday I see fourth years. Their other class is on Wednesdays and conflicts with the third year classes, so that is the class I only see once a week.

In eighth grade the students are studying the Bible; Old and New Testament, learning a bit about the structure of the Bible and studying stories for moral values. I'm getting a bit of a workout remembering my Old Testament right now and plotting out a coursework to get through the majority of it before the fourth quarter, when we have to switch into the New Testament. It's been a while since I have had to think about the Bible on a high school level, I keep having to scale myself back from my college coursework. Currently in the course we have just finished Jacob and will work through Joseph in the next class. We finally exit Genesis and head on to Exodus on Thursday!

In third year, the students are studying church history. This is not my strongest area, and unfortunately this is also the course I have observed the least, as afternoon classes were canceled last Monday for the end of Filipino language month celebrations. I will be talking with the course teacher in a bit to see what will be covered and how he wants to co-teach the class.

Fourth year students are studying Christian Living, which looks at applying values learned from the Bible into their modern lives. The past week and a half we spent on the Ten Commandments, and this was one of the first classes where I started helping plan lessons and teach. Last Friday I had the students re-write the commandments in their own words to make sure they understood them, and then led a bit of a discussion to see what they had come up with. I found that a large group didn't know what adultery actually was, though some of them knew it had something to do with sex. I really enjoyed a chance at a more debate/participatory style for this course, as this is a subject that cannot simply be taught by lectures.

The other class I'm helping out with so far is Practical Spoken English. The teacher for this class was rejoicing over having an actual native speaker at hand to show how words are pronounced in American English. Last Friday's class was about the th sound, which is not part of the local Ilocano dialect. I had a silly moment or two in front of the class showing exactly how you moved your tongue in your mouth to form the sound: flicking the tip of the tongue off of the back of your top front teeth.