by Noemi Baysa
“As educators, much is expected of us on how we prepare the young generation for an unknown future. The time has come that we need to transform the way we educate the world’s future leaders and movers.”
This was the call of Dr. Nerissa Linell Joie Tago Calub, Education Administrator IV at the Department of Education (DOE) in New York City (NYC), as she inspired Filipino educators and officials in public schools during her talk at a free webinar conducted by the International Cooperation Office (ICO) of the Department of Education on April 22, 2019.
Dr. Margarita Consolacion Ballesteros, Director of DepEd-ICO, organized the seminar “Transforming Education in the 21st Century Pandemic: Issues and Thrusts” to give Filipino educators a first-hand account of the practices of educators as well as the school systems in NYC in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Forty-seven teachers, SDO officials, regional supervisors, and ICO staff, all coming from the different parts of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, joined Dr. Benjamin Paragas, Regional Director of DepEd-MIMAROPA; Dr. Estela L. Cariño, Regional Director of DepEd-Cagayan Valley; Dir. Ballesteros, and Dr. Calub for a 2-hour exchange of ideas on the new role of educators and the school systems in transforming education.
“A school system is a cell itself, the smallest unit of life, and in transforming the kind of education we need amidst the pandemic, it is to cause to undergo some DNA or genetic transformation,” Dr. Calub explained as she drew the participants to the importance of growth among educators.
Berries and thorn amidst the pandemic
Amidst the coronavirus crisis, Dr. Calub highlighted the importance of recognizing not only the thorn which she said was the pandemic itself, but also the berries which according to her were the blessings that people continuously received.
“The pandemic is vicious and dangerous. It is a threat to health and lives. As government employees, we have to share the blessings that we receive,” the former Assistant Schools Division Superintendent of Cebu Province explained.
Dr. Calub further shared how millions of people in the US just like in the Philippines lost their jobs and how a lot of them lost their loved ones because of the thorn.
Participants, heeding the call of the renowned speaker, reflected on the blessings they received despite the pandemic.
“Family. Home. Health. Students. Secured income. God,” participants chimed in one by one, celebrating what Dr. Calub referred to as their big B [blessing].
Dr. Calub reiterated that the challenges people face would be the very reason that they need to grow.
“We don’t grow when things are easy; we grow when we face challenges,” Dr. Calub said to stress the needed change given the current situation.
The former Dean of Graduate School and Vice President for Academic Affairs of the Divine Word College of Laoag also underlined the need for educators to transform and see growth in their personal and professional lives.
“Let us make the challenge brought about by the pandemic as stepping stone for us to step up the plate for growth as teachers, as administrators, as family members, and as members of our own community,” Dr. Calub prodded.
The NYC school systems
According to Dr. Calub, the NYCDOE has over 1.1 million students taught in more than 1,800 separate schools. There are around 80, 000 teachers all over the city with 20,000 support staff.
Being the largest school system in the United States, the NYCDOE has an annual budget of 25 billion dollars.
Unlike in the Philippines, teachers in NYCDOE do not get a permanent item the moment they are appointed. They are subject to a tenure requirement which is 3 years of satisfactory performance.
Dr. Calub also shared that NYC is not made up of entirely English-speaking students. A lot of their students are English Language Learners, those whose home language is not English and those who need support in learning the language. Also 20% of their students are with disability.
An adhoc member of the New York State Education Department Professional Licensing Team on Bias Review, Dr. Calub also revealed that not everybody in NYC is in the above average socio-economic status; in fact, 72.8% belonged under the economically disadvantaged.
The city that never sleeps in the midst of the pandemic
In the midst of pandemic, New York City, known as the city that never sleeps, has sheltered in and took a PAUSE (Policy to Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone) as ordered by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of the New York State.
According to Dr. Calub, Americans are used to sheltering in even in pre-pandemic time, because their routine after work is to come home, rest and do the household chores.
But mentally, the PAUSE is making them a little bit stressed out and anxious because they know they are not supposed to go out.
Dr. Calub described NYC now as the city that fell asleep in the midst of the sounds of the sirens.
“There could be hardheaded Americans but a lot of us have taken the protocol by heart because it has hit our homes,” Dr. Calub explained as she recalled losing two of her close friends despite being healthy due to COVID-19. (READ: US Coronavirus Death Toll Passes 50,000)
Issues in education amid crisis
April 22, 2020 marked the 6th week since schools have been closed, and the 5th week that educating the young has gone fully virtual in New York City.
The schools were closed on March 16, 2020 (a day after the Enhanced Community Quarantine in National Capital Region in the Philippines began), and to date there is still no final decision as to how long schools will be closed.
Dr. Calub explained that the DOE institutionalized a 100% virtual teaching-learning process, and prepared the teachers and students for it, though in a very limited time.
Teachers were trained for three days, which was not a problem for those who were digital natives since they could easily access, navigate and utilize technology to its full capacity, but it posed problems to teachers who were digital immigrants.
Students’ preparedness was focused on the number of students who has technology at home and who actually has internet connections.
Knowing that not all students have gadgets for virtual learning, the DOE used their resource allocation to immediately distribute 300,000 laptops to their students, but there was still a long wait for others since all units were already distributed.
Higher stakes examinations such as SAT and ACT, that would qualify students to high end universities or to obtain scholarships, were cancelled. The Regent Examination in June has also been cancelled.
Graduations rites could be virtual for the Grade 5 elementary students, Grade 8 middle school students and Grade 12 high school students, who would all get their diploma unless credits are not warranted.
Dr. Calub also shared that religious observance days such as the Pass Over and Good Friday were not observed to avoid students getting a chance to go to the park.
Spring break, after school classes, Saturday programs, summer school, and Summer Youth Employment Program similarly were all suspended.
As for the budget, the Mayor has announced taking out 900 million from the 25 billion dollars, which would affect the hiring of new staff and would in turn have an impact to the teacher-pupil ratio.
Not giving up: Education thrusts
Sharing the quote, ‘Every great story happened when someone decided not to give up,’ Dr. Calub encouraged the participants to continue working as educators.
“Our gov’t leaders are not giving up; our new heroes, the frontliners are not giving up; we educators who work from home, we should not give up because the future of our students, the future of our school community certainly rest on us,” said the CEO and Founder of Pathways Education Consultancy.
Dr. Calub further stressed how the DOE has stepped up in giving service to New Yorkers.
“In the pre-pandemic time, students have free breakfast and lunch as part of the 25B budget of the DOE, but now in this crisis, DOE through its 400 meal hubs across the city, is committed to making free meals thrice a day for pick up not only for our students but for any New Yorker,” she said.
As for education, DOE provided the InfoHub and TeachHub for remote teaching and learning, to which students and teachers have access. The website has rich instructional materials and resources.
As part of teachers’ professional development, the DOE gave teachers who need technical support in virtual teaching an access to NYCDOE Remote Learning Tech PD Calendar, an updated website to help them in creating their day to day classes.
Noting that 70% of the 1.2 million students in NYC speak another language, the DOE administrator shared that major languages were part of the translation in the website used for virtual teaching-learning.
“Language access is available for all families, because if these will not be translated, communication lines are hindered along the way,” she expounded.
The former professor at Cebu Normal University also highlighted that students with functional challenges have a particular site that would provide them support.
“Special education students are provided with the remote Individualized Education Program (IEP) which has staff members who are special education teachers, psychologists, and related service providers like councilors, nurses, physical therapists, and speech pathologists who are required to provide teletherapy, unless parents would say no,” she explained.
Dr. Calub also added that DOE has provided the teletherapy service not only to those mandated to receive them but also to those who maybe in mental crisis at the moment, those who are anxious and depressed.
“Mental health is a very urgent and critical issue that New Yorkers are being challenged with. The cabin fever is real in New York,” Dr. Calub shared as she talked about the anxieties New Yorkers are feeling caused by being isolated for a long period of time.
Dr. Calub also recalled that on the very first week that the city went remote, Regional Enrichment Centers (RECs) were established to have safe places for the children of the frontline workers while they take care of the city.
Eight RECs all around the city, staffed by DOE employees and community-based organization partners, safely take care of the children of the first responders, health care providers and frontliners who need to serve the city.
The DOE administrator pointed out that department also addressed possible domestic abuse through the child abuse and maltreatment prevention and intervention during remote learning and through the RECs.
“We have the NYCDOE website which is open so that victims or witnesses to child abuse or those who suspect of knowing such incidence can directly report it,” Dr. Calub shared revealing that the reports of incidence of child abuse has increased during the pandemic.
The renowned lecturer also boasted of the communication lines in NY being very open, saying that anyone can go straight to the governor, mayor, chancellor using various modalities, snail mail, World Wide Web, phones, and media.
Dr. Calub also revealed that families were also given cash stimulus checks, similar to the social amelioration program that poor families in the Philippines received.
Chartering the uncharted waters
Dir. Ballesteros in reflection recapped that the impact of the coronavirus is not just to the educators in the Philippines but worldwide.
“Dr. Calub’s sharing is more than enough to say that COVID is not only for us but for all people all over the world especially the respective departments of education,” Dir. Ballesteros said.
Dr. Calub shared positivity restating the words of Gov. Cuomo of the New York State saying that we will all get through the pandemic.
“New York is tough. I am tough. We are all tough. And my being a Filipino makes me tougher. We are more resilient compared to other locals here. And I believe that the Philippines would get over this challenge,” she remarked with an unyielding spirit.
The DOE administrator also talked about the scenarios when schools reopen saying that public health standards must dictate the new norms.
“Everyone in the school community, in the Philippines and in the US are confronted with an unprecedented educational upheaval. The new normal has started and will stay longer than expected,” she explained.
As for the Philippines, Dir. Ballesteros said that commercial service providers offered free learning management system for DepEd.
“In the Philippines, Globe and Smart Tele Coms have already offered free use of data for DepEd Commons. IBM Philippines, Microsoft, Google, and other private partners are also offering their platform for free,” she clarified.
Dir. Ballesteros revealed that the government has negotiated with PLDT and TELCO, and everything will be packaged for students and teachers for free, and that DepEd is hoping that by last week of April, if not early May, everything will be in place.
The ICO Chief also added that she has negotiated with colleagues in Netherlands, New Zealand and Brussels, but everything is yet to be presented to the Curriculum and Instruction Division.
Dr. Calub offered the possibility of creating ties with EverFi, which is a platform that provides essential soft and hard life skills, good for Senior High School.
Concluding, the Filipino DOE official in New York noted that all educators are chartering an uncharted water in this crisis.
“COVID-19 pandemic is a great equalizer, and that no matter how rich New York is or the United States is, we are all on the same boat,” Dr. Calub said in closing.