Home Asia Notes From An Empty Classroom

Notes From An Empty Classroom

Notes From An Empty Classroom
Photo Essay: The Children's Ark Preparatory School

Two weeks prior to the pandemic lockdown of March 2020, the concert hall of the Philippine Social Science Center was exulting to an ensemble of preschoolers.

Dressed up in earthly costumes, the children filled the air with songs and verses of musical adaptations of “Ang mga Langgam at mga Tipaklong” back-to-back with the timeless “The Lion King”. To the delight of the parents.

It was the calm before the storm.

If everybody has a “last blast pre-COVID19” story to tell, this is it for the boys and girls of The Children’s Ark Preparatory School (TCAPS).

By March 15, the first massive citywide lockdown would hit Metro Manila. Shutting in 12 million people.

School closure. Interrupted learning. TCAPS embrace the pandemic mess.

As with every functioning institution, TCAPS closed down. It’s Facebook timeline—a video post of the colorful recital—was taken over shortly by official announcements filled with plethora of unusual terms: asymptomatic, quarantine, confirmed cases…

A speedy shift to a new normal is crucial. Students were compelled to keep up with unfamiliar ways, live video conferences, PDF worksheets, Seesaw, and so on.

By the time classes resumed, it was through the auspices of the brightly lit LED monitors, from the comfort of everyone’s homes. Leaving the learning center in a state of emptiness. Black-holed. And, the school directress, Caroline Vargas, in near depression.

“We survive through faith and prayers. The rooms are a disaster. We haven’t taken care of them except for the business area. I was sulking, diving into depression.” she narrates.

Empty pods feeling the brunt of COVID19-pandemic

Established by the Vargas siblings in 2000, the Children’s Ark Preparatory School started as a kiddie learning center catering to the young minds of Don Antonio Heights community, in Quezon city.

The family modified the house to form a labyrinth of pocket classrooms. A typical home-to-prep school-conversion setup. The ones which mushroomed in the 70’s courtesy of the Child and Youth Welfare Code.

TCAPS’ classrooms, though modest and compact, are a stark contrast to its comprehensive and EQ-loaded teaching discipline.

The school prides itself with an educational approach designed to engage students in real-world experience learning, rearing them to thinking beyond the four walls; to grow and develop spiritually, emotionally, and mentally to be worthy members of its community and society.

TCAPS kids enjoy an opulent learning experience with the provision of a safe environment.

Until COVID19 came along.

Online learning may be tough for students. But its the next batch of preschoolers who will have the hardest blow.

Batch 2020 graduates managed to get on with the rites virtually. Certificates had to be sent via email. Everything, online-driven.

This year, the the pandemic’s impact was felt even more. In spite of cut backs on school charges, and matriculation fee slashed to all-time low, the number of enrollees dropped to half its normal figure.

Plain to see why. Parents remain skeptical of remote learning. They have expressed difficulty in virtual classrooms. Add to that, the strain in handling children’s attention spans, bad effects of lengthy screen time, and the need for parental guidance.

“Why should we spend for tuition fees when we are doing all the teachings?” A growing sentiment.

Teacher Caroline Vargas, TCAPS Directress.

Teachers have their own fair share of aches too. Kids dislike online classes. They perform bad in this new setup.

“Children would cut (online) classes. For every “disappearance”, they have a ready explanation: power outage, no connection. Worse, their learning is mostly google-fed.”

To top it all, these youngsters are being deprived of face-to-face socialization, where they can study, learn new things, and bond with new friends and teachers. An essential factor in their growing-up years.

On the management side, Ms. Vargas struggles to keep her teaching force intact. And she is doing a good job. Although, unfortunately, not without the inevitable pay cuts.

“We haven’t received anything from the government. There’s this DepEd subsidy (for both teachers and students) which requires lots of form-filling.

Other than that, there has been no assistance from the government.”

Assistance, is such a lonely word.

Hearts and roses mark where everything stopped.

September 2021. The Children’s Ark Preparatory School is up once again for the challenges of another pandemic school year.

They have a battle plan. They have the morale to sustain the battle plan. And they have each other.

During these difficult times when even the call of frontline sectors is left unresponded to, when resources are not laid out to plagued educational institutions, the academic stratum, from the small—unheard-of players—will have to fend for themselves.###