No barriers: Kids in far-flung village learn to love reading
SORSOGON, Philippines – Along the banks of a river flowing through Donsol town in Sorsogon province, children turn up during weekends. But the kids are not there to swim or to play – they are there to learn.
The children are brought to the riverbank by their teacher, 30-year-old Ryan Homan. Homan, son of the village chief in Barangay San Jose in Donsol, has made it his mission to spend extra time with kids who need a little more help with their lessons.
Their weekend program is called Balsa-Basa, after the Filipino words balsa (raft) and basa (read). Homan picks up each of his students from their homes along the river, with a bamboo raft that functions like a school bus. Once they are all gathered at the riverbank, he and co-teacher Robert Rejuso teach lessons to the kids and read books to them from 7 am to 1 pm.
"Some don't want to go to [San Jose Elementary School] as they live too far from the school, and end up as dropouts," he explained. "To address this problem, as educator, I created a doable strategy to be able to reach out to the students."
Aside from Balsa-Basa, Homan also spearheaded Bankaaraman (a student's house is reached via boat) and Walk for Knowledge (a teacher takes a long walk to reach a student's house for tutorials). The 3 programs began in 2013.
"We have mini-theater or puppet shows ... and outreach activities during Saturdays and Sundays for the struggling readers," Homan added.
"[Teachers] and volunteers conduct home visitation for remedial reading to those pupils who reside near the river, using a balsa."
The home visits are a big help to the students, many of whom ride boats and rafts or walk for at least an hour just to attend their regular classes. San Jose itself is a far-flung barangay, some 20 kilometers away from Donsol town proper.
Turning students into avid readers
Ultimately, Homan hopes to turn every student into an avid reader.
At San Jose Elementary School, they have reading stations with different challenges, such as word hunt and reading bingo.
Another technique is the videoke challenge, where students sing their favorite songs to practice proper pronunciation as they read lyrics from a videoke machine.
Adjacent to the school's library, there's also a reading bed – a more comfortable space to develop children's love for reading.
Near the reading bed is the reading garden, where the school hung decorations to make the area more attractive. The reading garden is home to their so-called "walking book," which features original stories and poems written by the teachers. The "walking book" is often read during lunchtime.
"We try to materialize this goal of DepEd's Every Child a Reader Program (ECARP) in San Jose Elementary School," Homan explained.
ECARP "aims to make every Filipino child a reader by Grade 3." For the program, the government develops materials for both teachers and pupils.
Three years ago, Homan also introduced home-based reading corners, with households encouraged to have reading corners for children. Students are allowed to borrow story books from the school to take to their reading corners. The initiative is anchored on the belief that education begins at home.
Homan also set up a community reading center, with teachers taking turns reading to children every night. The center, furnished by teachers and parents, has a bamboo bed and curtains. Students experience the comforts of reading at home while also mingling with their peers.
There's even a community reading area for parents, out-of-school youth, and other children in San Jose. There, they can read books, newspapers, and magazines. Film viewings are also held.
"It helps the people in the community to develop their reading skills, to be updated [about] issues taking place within and outside the country while relaxing," Homan said.
Homan has been getting support from other locals in Barangay San Jose, who are now his partners in bringing better education to students.
"We have senior citizens volunteer as story-tellers," he said. "We also have nanay (mother) teachers and community librarians who help [in the reading program]... Those nanay teachers who excel [are given a] token and certificate during graduation along with their children."
The San Jose barangay council also allotted more than P1,000 monthly to help out Homan and the other public school teachers with the expenses for their programs.
Homan said his students have already shown improvement because of the additional programs.
"At Grade 1, our students now know how to read compared to before," he said. "Remedial teaching and reading innovations are greatly appreciated by the parents as they witness their children improve in reading [and] comprehension abilities."
The students' performance in the National Achievement Test has also improved from an average of 50% to 71%, just short of 4 percentage points to reach the 75% passing rate set by the Department of Education.
Homan emphasized that teachers like him must strive to make reading an enjoyable habit for their students.
"As an educator, making every child a reader is a big responsibility." – Rappler.com