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MANILA, Philippines – Public school teacher Shateen Danong Seraña, 31, never imagined that her seemingly ordinary concern for the environment and how this would look like for the future of her 2 kids, would someday take her to places beyond her wildest dreams.
After all, she was content with her daily grind as a struggling high school teacher in a remote public school in Zamboanga City.
Next thing she knew, she was in Auckland, New Zealand competing with other teachers from the Asia-Pacific region for leadership recognition sponsored by an American multinational software company.
After winning the top prize, she will soon fly to Greece for the international leg of the contest. Two other Filipino teachers also received separate distinctions.
Filipino educators bested 63 other teachers from 14 countries in the entire Asia-Pacific region after winning in the national round of Microsoft’s annual Innovative Education Forum.
Teaching in a public school
After resigning from a private school where she worked for 5 years, Sereña began teaching in 2010 at the Tuan Datu Hadji Abdulla Nuño High School in Barangay Taluksangay, a community dominated by native Muslims.
She handles the Filipino subject for the sophomore and junior levels, and occasionally serves as the school’s librarian and guidance counselor.
“I decided to transfer to government service because I needed job security for my family,” Sereña said in the vernacular Chavacano when Rappler spoke to her by phone.
The school is located in a coastal area with a number of its estimated 500 students coming from neighboring island villages where the presence of lawless and rebels groups has been reported. A number of kidnapping cases has occurred in these islands, and included teachers among victims.
But more than her personal safety, one of Sereña’s primary concerns when she transferred to Taluksangay was how the seaside village would stand against natural calamities such as storm surges or tsunamis.
She said she would often discuss with her students horrifying TV images on the devastating effects of the March 2011 Japan earthquake where a ferocious tsunami slammed several coastal communities.
She would also interject her lectures on Filipino grammar or literature with topics on Science and environment-related topics.
“Jose Rizal’s El Filibusterismo actually gave us a preview on how the concept of kaingin (slash and burn) system of farming was introduced during the Spanish occupation,” Seraña said. “I felt the need to make my lectures more relevant with the times.”
“Kaingin and illegal cutting of trees have caused so much destruction because they also contribute to deadly floodings and other man-made disasters. If these abuses on the environment will continue, I pity my kids’ future.”
Seraña said this prompted her to choose mangrove reforestation as her project-based learning activity when she was chosen to participate in the Innovative Teacher Leadership Award sponsored by Microsoft’s Global Partners in Learning program.
“In Taluksangay and in many areas in Mindanao, residents cut down and collect the mangroves for firewood, charcoal and even poles for their houses,” Sareña explained. “There is a great need to intensify public awareness that these mangroves can actually serve as buffer to protect coastal areas from calamities such as a tsunami.”
With the help of her colleagues at the Global Filipino Teachers and Coalition for Better Education, a program aimed at improving teaching efficiencies of teachers, Sereña tapped her students to re-plant mangove trees along the coasts of Taluksangay, with propagules or seedlings provided by the local office of the environment department.
“The project entailed processes where our students learned to do research, documentation, and even coordination with people outside the school such as the DENR and the barangay office. They were also required to put these learnings into their journals, thus enhancing their skills to write and express themselves.”
After creating a significant impact in what could have been a simple school activity, other teachers, students’ parents and village officials threw in their support for the project.
The goal of protecting the mangrove reserves spread throughout the community, since students would hold lectures in the neighborhood or encourage their parents to support the initiative.
Students also were also introduced to blogging, using social networking sites to further campaign the advocacy.
It was a tough challenge to connect the students of Taluksangay to cyberspace. Besides a majority of them having yet to actually learn how to use a simple computer, Internet connection in the area is poor since it is located at least 20 kilometers from the city proper. But that did not stop Sereña from pursuing her project.
“I borrowed laptops from teachers and other members of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), then used Internet sticks (dongles) to connect the kids to the net,” said Sereña. “Surprisingly, they learn easily.”
Accordingly, a number of schools have expressed interest in support of the mangrove re-planting project by replicating it in other parts of the city.
The local government has also recognized Sereña’s initiative and will allocate additional funding for students who will join in the annual summer job program. This will include mangrove planting.
“This project did not only help the mostly Muslim students boost their morale and personality to interact with the world outside the fences of the school. We have also established better relations — not only for Taluksangay — but for Zamboanga City too,” Sereña said. – Rappler.com