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A betrayal of the JASMS Way

If you knew JASMS  like I know JASMS, you wouldn’t be so cavalier about dismantling its campus and confining its students to the four walls of a sterile classroom in a nine-storey concrete building. Because that’s the plan of a couple of developers for JASMS of Jose Abad Santos Memorial School, that wonderful institution along EDSA in West Triangle Homes in Quezon City where my children went for elementary.

I enrolled my daughters in JASMS-QC in the Eighties because its approach to education provided students the social, physical and intellectual space to learn, explore, create and play.  A brainchild of the late Doreen B. Gamboa in 1937, what has come to be known as the “JASMS Way” was considered radical even in the Eighties.

The Philippine Women’s University (PWU) website describes JASMS as its “brand” for basic education (Kinder to Grade 12), and the JASMS Way as “a locally developed, non-traditional and progressive education system that values the dignity of each individual…a student-led, inquiry- and project-based, collaborative educational philosophy that is anchored on discovery and learning by doing,.. dedicated to peace and environmentalism, and to cooperation rather than competition, JASMS cultivates freedom of spirit, exploration and expression with the ultimate goal of balanced development and growth.”

Many writers, artists, activists, educators and journalists were perfectly happy putting their children through an education that promised such freedom of choice and spirit.

My younger daughter spent eight years in JASMS, from prep to seventh grade. She loved the school, with its classrooms that opened into a big yard, and a farm where the children tended ducks and chickens, sank their feet in mud planting rice in a real paddy, grew vegetables in a garden and harvested fish from a pond. There was a large playground and a rock garden (which they called the “mountain”) where the students went to settle their differences, often peacefully.

JASMS was such a happy place, I had no problem getting my girls to get up in the morning to go to school. The teachers kept the atmosphere light and cordial, and knew how to motivate the kids with lessons that required them to draw pictures, write essays and mount plays that had them dressing up in costumes.  In the process, their academic subjects — history, literature, geography — came alive.

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The wide open JASMS schoolyard is central to the vision of the late Doreen Gamboa. It is a place where in her words, children could “learn to be free”, with space to run and play, be creative, establish relationships and appreciate nature  – all those things that make for bright, happy, healthy and productive citizens. As Johanna Poethig, an artist who studied in JASMS, wrote in her appeal to preserve her alma mater, the JASMS campus reflects how completely connected learning is to the physical environment. 

But recently, it was reported that PWU, which has earned much prestige for promoting Doreen Gamboa’s progressive ideas on childhood education, went into partnership with Ayala Land and STI to convert the 22,000 sqm. JASMS campus that it shares with PWU, into a “mixed-use area.” Under their plan, the two schools will remain in the area but they will be given classrooms in a nine-storey building. Only around 3,000 square meters of the schoolyard will be retained. On the rest of the property will rise (heavens, no!) two 33-storey Amaia condominium buildings, and (groan) another mall.

The existing school structures are due to be demolished this month and construction is scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2015. 

In its website, PWU lists the unique features of the JASMS Way as “culture learning,” “borderless experience,” “inter-relationship oriented,” “participatory learning,” “self-generated sanctions,” “moldless standard,” “leadership/fellowship,” “creativity/innovation,” “learning to learn” and “spiritual intelligence.” Try stuffing kids nurtured in all that energy and freedom in cramped classrooms high above the ground. 

The JASMS Parents Association says it was blindsided. They were not consulted or given prior notice by PWU, the owners of the school, that the property would be converted into a commercial enterprise. They are worried about the health and safety of their children who will be going to school in a construction site. And they rue the loss of the vision and values of JASMS that made them put their children there.

Developers have been lusting over the prime land along EDSA for some time. Across the highway from JASMS, the Manila Seedling Bank has been mowed over in favor of a commercial enterprise. It didn’t take PWU long to realize that it is sitting on a gold mine. It couldn’t have been a difficult decision to part with the JASMS property in exchange for the billions of pesos it must be worth.  Unless the JASMS Parents Association succeeds in stopping the development, PWU’s “brand” for basic education that has nurtured both regular children and children with special needs for almost 60 years, and where generations of children have learned to be happy and free, will be no more.

The gigantic TriNoma Mall is down the road, and across EDSA is the underutilized Centris Mall. Does the area really need another mall?  And another high-rise condo? Why do developers insist on building a concrete jungle where trees thrive, grass grows, flowers bloom and children learn and play? And why are educational institutions like PWU and STI doing the tango with these developers?

The JASMS parents have petitioned the Quezon City government to follow zoning rules and reject the development of a commercial enterprise in a school zone. It has begged the developers to reconsider their decision to invest in a project that is bound to affect the health, safety and learnings of children, and gravely endanger the unique educational approach of Mrs. Gamboa’s JASMS Way. It has asked the barangay and the homeowners association of West Triangle homes where JASMS is located, to protest the commercialization of their neighborhood. And it has asked former JASMS students and parents to express their objection to this betrayal of the JASMS legacy.

As a JASMS parent, I stand with the JASMS community in protesting this travesty.

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