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Creating Joyful Learning |


Creating Joyful Learning

CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren - The Philippine Star

One of the key institutional and physical landmarks of the Greenhills district has always been the OB Montessori Center. The noted school produced the likes of Lea and Gerard Salonga, Tin-Tin Bersola-Babao, Aiza Seguerra, filmmaker Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, artist MM Yu, and entrepreneur Migs Rosales of Angkas, among others, who have made good in the creative, cultural, business, and governance fields.

Montessori was Dr. Preciosa S. Soliven’s “field of dreams.” She built it starting over 50 years ago and many have enrolled their children since then, the attraction being that it provided a creative educational environment that the current president and COO, Sara Soliven-de Guzman, explained to me, “…nurtures the spirit and skills of the children, where they get to use all their senses to learn …blooming like butterflies.”

I caught up with Sara recently to find out how she and the school managed during the pandemic and what plans they had for the future.

It was insightful to learn from Sara that the school had, very early on, anticipated the reopening of face-to-face learning and that they had, in fact, planned early and implemented renovations to adapt to the new normal in education, as well as the specific needs of the Montessori method.

I was given a tour of the newly refurbished Greenhills campus, which she explained, “highlights the use of art, design and style in molding minds of the future… and celebrates the role of creativity as a powerful tool for learning.”

But before we got into the details, I did ask her how they coped the last three years. Sara replied that they had quickly shifted to virtual mode when they realized that the situation would take long to normalize. It must have been her training as a Commodore in the reserves of the Philippine Coast Guard that got her to act early and, thanks to training from her parents, to act decisively.

In 2020, they transformed their main and four other campuses into fully equipped broadcast studios so they could engage students with well-produced teaching modules and clear interactive channels. Sara said they tapped all the major service providers to ensure stable links and sustainable programs. This strategy paid off, as programs continued seamlessly after the initial severe lockdown.

Segueing into last year’s transition was a carefully organized process that started in 2021. They first brought in topnotch designers. Our interview included the principals of the design team Nazareno/Lichauco, tasked with the design refresh of the campus. Rita Nazareno and Gab Lichaoco run a multi-disciplinary proactive that has seen them developing new product designs and concepts for numerous brands, highlighting, as they emphasize, “contemporaneity and innovation in traditional craft and materials.”

Nazareno/Lichauco have curated past Philippine participations at events such as the Maison et Objet Paris and other expositions for Citem Design Philippines and other clients here and overseas.

The choice of this firm was in line with the school’s educational philosophy. “The Montessori method for teaching is based on experiencing materials and processes, so a student’s whole being is involved in the absorption of knowledge,” Sara explained. “Materials, colors, surfaces, and shapes are all stimuli that encourage young minds.”

The tour of the newly made-over campus does highlight materials, colors, surfaces, and shapes. This is evident in interior painting schemes and large graphics, as well as in the selection of furniture, lighting fixtures and accessories.

Also evident was the opening up of formerly closed or shaded rooms to bring in natural light and give opportunities to imbue portals to spaces with thematic touches that continue the designers’ narratives of curated materials, crafts-driven objects and functional pieces.

All of these combined, was to “…improve the ‘vibe’ so that when the students return, they are welcomed with happy, exciting and energizing spaces. Our immediate goal was to create an environment that would welcome students to a new chapter in their lives.”

Sara impressed on me that the overall design was to create a joyful environment: “Joy is such an important component of learning and experiencing. I want our community to return to the campuses — and to the whole concept of the new normal — with joyful anticipation of what is ahead.”

The classrooms for each academic level were specifically envisioned, said Sara, “to suit the learning phase, thinking process, and day-to-day educational activities of its students.” Nazareno/Lichauco’s expertise and new age design, she continued, “was just what was needed to perk up the environment (and achieved by) understanding the needs of teachers and students, the function of every classroom and curriculum of every department.”

The preschool to kindergarten classrooms made use of basic forms and colors to create the feeling of being in a park. “We utilized these elements to give the essence of being in nature — trees, ground, and the sun.”

For primary classrooms, more complex forms and concepts were embedded. These included references to the biosphere composed of water, earth, and air “as an interpretation of how the elements are experienced or encountered in our daily lives.”

The design for Intermediate and junior-high classrooms highlights works in the fields of science, arts, design, architecture. The narrative guides students through milestones and moments that helped define the modern world. The iconic work of Leonardo da Vinci, Nikola Tesla, Leticia Mumford Geer, and Zaha Hadid, as well as Charles and Ray Eames, are featured on the walls and ceilings.

For the Senior level, classrooms focus on important figures in Philippine contemporary art like Roberto Chabet, Nena Saguil and Leo Valledor. Rita and Gab explained, “We wanted to highlight and celebrate Filipino and Filipino-American conceptual art masters in the senior high-school classrooms. Conceptual art emphasizes the importance of an idea, expressing the abstract. The designs track a journey in forms, topics and concepts. As senior year is a culmination of one’s secondary education, we found it fitting to culminate with Philippine conceptual art.”

This new educational environment of joy is reflected in an enhanced curriculum as Sara notes that “Regardless of the course, academic level, subject or industry, creativity has proven to be the mother of innovation, progress, and problem solving. At OBMC, learning modules and materials harness the creative mind of both its teachers and students.”

Sara wrapped up the tour stating that “The campus refresh (keeps with) the OBMC philosophy that stresses creativity, innovation, and adaptability. The Montessori way of teaching cannot be separated from an environment that is most conducive for learning and absorbing knowledge.”

The new-look OB Montessori Center is indeed a joyful place to experience. It will undoubtedly convince the OBMC community that it is a new world we are living in today, one whose varied experiences we must share, to fully learn from it

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