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Ma’am’s the word

- Tanya T. Lara () - October 9, 2005 - 12:00am
There’s a new quarterly magazine in the country that’s making a huge impact on its audiences. It’s a glossy magazine with features like beauty and fashion makeovers, tips on how to run the household, how to start a new business, how to discipline children without putting them down, how to increase one’s skills, profiles on achievers, the latest career techniques, an advice column, and how to de-stress. According to two members of its editorial board, they even see Xeroxed copies of the magazine lying in schools around the country. If all goes well, these women need not Xerox the magazine in the future – they will have their own copies to bring home.

This isn’t a franchise of a popular international magazine or a homegrown one. Neither is it a parenting nor a fashion magazine. It’s Star Teacher, a free, glossy, quarterly magazine that’s jointly produced by Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation (SAS) and Summit Media. The audience is grade-school teachers and principals – anybody involved in the education system that wants to learn how to improve their classrooms and themselves.

The three people responsible for the magazine are Sa Aklat Sisikat president Margarita L. Delgado, vice president Lizzie E. Zobel, and Summit Media publisher Lisa Gokongwei-Cheng. Lisa is the woman who has made an empire out of glossy magazines with her company publishing 21 titles for very different audiences. So if anybody knows how to make an interesting read for niche markets, it is she.

Margarita says that at the outset, they wanted a magazine that was colorful, printed on coated paper, full of pictures and fun to read. "We would hate to put one more boring document on the teachers’ desks."

Lizzie concurs, "We thought they had enough of the printouts that they get continuously. We recognize that our teachers need to continue training because they have so many questions. We give them workshops to increase their skills but we had no way of communicating with them, of giving them additional materials. Our teachers are very committed to their work and are under-resourced. You know, at the end of a very long day, a teacher also needs to know that we care about her as a human being, so we decided that it would be wonderful to publish a magazine that was for them – one that will not only deliver skills-building materials but also be about her or him as a person."

Hence, the makeovers. For the first time, a publication combines the principles that make a women’s magazine successful with the substance of a DepEd teacher’s training manual. The articles in the magazine are written by educators and experts in the fields (for instance, in nutrition and child psychology).

And the 24-page magazine is free! Well, not free to produce it, but free for teachers. Summit has committed to publish 8,000 copies for free; Avon Philippines, 3,000; and Adidas, 3,000.

Summit boss Lisa Gokongwei-Cheng says, "Our problem is there are hundreds of thousands of public school teachers who would benefit from the magazine but who can’t get copies because we have limited funding."

There are 250,000 teachers in the public school system for grade school and another 150,000 for high school. Sa Aklat’s and Summit’s big dream is to put a copy into each teacher’s hands. It’s a tall order but one that’s not impossible since sponsors spend only P20 for an additional copy.

Think about it: for an additional hundred copies which SAS could distribute to teachers in the poorest barrios, we spend more for a dinner in Makati on a Saturday night.

When SAS started in 1999 with Petron Foundation, it seemed as if their goals were too unrealistic, there were too many problems in the system apart from the perennial lack of classrooms. There was too much responsibility, so little funding, but through the years the foundation has been a steady partner (the longest continuous partner, in fact) of the Department of Education.

They came and they stayed.

And, according to Lizzie, they never get discouraged. It takes great commitment to stay when things aren’t going as fast as one might hope. "We’re always encouraged because there’s so much commitment on the part of the teachers. We go out in the field and see principals, students and parents involved in the project," says Lizzie.

SAS has trained countless teachers and completed reading programs for Grade 4 students all over the country. "We recognize that to be able to build a nation of readers, we have to go out there and re-train our public school teachers."

Margarita says the foundation is always welcomed with open arms in all the schools. "I think it’s the way we’ve packaged the program. They know that we don’t come in there with a holier-than-thou attitude. We’re there to share and to partner with them because the reading programs cannot be started until a teacher training happens and teachers are very eager to learn the newest techniques."

Once they’ve trained the teachers, they deliver a set of books to each teacher in Grade 4 who uses the books for one hour each day for 31 consecutive school days for reading and storytelling sessions.

SAS has over a hundred titles in its reading program, all of them going through an editorial screening before being included. "We invite all the publishers to submit a list of the books that they think will be useful to the program and then we purchase the books from them," says Margarita.

"We’re not really teaching children how to read, we’re helping them develop a love of reading, and from that comes the development of their thinking skills," says Lizzie.

How do they choose the books? "We choose books that children can identify with. We want to make sure the book has very clear, moral, ethical messages. We wanna make sure that the values are not in any way misrepresented or given mixed signals – they should be direct because nine and 10-year-olds are not yet capable of reading between the lines. These are values like respect for the environment, responsibility, hard work, respect for elders."

Some of the books kids love best are Chenelyn! Chenelyn! by Rhandee Garlitos and illustrated by Liza Flores, The Crying Trees by Mary Ann Ordinario-Floresta and illustrated by Yasmin Ong, and War Makes Me Sad by Mary Ann Ordinario-Floresta and illustrated by Biboy Blu.

Most of the books are bilingual (English and Filipino). "In Iloilo we had an interesting experience," says Lizzie, laughing. "When we delivered the books, the teachers said, ‘None of the above.’ They wanted the books in Ilonggo. We’re starting to explore with our publishers the possibility of printing the books in those dialects but sometimes the minimums required are larger than the size of our projects."

SAS donates a set of 60 book to each classroom, and most schools have 10 to 15 sections of grade 4 students, so it comes out to 600 to 800 books per school.

"When we started Sa Aklat Sisikat, it was about nation-building," says Lizzie. "When you look at some of the results of the education equivalency examination, you sit back and question, as the Department of Education did, why are we not learning? Why are we teaching and our children are not learning? That’s because the level of comprehension has lowered because of lack of reading skills."

"We believe that reading is every child’s right," says Margarita. "Imagine a life without reading – or writing. I’ve seen people who are at a loss when confronted with even just a printed application form. We want to give the next generation a fighting chance at a better future and that can be done in many ways. For us, it’s teaching them to love reading, because even if they drop out of school at Grade 6, which 65 percent do, never to return, they can read and enjoy it or they can educate themselves."
* * *
For inquiries, call Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation at 889-8135, 886-3888 locals 3523, 3525, or send e-mail to sas@readerstransform.com, log on to www.readerstransform.com.
BOOKS DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION LISA GOKONGWEI-CHENG MAGAZINE MARY ANN ORDINARIO-FLORESTA READING SA AKLAT SISIKAT SA AKLAT SISIKAT FOUNDATION SCHOOL TEACHERS
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