In Baganga, classrooms still roofless; “our graduation venue is gone”

BAGANGA, Davao Oriental (MindaNews/10 February) – While most Grade Six students are looking forward to graduation day, sixth graders at the Baganga Central Elementary School (BCES) are not as excited.

“Our gym is gone,” said Ramson Tindugan, a member of Section Silangan and his classmates, as they waited for their teacher inside the “learning space tent” on Thursday afternoon.

“Salug na lang man nabilin” (Only the floor remains), they said.

The “gym” — more of a covered court actually – was relatively new and, according to the school principal, was the venue for graduations in the last three years.

It would have been where Taindugan and 230 other Grade Six students would march and receive their diplomas in mid-March, if super typhoon Pablo had not made landfall in this town on December 4.

Only the concrete floor and the rubble of the stage remain. The roof is gone.

Principal Helenita Postrero hopes someone or some groups would help them repair the venue for graduation.

But this is not her only concern.

A month after Education Secretary Armin Luistro visited this school and the national high school, nothing much has changed.

Most of the classrooms are still roofless and no additional “learning space tent” has been added. When Luistro was here at the start of the classes on January 3, there was only one “learning space tent” in the BCES and another in the seaside national high school

Of 42 classrooms at the BCES, only nine have been repaired, she said.

Postrero told MindaNews on Thursday that carpenters had been coming to school since Sunday last week supposedly to work on the other classrooms, only to be pulled out to work in other areas. The carpenters promised to return after two days but were again pulled out to work in another area, she said.

She is frustrated over the delayed roofing.

The lone “learning space tent” has been home to at least 10 sections of Grades 3 and 6 at two shifts each in the morning – 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.and 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. – and two shifts in the afternoon — 1 to 2:30 and 2:30 to 4:30 in the afternoon.

Three sections of Grade 3 attend the morning session’s first shift while two sections take over during the second shift. In the afternoon, Grade 6 students take turns using the tent: three sections in the first shift and two sections in the second, she said. Tindugan’s classroom and the classrooms of other Grade 6 sections are waiting for the carpenters to return.

Before Pablo, the school’s population was 1,858. Three students were killed, one teacher was injured when Pablo made landfall, Postrero said.

Today. the school’s population is down to 1,713. Postrero said 145 students transfered to Cebu, Davao, Mati and other neighboring towns.

In Spur 2 Primary School in Barangay Aliwagwag, Cateel town, the number of students has also decreased.

Before Pablo, the primary school had 85 students: 19 in Kiinder, 20 in Grade 1, 16 in Grade 2 and 30 in Grades 3 and 4.

Today, only 51 students have remained: nine in Kinder, 18 in Grade 1, eight in Grade 2, and 16 students in the third and fourth grade, teachers Roy Gumbason, Annalou Gumbason and Annalou Savana told MindaNews.

The rest have transferred, said Roy Gumbason who teaches the third and fourth grade. Savana teaches the first grade in a “learning space tent” shared with Gumbason’s students, a tarpaulin serving as divider, the soil as floor.

On Thursday, Savana’s first graders were reading in unison what was written on the board: “my father’s name is… my mother’s name is” while Gumbason’s class was reviewing the types of “grow food” and “glow food.”

The tent has holes on the roof and had actually collapsed a few weeks ago due to strong winds brought about by a low pressure area. Fortunately, no one was around.

Because the tent does not have windows, students and teachers have had to get out when the heat becomes unbearable, usually starting around 10 to 11 a.. m., said Gumbason.

Kinder and Grade 2 students share a makeshift classroom at the entrance of the hilltop school, where the building destroyed by Pablo used to stand.

There is only one blackboard, placed on the side of the Kinder students .The skeletal frame is made of coco wood, the walls and roof a patchwork of tarpaulins. No wall divides the grade levels, just posts awaiting either plywood or tarpaulin.

Head teacher Merlien Lusan said they are going on a house-to-house campaign to urge students who did not transfer to other areas but have not returned to school, to come back.

The school has yet to undergo psychosocial processing.

Lusan said she had to have the mother of a Kinder student called to fetch her child who kept crying when the winds howled. Lusan thinks the typhoon had traumatized the child.

Teacher Roy Gumbason said his students were “very responsive” before Typhoon Pablo.

The teachers have touched base with the Ateneo de Davao University’s Center for Psychological Extension Research Services (Copers) for assistance. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)