01 February 2017

An Experimental Elementary Section


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While I credit Red Kapunan with my first real instruction in the game of football, my interest in it was reinforced at La Salle. While in Grade Five, we used to have this Physical Education teacher by the name of Vic Narciso. I didn’t personally know him before he became my teacher, but he was a swell guy and I learned soon enough that he was also from the air base.

A typical class under him as with many other PE teachers was what else but “free play,” school parlance for “get-the-damned-balls from the stock room and get on with it.”

But naturally, everyone wanted to play basketball. Because I never had any real fondness for it, I often sat outside the court in utter boredom waiting for the bell to ring, played chess with anybody who cared or just went to the library to read the newspapers and magazines.

But there was this one time when Mister Narciso, on a whim, came to the classroom carrying a volleyball and announced that that day, we would be playing rugby. I don’t recall that the instructions about how to play the game were comprehensive, if at all any were given. But being the little idiots that we were, once out on the field, everyone just started running after the guy with the ball as though everyone knew what to do once they got it.

And of course, years later, while watching a real game of rugby on television, I realized that the game we were playing wasn’t even rugby at all. It was probably just something that the teacher invented on the fly.

Then, there was this other day when Mister Narciso came to class carrying something that looked like a volleyball but wasn’t a volleyball at all. Although its design was similar to a volleyball, it was orange and was a tad bigger and heavier. It was, he told us, a football.

So out we went to the field and, once there, kicked the ball away and rushed after it as seemed the right thing to do. Sometimes, Mister Narciso would join us; and we could see that he really wasn’t any good at it. At the very least, he introduced me to a game that I felt I could really like. I had always liked running and the outdoors, and here was a game that had both.

Grade Six the school year 1970 to 1971 was strange; and I don’t recall that there was any other instance in the school’s entire history when a class “volt-ed in” like we did. Because some students from the previous year either did not make it to Grade Six or transferred to other schools, there were just enough of us to fill one classroom. That was Room 501 on the second floor.

Midway through the school year, we were told that half of the class would have to spend the mornings as an “experimental class” in this makeshift classroom adjoining the Brothers’ House, to be given advanced lessons and taught even by some high school teachers. This half was for all intents and purposes the same as my Grade Five class the previous year, from everyone’s understanding the A-section.

The morning sessions as I recall them were in Math, Science, Social Science and English. These done, we all returned to Room 501 every afternoon to join up with the rest of the class for the remaining subjects.

It wasn’t until many years later when I had already returned to join the same school’s teaching force that I fully appreciated that “experimental” arrangement that we had to go through for the remaining days of Grade Six. In the morning, we were what in education jargon was called “homogeneous.” This refers to the grouping together of students who have reasonably similar and therefore homogeneous aptitudes into a section, to be given content at the amount and pace that they are capable of absorbing.

The opposite of this is “heterogeneous,” which is just randomly grouping students together into a section regardless of aptitudes. There are arguments for and against either grouping system. The homogeneous system is often described as discriminatory; which arguably it is.

However, in the real world of the classroom, a heterogeneous section can be a nightmare for both teachers and students. The so-called fast learners will naturally tend to dominate the class. Conversely, the so-called slow learners can also bog down lessons. From the teacher’s point of view, the grades in a heterogeneous section can also be horrifyingly skewed in favor of the fast learners; or against the slow learners if you wish to look at the same situation a different way.

This was probably the reason why we started Grade Six normally as one section and then had to break out into two sections midway through the school year. I mean no disrespect to the classmates we left behind each morning after Homeroom to make the short trek to our makeshift classroom; but this arrangement was probably to the benefit of everyone.

We were no longer required to wear those infernal itchy brown khaki uniforms which I so hated because they had to be starched – or so my mother preferred them to be. These were replaced by black pants, which we would wear for only two years before the Brothers changed the uniform in my sophomore year to “any dark pants.” This was no uniform at all and a fair reflection of the gay and colorful seventies.

Because Brother Vernon had volunteered for reassignment to Iligan, the vacant position of Principal of the Grade School was given to Miss Alice Rivera. This bit of information may sound trivial; and being the elementary students that we were, we thought nothing of it. However, it was many years later when someone pointed out to me that the first lay principal of the school was, in fact, not Miss Norma Blanco. The latter was the first Principal of the High School, yes; but the distinction of being the school’s first-ever lay Principal, in fact, went to Miss Alice Rivera.

My Grade Six Homeroom Adviser was this kindly woman named Miss Felicisima Wagan, who would marry midway through the school year and henceforth be called Mrs. Quinto. We loved her just like we did most of our teachers; but if I am being honest, I have always had this extra bit of fondness for Miss Rivera, my adviser of the previous year.

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