CAPITOL HEIGHTS – Josefina Malibiran holds a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of the Philippines and she pioneered a special education program at New Era University in Manila — not the typical training for an energetic game of musical chairs.
But that is just what she was doing on a recent Tuesday afternoon with her new students, a special education class of 11-year-olds at Bradbury Heights Elementary School.
“Dance, dance!” Malibiran urged her students, swaying and clapping to the music as she danced around the circle of chairs with them. “Shake your hips! Look at me, Jerome!”
When the music stopped, Malibiran let all the children get to a chair before her, leading Jerome to gleefully yell, “Ms. M.’s out!” before the music started up again.
Musical chairs is just one of the similarities Malibiran has noticed since arriving here from the Philippines in September, one of 30 Filipino teachers hired by Prince George’s County Public Schools to teach special education, math, science and English.
The teachers, who are spread out over 24 schools across the county, have formed a sort of family in Largo, where they all live in the same apartment complex.
There have been some adjustments. Malibiran and Esperlita Vivit, another Filipino teaching at Bradbury Heights, were awed at the changing colors of the leaves and are shivering with the drop in temperature. Snow will be the next shocker, they said.
Vivit still calls her husband and three daughters before leaving for work every day, when it is evening in the Philippines. Her oldest daughter plans to visit her in January.
But otherwise, the new teachers appear to fit right in to their new surroundings.
“Seems like I’ve been here for a year,” Malibiran said.
She said the staff at her new school are “all like my family back home. Since the first day we got here, they didn’t let us feel we were not part of the team.”
“She catches on quick,” said Lethia Fletcher, Malibiran’s aide. “She’s a very good teacher. I love her. It’s really been a big help. I’m happy to have her.”
Malibiran is eager to compare the Bradbury Heights system with her own back in the Philippines. While all students there are placed together — disabled and non-disabled alike — the classroom at Bradbury Heights is limited to disabled kids of the same age, with multiple disabilities.
For Vivit, the change in classroom settings has been more pronounced. In Manila, she taught disabled children in a hospital setting run by strict Belgian nuns, where she said students were not quite as noisy.
“I don’t shout,” said Vivit, who teaches 9-year-olds. “I can’t shout.”
But the people at Bradbury Heights have been “very friendly, from the principal down to the teachers and staff,” Vivit said. “Also the children — they just met us and they say, ‘Good morning, Ms. V.! Good morning, Ms. M.!'”
And the kids have quickly become attached to the women. Malibiran said that when she missed class one morning to attend a seminar, her students “didn’t know I was coming back. They thought I went back home to the Philippines.”
So when she walked in the room that afternoon, they embraced her excitedly.
“I’m so touched,” Malibiran said. “One child will say, ‘I love my new teacher!'”
Malibiran’s trip is the culmination of a decade-long dream. She taught English for 13 years to Southeast Asian refugees bound for America, in a United Nations center in Manila. She has wanted to come to America since the program ended 10 years ago, but waited until her two children were older.
Now in the United States, she tells her class about her daughter and son, who is an engineer.
“I want to be like your son — a math person,” said Robert, who is learning to do division while other students in the class are still doing multiplication, addition or subtraction.
“You can do many things,” Malibiran responded. “You can work in the bank, be an engineer.”
“The bank!” Robert interrupted. “To work with money!”
Malibiran said that although it is difficult to teach the kids, “the emotional fulfillment cannot be measured.”
Like musical chairs, that fulfillment is another thing that the Filipino teachers have found is constant between their home and here.
“We have different child-rearing practices,” Malibiran said. “But kids are kids. All kids are the same.”
-30- CNS 12-10-04