By Darlene Casiano
BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental – Handumanan Elementary School as it is today is a far cry from the public elementary school that I first visited in Bacolod City.
Though it is frequented by many local politicians, civic organizations, and other cause-oriented groups, this school was in a dismal condition when I first visited it in 2014.
Inside me was a quiet anger – anger that many politicians had used it to call attention to themselves during their election campaigns, making many promises – and breaking them – afterwards.
This year, I gave it a visit again, under quiet circumstances, on the morning of graduation day for school year 2015 to 2016.
The teachers were busy decorating the stage, and no one really minded me. The security guard told me that the principal had just taken a late lunch and was on a much-needed break before the ceremonies began in a few hours.
So I proceeded to just walk around to find out how much the school had changed. What I saw was significant, indeed.
Where the gate used to be was a ten-classroom, two-storey building being constructed, complete with a sign indicating the budget for it. I noticed that it was funded by a 2014 appropriation, but implemented in 2016.
I tried to head to the back of the building, where a row of dilapidated classrooms used to be, but I was blocked by a fence that now separated it from HES 1.
Instead, I went on a pathway all the way to the back, where I found some teachers having a late lunch in a two-storey building.
I greeted them in the dialect, and they recognized me because of my shirt, which had a CheckMySchool (CMS) logo.
They were happy to hear me gush over how much the school had improved. The public school now exuded an ambiance to rival that of any private school.
But my story doesn’t end there.
I crossed the fence and saw that the area behind it now belonged to HES 2, another school that was created after enrolment for the first school went over the 4,000 maximum mark.
Approximately 7,000 elementary students were now enrolled in both schools, accounting for one of the biggest enrolment rates among public elementary schools in Bacolod City.
I decided to exit the first campus and enter the main gate of HES 2, where I saw a welcome sign, a school plan, and the usual information you can find at a school entrance.
A pathway took me to what used to be old and dilapidated classrooms.
It was a welcome sight: not only was the pathway fixed, but the wooden windows infested with termites had been replaced with glass jalousies.
I was happy to see how much things had improved.
My feet continue to carry me farther down the new pavement, as I thought how much safer the kids would be now. Gone was the garbage I saw strewn everywhere during my first visit.
There was still some work that needed to be done behind the old classrooms, but I appreciated the teachers’ and the principal’s efforts to turn the once run-down school into an environment more suited to young elementary students – something I hope could be achieved in all public elementary schools in the country.
Their National Achievement Test (NAT) scores could use a boost, but it was clear that the teachers were making the most of the resources they had, especially given the challenges posed by the K to 12 curriculum.
I was a public school student too in my elementary years, and yes, it felt like I was visiting my alma mater, what with the surge of pride I felt to witness the changes in Handuman Elementary School 1 and 2.
I may be too optimistic, but I will carry that hope within me – that change can come as the new administration takes over and gets on its business for the next six years.
Hopefully, more resources will be poured into completing construction, replacing worn-out desks, and building disaster-resilient classrooms by this school year.
We may not have directly provided any resource to schools in Bacolod City, but CMS has been a catalyst in pushing for much-needed changes in our public school services in ways unseen to many.
I am glad I continue to be a volunteer for CMS in Bacolod City.