The current Covid-19 pandemic does not prevent this special education school to provide for its students. After all, three years before the lockdown started, its school administrators and officials have already prepared for an online academic set-up.
Spouses Alphonsus and Kim De Alban pioneered St. Philomena School: Kid’s Comfort Zone as a center in 2008. St. Philomena School thrived despite numerous ups and downs of the school owing to community’s lack of awareness and understanding of what special education is. In 2013, however, it was recognized by the Department of Education (DepEd) as the first private school offering special education in entire Region 3.
Now, DepEd recognizes the school to provide Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD), Kinder to Grade 10 for Special Education students and Kinder to Grade 6 for general education. Early Childhood Care and Development covers programs not only for children’s zero to four years old but for parents as well in their journey to introduce their children to education and society. ECCD is regulated by Republic Act 10410.
Teacher Al, as he is fondly called, initially has bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering. He is now a licensed professional teacher and is pursuing a master’s degree educational management in Philippine Normal University. Teacher Kim, now in pursuit of her doctorate degree in curriculum development also in the same university, is a licensed professional teacher before she went to the United States and focused on special education. They met in California and returned to the Philippines in 2008 to establish St. Philomena with their family. They initially converted their house for school premises. Then, they annexed the neighboring lots to accommodate the growing number of students.
Teacher Al and Teacher Kim strive to provide the best educational setup for the school’s students. Despite huge capital outlay, the couple invested on technology and Therap, a proprietary online application for “planning, documentation and communication needs which support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in home” according to the application’s website. St. Philomena School is the first to introduce Therap here in the Philippines.
St. Philomena School also established the #kaibigankosilamovement (#KKSM) program which aims for inclusion of special needs students as advocates for themselves. Two of the school’s special needs students represented the country in the Asian Federation of intellectual Disabilities in Nepal in December 2019. Some of its students yearly compete and win in competitions usually participated in by general education schools like Association of Private Schools in Marilao (APRISM) and Bulacan Private Schools Association (BULPRISA).
As early as 2017, St. Philomena School is already implementing Home-School Collaboration and Family Engagement Program which other schools even higher learning institutions are only implementing now due to pandemic.
“We don’t compromise on students. Long before this lockdown, we already considered the needs of our students to have access to quality education even when they are at home,” Teacher Al explained. “And isip ng bata hindi mo maikukulong ng 8-5 class hours.”
St. Philomena School started this school year as early as June 15 surprising DepEd officials in Region 3.
“That’s how prepared we are. That’s how we take care of our students. We don’t just wait for the government or anyone,” Teacher Kim said. “Basta education ng students namin, magsabi ka ng kailangan, meron na.”
Arguably, the school is the first special needs government-recognized school to accept nationwide enrollment to suit the needs not only of the students in Region 3. They have students from Ilocos Norte to Cagayan De Oro. The current online set-up of the academic year allows them to offer their services wherever the student is in the country.
“When everyone is scrambling to prepare for the new school year because of the new setup, we already started our classes in June 15,” Teacher Kim pointed out. “It’s not about the money either but the passion. We reduced our rates to accommodate those affected by the pandemic.”
“Of course, there is reduction in the enrollees but that is expected. When some schools with longer existence fold, St. Philomena School must endure,” Evita De Alban, the school directress, emphasized. “We are operating at a loss. We are bleeding but we cannot surrender on the children with special needs. When the society is almost aware of their importance, we cannot surrender.”