LBNHS-Poblacion SPED teacher hailed as semi-finalist in the 2021 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding FIlipinos Award for Teachers

by: Precious Marian A. Lacson

Rhea Barboza shares that being a semi-finalist in the 2021 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos Award for Teachers is a great experience as Special Education was given exposure and such efforts in teaching Learners with Disabilities (LWDs) thrives in the municipality. She stresses that students with special needs rightfully deserve an education and that they can contribute meaningful things to our society too. Follow her teaching journey starting from her humble beginnings as an elementary-level computer and math teacher to becoming a full-pledged SPED teacher in LBNHS-Poblacion overcoming all sorts of challenges that come in the way.

Rhea Barboza shares that being a semi-finalist in the 2021 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos Award for Teachers is a great experience as Special Education was given exposure and such efforts in teaching Learners with Disabilities (LWDs) thrives in the municipality. She stresses that students with special needs rightfully deserve an education and that they can contribute meaningful things to our society too. Follow her teaching journey starting from her humble beginnings as an elementary-level computer and math teacher to becoming a full-pledged SPED teacher in LBNHS-Poblacion overcoming all sorts of challenges that come in the way.

Rhea Barboza, a Special Education (SPED) teacher at Los Baños National High School-Poblacion (LBNHS-Poblacion), is one of the 12 national semi-finalists out of 77 qualified teachers in the 2021 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos Award for Teachers announced last May 12, 2021 in Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos’ Facebook page.

In recognition of Barboza’s award, the Municipal Government of Los Baños passed Resolution No. 2021-106 during the 19th Ordinary Council Meeting last May 17 entitled as: A Resolution Commending Ms. Rhea Barboza, a SPED Teacher of Los Baños National High School-Poblacion for her undying support for the Children with Special Needs of Los Baños, which made her one of the Semi-Finalists in the 2021 Metrobank Outstanding Filipinos- Award for Teachers.

Road to finals. Announced last May 12, Rhea Barboza was one of the 12 semi-finalists who will be competing for the final round in the 2021 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos Award for Teachers. Photo from: Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos’ Facebook page.

Road to finals. Announced last May 12, Rhea Barboza was one of the 12 semi-finalists who will be competing for the final round in the 2021 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos Award for Teachers. Photo from: Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos’ Facebook page.

For 8 years, Barboza teaches SPED and handles 13-46 year-old Learners with Disabilities (LWDs). She first established SPED Transition in the Secondary Level in Schools Division Office Laguna in 2014, catering education to all learners with disabilities except those with hearing and visual impairments.

As a result, more parents were eager to enroll their children in the secondary level after they finished their elementary education. Being one of her major accomplishments, she already produced 4 graduates from the transition program and was benchmarked by the Division of Zamboanga Del Norte.

Among Barboza’s projects and activities include ‘Kawayang Alkansya’, ‘Purple Ink’, and ‘Open Doors’.

‘Kawayang Alkansya’ is a financial literacy project that started in 2015 up to present. As part of the transition curriculum, it aims to teach the Learners with Disabilities (LWDs) to manage and save money, enhance decision making skills, and obtain new experiences in terms of handling finances.

Pera sa kawayan. SPED learners in their financial literacy activity.

Pera sa kawayan. SPED learners in their financial literacy activity.

On the other hand, ‘Purple Ink’ is a project that aims to empower learners to exercise their right to suffrage or vote for candidates that they want to be elected. The project had 10 learners registered in their respective barangays and 7 were able to vote in the local elections held last May 13, 2019. 

Every vote matters. Learners during their voter’s registration process inside the COMELEC Office of Los Baños Municipal Hall, Los Baños, Laguna.

Every vote matters. Learners during their voter’s registration process inside the COMELEC Office of Los Baños Municipal Hall, Los Baños, Laguna.

Barboza also conducted a free awareness campaign lecture seminar last year through the ‘Open Doors’ project at Barangay Mayondon in Los Baños to widen employment opportunities of LWDs. However, due to the pandemic, virtual seminars are eyed as a tool in continuance of the campaign.

“Work hard in silence. Other people may not see your work, other people may not hear about it, but then again you know sa sarili mo na may ginagawa ka para sa mga batang ito. These learners, they have different disabilities, they serve as differently abled pero yung term na disability, liitan mo lang yung letters na D.I.S at lakihan mo yung perspective mo sa ability nung bata,” Barboza said in an interview.  

Work hard in silence. Other people may not see your work, other people may not share about it, but then again you know in yourself that you are doing something for these children. These learners, they have different disabilities and they serve as differently abled, but you just have to minimize the letters D.I.S and widen your perspective in their ABILITY.

She also added the importance of looking where a child could excel and how they could be of benefit to society rather than focusing on their disability. 

Amidst the pandemic, Barboza remains teaching a SPED class in a blended learning modality with a total of 34 students residing from Calamba, Bae, Pila, and Victoria, Laguna. 

Having most of the learners as indigent, less than half of the class are being able to attend online classes. 

The “New Normal”. During the first day of synchronous classes for LBNHS-Poblacion SPED Transition Class held last October 5, 2020.

The “New Normal”. During the first day of synchronous classes for LBNHS-Poblacion SPED Transition Class held last October 5, 2020.

Last year, the Department of Education (DepEd) thru DepEd Order No. 021 s. 2020 issued the enclosed Policy Guidelines on the Adoption of the K to 12 Transition Curriculum Framework for Learners with Disabilities. 

“DepEd developed seven (7) transition curriculum packages important for the holistic development of the learners. Each package includes various content standards, performance standards, and competencies that will develop learners’ abilities and prepare them for life.” 

The transition curriculum package consists of care skills, life skills, functional academics, pre-vocational, enrichment, livelihood, and career skills packages.

Barboza highlighted that their school transitioning program prepares the LWDs for the workforce and teaches skills needed for independent living. 

“It’s either they apply for a job or they could venture out in (an) entrepreneurship or functional living lang. Yung kahit nasa house lang sila, they are independent or they are capable of living by themselves because di naman sa lahat ng pagkakataon ay may mag-aalaga sa kanila,” she added.  

It’s either they apply for a job or they could venture out in entrepreneurship or functional living. Even though they stay only at their houses, they are independent or they are capable of living by themselves because not every time there would be someone to look out for them. 

According to the Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos’ Facebook page, the semi-finalists will be subjected to a rigorous background check, teaching demonstration, and interview for the next round.

Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos is a career-service award for Filipino exemplars in the academe, military, and police sectors. It recognizes 10 Filipino exemplars composed of 4 teachers, 3 soldiers, and 3 police officers. 

The said award looks into the professional career of the person and the accomplishments and services rendered in their respective field. It is conferred to Outstanding Filipino public servants– a model of excellence in their professions worthy of recognition for being active agents of positive change, influence, and contributions to the onward development of their communities.

“For me naman, I’m already happy being there kasi it was a great experience to me. It was a great exposure and it was a venue to more people to be aware na may teacher pala ng special ed na ay sila pala ay kailangan ding turuan na useful din pala sa society natin basta bigyan din sila ng pansin ng ating government,” Barboza said. 

For me, I’m already happy [for] being there (as one of the semi-finalists) because it was a great experience to me. It was a great exposure and it was a venue for more people to be aware that there are teachers in Special Ed who are useful in society as long as they are being recognized by the government. 

Winners are expected to be announced this coming August.

Each Outstanding Filipino shall receive a P1 million cash prize, a trophy, and a gold medallion.

From BS Computer Science to educational teaching

Barboza is a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Computer Science in St. Louis University, Baguio City and took her masteral degree in Master of Arts in Education Major in Special Education at Philippine Normal University (PNU). 

Having married early, she was not able to practice her undergraduate degree. She had two kids and became a full-time housewife. She enrolled her kids to school and mentioned that there were instances where she did not like how some teachers were not that accommodating. By then, she realized that she wanted to shift into educational teaching and emulate the kind of teacher that she dreamt of becoming. 

It was her kids that inspired her to become a teacher. “I would like to be the kind of teacher that my kids and other children truly deserve,” she said. 

Back in 2004 when she began as a computer and math teacher in preschool to Grade 6 and higher elementary grade level respectively at Trace College in Laguna for 5 years.

After she stopped for 2 years in teaching, she started applying for the Licensure Exam for Teachers and also applied in Morning Star Montessori School in Tuntungin Putho, Laguna while waiting for the exam results. When her application in the latter was accepted, her child became her student and transferred after a year to a public school when she passed the Licensure Examination. 

A substitute teacher in Laguna Science National High School in Bay, Laguna was her first teaching experience in public school and later on accepted as a permanent TLE teacher at Los Baños Community National High School.

After one and a half years, she was transferred to Los Baños National High School-Poblacion where she is currently teaching in SPED for 8 years. 

Transitioning to SPED teaching

With limited schools that offer Special Education, Barboza decided to enroll her masters in PNU despite plans of studying in University of the Philippines Diliman. She picked the former as she mentioned that she was not used to commuting.

It was during the last year of her contract in Trace College that made her decide to explore other options in enrolling in a Masteral Degree. However, despite being a Computer Science graduate, she leaned on in the education field as she previously mentioned that she married early and was not able to immediately practice in the Computer Science field. 

Barboza was able to pass her master’s comprehensive exam but when she was about to enroll in her thesis, that was the time when she transferred back to “taas”– referring to LBNHS-Poblacion. Upon knowing by the principal that she took master’s in SPED, she was then assigned to handle SPED since the Division of Laguna has been looking for secondary teachers that will be teaching SPED.

Currently, she is planning to enroll in UP Diliman and re-take her master’s– once again starting from scratch. 

Being a substitute teacher for two months in Laguna Science, handling regular students with diverse range of abilities was also Barboza’s inspiration to transition in SPED teaching. She said that it was a great experience for her that she was able to apply what she learned in PNU– referring to the diversity of students. 

She also clarified that the common misconception of others with SPED is that it only refers to students with lower IQs yet she emphasized that it also includes students who are gifted with such talents and intelligence.

“Maraming klase ng mga estudyante kaya dapat ang mga teachers kumbaga [dapat] versatile ka; kaya mong magturo ng mga nasa lower IQ, kaya mong magturo ng regular lang, and then kaya mo rin makahabol dun sa talino ng mga batang mabibilis makaintindi.” 

There are many types of students, therefore teachers should be versatile; you should be able to teach students in the lower IQ level, you should be able to teach regular students, and then you should be able to catch up with those students who can easily understand.

Early years 

During her early years as a SPED teacher, Barboza did not have a classroom to accommodate her students. However, she spent teaching in a learning center filled with books infested with “anay” or termites that made mobilization difficult inside the room.

She spent her first year teaching SPED mostly within the four corners of the learning center, located at a secluded part of the school and is hardly noticeable. As a first timer handling differently abled learners, she experienced having students who exhibit tantrums and do not want to follow. 

She started teaching with 7 learners: 3 with down syndrome, 2 with autism, and 2 with intellectual disabilities. Regardless of a small class size, she emphasized that it was as if she was teaching 70 students in a 1:10 ratio in terms of handling their tantrums and mood disorders. 

Proudly surviving a year, Barboza faced another major difficulty to the point where she asked herself if the class would be dissolved. They were not part of school programs and activities such as flag ceremonies and meetings since it is difficult to “tame” her students. 

Nonetheless, the flooding in the learning center during rainy seasons served also as a challenge that made the students unable to work on their learning tasks and fail to attend classes. 

The following year, she decided to source-out stakeholders that would help them. They were able to procure materials from the provincial government for the classroom renovation. The infested books were removed and the flooring was tiled.

The parents were also supportive in terms of providing materials needed by their children in their learning tasks.

Before the pandemic

Before the Covid-19,  Barboza started with 7 students with progressively increasing class size until it reached up to 36 learners. She emphasized the difficulty of attending to their individual education needs specifically in terms of scheduling and creating their respective Individualized Education Programs. 

Being the lone SPED teacher for 8 years, she had to face the greatest challenge of handling SPED learners by doing all the tasks in terms of monitoring and teaching. 

While she was expecting 4 of her students to graduate last year for the first time in her teaching career, the imposition of the lockdown postponed the supposed face-to-face graduation ceremony.  Instead, it was held virtually thus making it impossible for the students to receive their diplomas and certificates as completers.

Before the target graduation, Barboza already looked for job opportunities for the soon-to-be completers in establishments such as grocery stores, water-refilling stations, and car wash businesses. 

Two of her students, of which are 46 year-old twins with down syndrome, were about to work in a water refilling station yet only one vacant position is available. However, the owner of the said establishment also manages the carwash business, giving the twins the opportunity to work separately.

While the pandemic temporarily hindered the students from being able to work on their job careers, the skills that they have learned from transition education would suffice the life skills they need to practice independent living.

Under the “new normal”

The transition education was continued despite the pandemic in a blended learning setup– a combination of modular and online. One of the major difficulties faced were the students’ access to gadgets and the internet. 

Online classes were conducted from Monday (10am-11:30am) and Thursday (2pm-3:30pm) yet Barboza maximizes a 1 hour lecture to save data usage or internet connectivity among the students. In terms of modular learning, learning modules were handed to the students and their parents served as their teachers at home.

Child’s First Teacher. Well-supportive mothers guiding their children in their modules under the blended learning modality setup for the SPED learners during this pandemic.

Child’s First Teacher. Well-supportive mothers guiding their children in their modules under the blended learning modality setup for the SPED learners during this pandemic.

Barboza ensures collaboration with parents by communicating weekly with them through phone calls, specifically those students who were not able to attend online classes. She also mentioned that she asks for different performance tasks instead if there are problems with the learning exercises that the parents were not able to teach their children.

Other parents would then report to Barboza regarding their child’s performance or achievements, planting vegetables for example. 

Some would text her and say “Ma’am Rhea, tawag ka muna.” Then immediately, she would call the parents and talk to her students to motivate them in answering their modules. 

She proudly said that luckily, none of her students were infected with Covid-19 as they strictly follow instructions given to them specifically when being told to stay at home. 

“They are very lovable, hindi sila plastic, what you see is what you get, kung galit sila e di galit sila. If they love you, they will show it in many different ways. My job is a very fulfilling one. I may not be paid that much but then I feel happy with the work that I do and I hope na I would [be able to] inspire other teacher[s].”

They are very lovable and they are not plastic. What you see is what you get. If they are mad, then they would be mad. If they love you, they will show it in many different ways. My job is a very fulfilling one. I may not be paid that much but then I feel happy with the work that I do and I hope that I would inspire other teachers.

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