The Learning Connection School Teaches Tots

The Learning Connection School Teaches Tots
By Walter Ang
June-August 2007 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine

Julie Pascual-PeƱalosa has been teaching little children for as long as she can remember. When she was a young student herself, Julie used to round up younger kids after class and tutor them. "The joke in my family is that I my resume should state that I've been teaching since I was in the first grade," she laughs.

Julie eventually went on to teach preschool and that was where she met Hazel Gan-Go, another teacher who had given up a life in the corporate world to follow her dreams of educating young minds. "I was miserable in my old job. I had no teaching background but when I was given an opportunity to teach, I took it. I really believe we should all end up doing what we are passionate about," she says.

The two became fast friends. Early in the morning, over cups of coffee while preparing for their classes, they would talk about opening their own school one day. At first, each thought the other was joking. When they realized that it was a serious ambition for both, they wasted no time in getting started.

Unique philosophy
Hazel took the role of navigator in their partnership and charted the course they would take. She started the ball rolling by acquiring a piece of land from her father in the San Juan area. Julie, on the other hand, serves as the pilot, steering the pair through the journey. "I have the foresight for planning," shares Hazel. "While Julie is the one who takes care of the here and now. Since we share the same core values, we really compliment each other."

The tandem didn't want to open a school just like all the other ones. "When I went back to school to take up further studies in education, my professor asked me what I remembered about my own experiences in preschool," recounts Hazel. "I remember little things like painting or dancing or having fun. In other words, I remember having new experiences."

This epiphany has guided them in developing the "progressive" teaching philosophy for their school, "The Learning Connection." The school aims to provide children 2 to 5 years old with an environment to explore what they want to explore in a hands-on manner. "We believe that children learn best through experience and discovery," says Hazel.

Different approach
"For example, we don't just teach them about colors using flash cards. We bring out poster paints and let them use their imagination and creativity. We don't just talk about animals, we invite people like Kim Atienza to bring over his pets and animals for the children to play with," explains Jules, as she is known to her students. "There's really no set curriculum because we pick up on what the children are interested in and build on that. We adjust to what they are attracted to because we want them to shine in that area. We nudge, not push, them towards building self-confidence."

This paradigm is actually so different that it didn't fit any of the government's prescribed rules and existing standards. "It was a challenge getting our permits to run the school. The government asked for our syllabus and we couldn't give them any since we don't operate that way."

"We had to invite them over to see how we actually held our classes so they would understand what we were talking about. Fortunately, they finally got what we were trying to do and they saw that it worked."

Maternal instincts
Just because their teaching methods are not standard, it didn't mean they could take it easy. In fact, they had to work even harder to prove themselves. Both took further studies in education to strengthen their skills and knowledge. They also regularly attend seminars and workshops to stay on top of new trends in child education.

It also helps that both partners have two children each. "I'm actually a better educator than a domesticated homemaker," jokes Hazel. "As mothers, we don't just look at the business per se. We bring a nurturing and caring atmosphere into our teaching. We treat all the students like our own children. Even when we buy materials for the school, we make sure to buy things that we would feel comfortable giving to our own children. We only want the best quality for our students, for example, toxic-free paints."

Jules adds, "We're able to work with every single child in our school. It's important that we get to know our students because we don't give out grades, we come up with detailed progress reports that we give the parents."

Small dreams
Although both dreamt of having a small, manageable school, the popularity and track record of their efforts have attracted so many new students that they've had to expand. "We started out with only twelve students in our first year, but now we have an average of sixty every year and we've had to add a second floor to our building to add more classrooms," Hazel says.

They are unfazed, however, and embrace the added responsibilities. "Our husbands and families are supportive," she says. "We have also earned the respect of our students' parents. In fact, a lot of our enrollees are from referrals and we also have `repeat' families who send their younger children to our school."

"There are new challenges all the time but at the end of the day, all we want is to give our students the best we can. It's a wonderful feeling to see them spark up when you enter the room," adds Jules. "We want to give them good memories they can look back on."

The Learning Connection is at 182 Pilar St., San Juan, Metro Manila 725-2300 and 725-2400.