One year of COVID-19

An interview with Florena Gomez-Delen, the Principal of San Roque Elementary School in the Philippines

It has been almost a year since the San Roque Elementary School’s pupils were able to go to school for the last time. In March 2020, a state of emergency was declared in the Philippines and a lockdown occurred, during which all school operations were switched to homeschooling. Shortly thereafter, the school grounds were converted into a quarantine station, which could only be closed again at the end of the year. Together with our project partners from the Child & Family Foundation, we spoke with Florena Gomez-Delen, the school's Principal, about the challenges of the past months and the current situation at the school.

Florena, how were the past few months for you as Principal of San Roque Elementary School?


The past few months have been very challenging. Before the state of emergency was declared and the schools were ordered to close as a result, my biggest concern was protecting our teachers and pupils. Then, when face-to-face classes were suspended in March, the biggest obstacle was that we didn’t have the necessary infrastructure in place to offer online classes. The curfews imposed and the conversion of our school into a quarantine station also posed major logistical challenges for the entire school staff.

How did the teachers cope with this situation?


I am very proud of our teachers! Not once have they given up or lost hope over the last year and have risen to any and every challenge. They have done a great job and have gone above and beyond what was expected of them. Their positive attitude is contagious and has also been a huge help for the students during this period.

Parent-Teacher Conversations at San Roque Elementary School.
School in times of Corona.
Preparation of teaching materials.

Do you know when classes will start up again?


No, we haven’t received any information to this effect yet. Of course, we all hope that we’ll be able to teach our pupils at school again soon. Thanks to the huge efforts of our teachers, we were able to introduce a modular distance learning system during the crisis, in which the modules were delivered to the children's homes in the form of printed materials for self-learning and worksheets. While this has worked well under the circumstances, it is by no means a permanent solution. If the schools have to stay closed for a longer period of time, it would be good if we could at least hold the lessons online. Children this young simply need explanations and personal support when learning new material. The current system won’t allow us to do that. However, an online lesson system is just make-believe, considering that our students don't have any devices at home that would allow them to use the Internet, let alone have Internet access.

Was it possible to continue the health and nutrition program during the lockdown?


Unfortunately, no, although many families urgently need the program right now. We tried to continue growing vegetables in the school garden, hoping to distribute the harvest in the form of aid packages to particularly disadvantaged families. Sadly, due to the strict curfews and the fact that the school was used as a quarantine station for so long, it was very difficult to use the garden as we would have liked. Thankfully, as part of the Greenfinity Foundation's school garden project, we have been able to hold training sessions in the past where our students and their parents have been able to learn how to grow and manage their own organic garden at home. This knowledge has helped many during this time of crisis. Now that the school grounds are no longer needed for quarantine purposes, we hope that we will soon be able to support our students and their families again with vegetables from the organic school garden.

Schoolgarden at the San Roque Elementary School
Schoolgarden at the San Roque Elementary School

Is there anything you would like to say to the donors?


I would like to express my heartfelt thanks, also on behalf of all the teachers and students, to all those who are supporting us during these difficult times. Due to the fact that all students have been taught exclusively in printed form for months, the cost of paper and ink cartridges has increased enormously. We also had to buy additional copying machines to make it possible to provide the materials for all students. Without the many people who support us in these difficult times, none of this would be possible.