By Paulyne L. Fermin
I see them walking on the sidewalk, some alighting from tricycles while their affluent counterparts are going down the school’s driveway, one student to one car. They talk in the vernacular, stick to their group, and study in different classrooms from the full-paying day students. They are called boys from the Afternoon School or AS.
The AS started in 1987 as the Night School, an academic scholarship program by PAREF Southridge Private School for Boys, with the goal of offering quality education to elementary graduates who come from financially challenged backgrounds. Through the generosity of benefactors and the Night School Board, the first batch of beneficiaries enjoyed full scholarships and some even free school materials. Due to lack of funding and increasing costs, however, the board decided in 2003 to open the program not only to the impoverished but to those from other social classes who are in need of subsidized schooling.
In a sit down interview, I gathered these recollections from the men who are now running the AS. “Many of us had apprehensions about going to Southridge. We came from very poor families. Hindi kami bagay sa eskwelahang pang mayaman, (We do not belong to a school for the rich),” said Ariel Marcera who is an alumnus and now the AS principal. “Later on, I realized that the opportunity to attend a private school was a one-in-a-million chance. The decision was life-changing for all of us who were fortunate enough to study here.” Math teacher Rez Alcaraz, another alumnus, recalled “Yung mga kapit bahay naming napapatingin tuwing papasok na kami. Saan ang punta mo, Atty. (Our neighbors would look at us and ask, ‘Where are you going, Atty.)?” They were probably referring to our long sleeves, necktie, big bags, and just the way we carried ourselves with pride.”
Executive director Ferdie Cruz remembers how the smart boys from the barangays were at first shocked at how difficult life in the private school turned out to be. “They were the best of the best in the public schools they attended, but once they entered the program, many boys found it difficult to cope. The struggle only made the dedicated students all the more determined to excel and finish. But not all are success stories. I remember one particular boy, the son of a janitor—we only asked him to pay P100 per month, but still, the father could not raise the money to keep him in school. Sadly, it is still the plight of many today.”
Educate and Liberate
The teachers are happy when they hear of graduates who have gone on to earn college degrees. A number of students have become board topnotchers as well as eminent, award-winning practitioners in their chosen fields. Eight have returned to join the teaching faculty—a choice they consciously made to give back to the institution that transformed their lives. But the journey does not end there. The beneficiaries now seek to help others just like them have a chance at a good and decent future.
It’s a week to World Teacher’s Day. Cheers to the hardworking educators who mold young minds! May your sacrifices not be lost but celebrated by those you impart knowledge to. May there come a day when attending school is no longer an impossibility but a reality for each and every Filipino. And may education continue to be the great equalizer in life!
Currently, the AS school has 145 students. Its pressing concern now is the decreasing number of full scholars not because of the lack of qualifications but of the means to support talented individuals. Interested benefactors may call 02 807 8080 local 134 or 137.