By Alex J. Rhowuniong
One word at a time
At St. Francis School teaching and, learning extend beyond the classroom"
Sia Soleli Taisipic has so much going for her right now. Not just in the classroom, but everywhere else on St. Francis’ school campus in Yona. And, no, it’s not only her grades, even though she is a straight-A student. “I’m maintaining a 4.0 grade point average,” said the 13-year old Taisipic.
It’s not just her sports achievements either. Taisipic was co-captain of the Crusaders Basketball team during the first quarter, and the setter of their volleyball team in the second quarter. In fourth quarter, she’ll play rugby, her favorite sport, for the last time before moving on to Notre Dame High in Talofofo.
Taisipic and fellow student, Anthony Martinez, are just two Crusaders representing the entire student body that have been taught something so extraordinary at St. Francis School, not just by their teachers, but by the entire faculty and staff members.
From within the classrooms all the way to the school office, the cafeteria and even in the hallways, and from the principal all the way down to school maintenance personnel, the entire team has literally taken upon itself to teach “their children” together. “Not just memorization of facts,” school principal, Bill M. Paulino explained. “But it’s really about instilling in (the students) the love of learning.”
From such love, he added, comes self-learning, or the love of learning on their own without a classroom teacher. And that’s exactly what has been happening at the Yona campus for a few years now. “We call it a miracle because it’s helping our children to be a lot happier in terms of learning,” Paulino said.
Not only is Taisipic grateful and ecstatic about being part of this program, she is actually very eager to learn. “I now love to write essays, poetry and short stories,” Taisipic said excitedly, adding that it’s all because of Paulino’s miraculous initiative, “Literacy Development Program Across the Grades.”
Back in 2012, when Paulino just took over St. Francis School, he wanted right away to solve the island-wide problem for Guam students struggling in high schools as they transitioned from middle schools. So Paulino set out to find the answers. He looked at many research on the subject and other related studies. And as he began to narrow down his search, part of his solution just literally walked right into one of his classrooms and started teaching as the Language Arts teacher for middle school.
Anicia Taisipic had never taught in the classroom setting before coming to St. Francis School. In fact, this seemingly lack of teaching experience could have become a handicap. But it suddenly turned into a blessing in disguise, not just for her, but also for her daughter, Sia Soleli Taisipic.
With no classroom experience to fall back onto initially, the elder Taisipic decided to focus her teaching efforts on building her students’ vocabularies. “I was nervous. And a little intimidated by these little minds and little bodies I was responsible for,” she said. “I didn’t want to short-change them.”
At the same time, Anicia Taisipic did not want to teach down to their level. “In order to bring them up to my level I began to introduce them to words I used in my vernacular,” the 42-year old teacher from Yona explained.
Soon, her “Word of the Day” program began in her class. “When (principal Paulino) realized what I was doing in the classroom, he was ecstatic!” Anicia Taisipic said.
The two began working together to get the initiative to where they wanted it. But the catalyst for the program getting off the ground was a series of talks by authors, motivational speakers and education experts, Dr. Samuel Betances, Harvard degreed, and wife Dr. Laura M. Torres Souder.
Paulino gleaned from one of their books, “Winning the Future through Education,” while Anicia Taisipic devoured instructions and strategies from “The Winning Formula.”
Today, the principal understands that in order for a child to be on top of his or her class, the child needs to learn how to read. And reading comes from building vocabularies. “We know for a fact that if a child enters kindergarten, for instance, and does not have at least 3,000 vocabulary words, that means the — and this is from research — that this child is going to have academic problems (sooner or later),” Paulino added.
Paulino began his program three years ago and continues today by issuing members of the school community his now famous weekly Power-Word packets, a.k.a. PowWord! Everyone gets the word of the week. “It’s our job to find the etymology, the proper usage of the word and so forth, so that when students came to us, we can help. No matter where or when.” Anicia Taisipic said.
Martinez said has learned so much from being part of the program. On the hallways, he added, students are quizzing each other on the power-words.
Even Sia Taisipic catches herself at home looking up, right away, new words she comes across from watching TV.
Paulino said these are exactly what he hopes to accomplish with his initiative. And he is seeing results not just in the lives of the students, but also on standardized tests including the SAT.
However, Paulino found those new learning habits to be way more credible than other ways to measure the effectiveness of his program such as tests. “For me that’s even better than our standardized tests, criteria reference tests and SAT scores,” he said. Ultimately, the love of learning is the bottom line.