On Higher Ground
One principal’s heart and passion fire up a love for reading in Aguho Elementary School.
An Unexpected Road
When one does something wrong in school, one dreads being sent to the principal’s office. But not at Aguho Elementary School in Pateros. When Principal Ligaya Gepollo arrives or passes in the hallway, students flock towards her or wave excitedly at her. There’s an undeniable aura of positivity that one feels around this well-loved principal.
Gepollo did not plan to be a teacher. The 46-year-old mother of two, hailing from a family of educators, admits that she initially wanted to become a lawyer. Due to financial constraints, however, Gepollo decided to study education—a more affordable alternative.
What seemed to initially be a case of unfortunate circumstances has proven to be an honor and blessing to Gepollo. She has earned the love and respect of countless students and colleagues in the academe with her superb example, dedication, and undeniable charm.
Heart and Passion
During her early years as a teacher, Gepollo took an active participation in performing onstage. Being passionate not only for education but also the arts, she joined the Harambee Theater and later was put in charge of school theatrical organizations in Matarinao, Eastern Samar, where she acted in fiestas and taught children how to act or depict characters in plays.
Gepollo’s lively personality and engaging character also made her a favorite emcee or host of the events or celebrations of friends and loved ones.
The list of Gepollo’s skills seems endless, as she even taught non-academic skills such as music and physical education. She also became a chess trainer for the Palarong Pambansa, where young provincial talents are discovered and groomed for international competitions, including the Asian Games, Southeast Asian Games, and Olympic Games.
Despite the flurry of activity and achievements, it was not such a smooth-sailing journey for Gepollo who has been teaching for over 25 years. Even with her sheer talent and ability to put her passion into work, she admits that there are always several difficulties faced by teachers such as herself. These did not stop Gepollo from pursuing her goal of becoming a better educator. In fact, it further fueled her determination to shape the minds and hearts of young students.
Room for Improvement
Gepollo feels extremely blessed for the assistance, training, and inspiration offered by groups such as Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation (SAS). Gepollo was invited to join an SAS training program which aims to provide strategies on how to encourage students to read through activities such as dance, storytelling, and action songs.
Such valuable information and training provided Gepollo with the knowledge and inspiration to start her own reading program at her school. Since then, she has implemented numerous changes to promote the habit of reading in her students.
“Every room has a reading corner full of Sa Aklat Sisikat books,” she shares with a smile. “The students should experience what it’s like to use a library.” There are lists of the books available and students can be awarded a medal once they read a certain number of books. Teachers man the reading room and big sisters or brothers from higher grade levels are tasked to provide assistance, guidance, and answers to questions of students from grades one and two.
An SAS program which Gepollo is truly grateful for is the Petron Gurong KaakbayConference, of which she was one of the five lucky participants chosen from Aguho Elementary School. Only outstanding teachers from affiliate SAS schools are entitled to join the said program. Among the highlights Gepollo experienced was meeting her idol Boy Abunda, whose mom was a teacher. Other activities included a pampering session, makeover, and personality development, which Gepollo absolutely enjoyed.
Taking the Lead
Gepollo wanted to be a principal since 2000, but she would always falter in her resolve because of external factors. She also felt she wasn’t assertive enough. “Kung wala kang personality or connection, mahirap.” She felt as if her contemporaries were far superior when it came to vying for the coveted position.
With hard work and meeting the requirements of the National Educators’ Academy of the Philippines (NEAP), such as passing the NCR-sponsored qualifying test, Gepollo eventually achieved her goal when she became principal of Aguho Elementary School on December 11, 2009.
Once she was principal, SAS invited her to take part in the HSBC Principals LEAD (Leadership Enhancement and Development) Program. Gepollo admires SAS’s support for teachers and feels privileged that principals like her are able to share in their advocacy.
Looking after 465 students each day, Gepollo wants her students to be able to utilize the facilities more, encouraging a love for the school. “Now we have a home economics classroom, a special service room, and an SAS room. There’s also a computer room to make the children become more computer-literate,” says Gepollo, who desires to revolutionize Aguho Elementary School.
“My vision is to make the school a vibrant and child-friendly school, which advocates excellence through opportunities.” Gepollo does not do all these for recognition but as an act of being true to and giving all of herself.
Gepollo believes that teachers are a vital part of their students’ lives. “The most important role of an educator is to influence lives for the better, to stand for something that matters and, above all, to make a difference,” she shares. “You touch lives. You are a venue of change for the better. You are a part of shaping the minds of these children for their futures.
“My advice for teachers is to give themselves to teaching, to go beyond their best,” Gepollo stresses. “Teaching is not just a job; it’s a profession and a mission. You will make a difference in the country and in the lives of your students. The joy of teaching is getting what you expected and even more.”