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Building Bridges of Friendship

Jheny and Dennis are teaching in schools that are 6,000 kilometers apart. But they are friends, their students are connected, and they all have a lot in common.

Jheny teaches at the Moreno Integrated School, a public secondary school in Camarines Norte, Philippines, that caters to more than 4,500 students, split over morning and afternoon shifts. Dennis, on the other hand, teaches at St Monica’s College, a Catholic secondary school in Melbourne, Australia, with around 2,000 students. While their schools may seem very different and far apart, Jheny and Dennis found that both of them, and their schools and students had a lot in common.

Moreno Integrated and St Monica’s are part of the Building Relationships through Intercultural Dialogue and Growing Engagement (BRIDGE) program, which establishes partnerships between educators, students and school communities in Australia and its ASEAN neighbours.

Through the program, Jheny and Dennis exchanged ideas on teaching strategies, connected their students through virtual meetups, and learned about each other’s cultures.

“My students learned to believe in themselves” she said. “Through their collaboration with Australian students, they realised that they could actually speak good English.”

Jheny and Dennis also had the opportunity to visit, observe and teach in each other’s schools through the program.

When Jheny visited St. Monica’s, she was struck by the students’ passion for social justice. Not long after she introduced her Moreno Integrated students to the student leaders of St Monica’s, they set up a sister organization of the Be More movement for social justice in Camarines.

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Jheny visits students of St. Monica College in Australia

During his visit in the Philippines, Dennis learned that the sister Be More movement was struggling with resources. On his return to Melbourne, he initiated a fundraising campaign with his students to support the Moreno Integrated students in their school feeding program and other initiatives.

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Dennis teaches students at Moreno Integrated School, Philippines

The collaboration among students and teachers at Moreno and St Monica’s continued beyond Jheny and Dennis’ classes. Jheny’s colleague, Blesida Necio, was later able to visit Melbourne to work with her partner teacher, Maryanne Theodosis, which further deepened the connection between the two schools.

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Blesilda collaborates with students in Melbourne

While the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented Maryanne from travelling to the Philippines to visit Moreno Integrated, technology has allowed them to maintain a strong professional relationship, and to facilitate collaborations among their students, including the establishment of a joint online magazine, KAIBIGAN, to share articles, videos, and online tutorials.

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Students of St. Monica and Moreno Integrated during a virtual meetup

Blesida says her students are enjoying the program, sharing experiences of how they live and learn, and building friendships with their counterparts in Australia. Blesida and Maryanne are confident that the strong bonds established between their schools will continue to benefit generations of students to come.

Meanwhile, Jheny has conducted a study on the role of cultural exchange, inclusion and student empowerment in teaching practice. She will soon publish a book entitled ‘BRIDGE THE GAP: Teaching the Hows of 21st Century Education’, to share the knowledge she gained in Australia on innovative teaching methods.

It wasn’t only her teaching that was enriched, Jheny says, “The friendship that I have found in the land down under is incomparable. I feel their concern for me not just as a partner-teacher, but also as a friend.”

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