MANILA, Philippines -- With 13,000 students expected to pass through its gates on Monday, Commonwealth Elementary School is, without doubt, the grade school with the biggest student population in Quezon City.
Suffering from an alarming lack of classrooms which can barely accommodate the swelling number of enrollees every year, the school has one ray of hope to look forward to -- a new school building courtesy of the city government.
?The new structure will add 18 more classrooms to the school, decongesting the other buildings,? Dr. Elisa Francia, the school principal, happily informed the Inquirer.
Francia said the school, which has five buildings and 65 classrooms, has been struggling to provide for the educational needs of children which come from as near as the Commonwealth area to as far as Fairview in the city?s second district.
Most of the school?s students, according to Francia, live in depressed areas. Their parents are laborers, informal settlers or vendors selling their wares in the nearby market or in the streets.
?Every year, the student population seems to increase, making it more difficult for us to provide more classrooms for them,? Francia said, stressing that the school -- just like any public school in the country -- has an ?accept all? policy, requiring them to accommodate all students whether they had paid for their tuition or not.
She said they accepted 12,700 students last year, only 300 less than this school year?s enrollees.
On top of this, the school?s accessibility has made it attractive to low-income families whose houses are only one jeepney ride away from the school, according to the principal.
Francia said the new school building would be completed by mid-June or early July. In the meantime, they would have to make do with the rooms they have, which, to begin with, is not a lot.
?We accommodate as much as 65 to 70 children per classroom,? Francia said. She added that for some selected grade levels, classes have to be held in three shifts instead of the usual two because of the lack of classrooms.
For example, Francia explained that some Grade 1 students attend classes from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. The next shift is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. while the last shift is from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
While most of the classrooms are of the standard size (5 x 7 meters), the school has been forced to construct makeshift rooms in the corridors for the students.
Willie Cacal, assistant to the principal, said ventilation and noise were the main problems of students and teachers whose classes were held in ?cardboard rooms,? so called because their walls are made of cardboard.
?Hopefully, we can remove these makeshift rooms once the new building is completed,? Cacal said.
?But then again, we may still have to keep them because of the increasing student population every year which we cannot keep up with,? he added, quietly surveying the school campus.
Francia said the school?s growing population has compromised the children?s learning ability and achievement level.
?At the end of every school year, public school students are administered national and division achievement tests,? Francia explained.
Because of the large number of kids in each grade level, the brighter students are usually pulled down by the greater number of underachievers -- who, according to the principal, are sadly affected by the overcrowded classrooms which at times, create an atmosphere not conducive to learning.
?On a happier note, despite our overpopulation problem, we do not rank last in the achievement tests,? Francia said, looking at the bright side, adding that the school usually ended up third or fourth to the last.
But it has been a struggle, she admitted. ?It is really hard to control such a large number of very active children in each classroom.?
Francia said she has implemented a policy wherein teachers in each subject area have to meet at least once a month to discuss new trends and possible improvements in the teaching field.
?I am also requesting Mayor Sonny Belmonte to help us fix the Old Mathay and the Bagong Lipunan buildings, which have fallen into a very sorry state of disrepair,? she added.
According to her, a task force has been formed to assist students and their parents on the first day of classes.
?It will also be my first time to attend the opening of classes at the Commonwealth Elementary School,? Francia, who transferred from the Toro Hills Elementary School last August, said.
?Let?s see how crowded it?s going to be,? the principal cheerfully said.