By Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas
The monthly bulletin for parents of one of the PAREF schools in Metro Manila, the Southridge School for Boys, is called Parents First. To give a very concrete idea of how the system works, let me quote from a Welcome Message from the Executive Director of Southridge, Fernando A. Cruz, at the beginning of the 2016 school year:
“Change is coming. However, there are things that just won’t change, like our school’s goal to develop wisdom and virtue in the students and your duty as the primary educators of your children. Pope Francis reminds us in his apostolic letter, Amoris Laetitia, ‘I feel it important to reiterate the overall education of children is a most serious duty and at the same time a primary right of parents.’ The school is here to collaborate with you in making sure that your sons are given the essential knowledge and skills and training in the virtues that will help them become men of integrity…We are looking forward to see you during the scheduled Parents Quarterly Forum (PQF). The school-wide average attendance of last year’s PQF is 61%. We hope we could improve on this statistics this year. Please consult the school calendar on the dates of these so you already block them off from your busy schedule…We will continue with the spiritual formation activities for fathers such as the weekly doctrine class, the monthly First Sunday or Fourth Sunday recollections and the yearly retreats. As we are still in the Jubilee Year of Mercy and the Year of the Family, I enjoin you to go on family pilgrimages to the Jubilee churches and perhaps, even organize some works of mercy together with your fellow parents.”
As can be gleaned from this message, there is continuing formation for parents throughout the year so that their collaboration with the school can be an enlightened and proactive one. Inspired by the teachings of St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, PAREF schools have a clear-cut set of priorities in their formation activities: Parents first, then teachers, and as a natural consequence the pupils.
In the same issue of Parents First, the Personal Formation Office of Southridge makes the following suggestions to parents on how they help their sons live charity, the virtue that was the focus for the month of June 2016 (there is a different virtue that is emphasized every month):
- Always speak positively about other people in front of your children.
- Show good example by treating household help subordinates and service personnel with respect and courtesy.
- Encourage and appreciate your sons’ effort in their studies and in the fulfilment of household chores.
- Spend quality time with your sons.
- Open and maintain a healthy line of communication.
- Make a visit to the poor or to sick persons with your sons
- Start a family tradition of donating to charitable institutions.
- Teach your sons to save money to contribute during church services.
- Give your sons responsibilities of taking care of somebody or something in the house.
- Encourage your sons to pray for specific people and their intentions.
- Celebrate birthdays that will provide the opportunity for your sons to share their talents.
Essential to the PAREF system is the mentoring chat. As explained by the Head of Formation of Southridge, Mr. Ferold Rey Michaelo T. Regencia, the mentoring chat is a one-on-one informal conversation between an assigned Mentor (chosen from among the faculty) and his Mentee (the student). Here, they talk about the various aspects of the Mentee’s family life, the acquisition of virtues, responsibilities, and duties in his academics, as well as concerns in the Mentee’s personal and spiritual development…. the Mentor helps install in his mentee the ability to form good criteria and in the process develop in him the so-called “life skills.” To simply put it, the mentoring chat is not just a conversation but a preparation for life.
I have talked to alumni of Southridge long after they had graduated from high school. One of them, an entrepreneur and a football enthusiast, Paulus Reyes—who graduated from Southridge nine years ago—had this to say about the mentoring chat: “The mentoring chat is simply having a life coach at a very young age. No other school offers such guidance and focus on character formation for its students. Having a Mentor to chat with about challenges and accomplishments during my school life helped me set goals, stay focused and have someone I can always run to. The best part is that there is an alignment with my Parents and my Mentor. Looking back, the mentoring chat also helped me to develop humility and openness to advisers and mentors for guidance which I realized is not easy for other people to do.”
Finally, let me quote from a testimonial from a father whose four children all went to PAREF schools (three sons to Southridge and a daughter to Woodrose). In an article entitled “Dividends of a Southridge Education,” Mr. Iboy Pinga, a top corporate executive, commented on how character and intellectual formation go hand in hand at Southridge: …the intellectual stimuli in the Southridge (and Woodrose) classrooms could be clearly seen during our dinner table discussions, particularly on controversial moral issues. The points raised by our PAREF kids during these exchanges gave us not only a lot of joy, but also an assurance that the school provided the proper environment for our children to have the right virtues, concern for the common good of society, and focus on the afterlife…During times of distress, we have seen our children actively volunteer in relief operations even without our prodding. The school has imbibed in their minds that they should remain engaged in our society’s challenges….The emphasis on the family is a Southridge trademark. Nowhere in the country could we find a school with numerous activities that were geared towards strengthening the family.”
As the PAREF system reaches out to more and more parents in different cities of the Philippines, the vision of Brother Armin Luistro will be realized. There will be more and more schools all over the country that will put into practice the constitutional mandate that parents are the first educators of their children. The most important stage in the education of the children in which home-school collaboration is most necessary is in pre-school and basic education.
The good news is that some parents of university students have already attempted to adopt an analogous system at the tertiary level. Parents of students enrolled at De La Salle University on Taft Avenue (my alma mater) have established what they call Parents of University Students Organization (PUSO) through which parents of DLSU students interact with the administration and faculty to give their suggestions and assistance in the academic and character formation of the students. I hope that PUSO will be replicated in many other universities all over the country.
For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.