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High Bridge Elementary School teacher Lynne Ciocon of Bowie, Maryland, who is from the Philippines, helps a student prepare for the Maryland School Assessment test for reading and math during the Saturday Academy at the Bowie school.  (Greg Dohler/The Gazette)


PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, Md. — The addition this year of more than a dozen teachers from the Philippines who are volunteering in a weekend tutoring program at High Bridge Elementary School has resulted in more one-on-one time with students and is a needed boost in preparing for upcoming state tests, say organizers.

The influx to the Bowie school’s Saturday Academy has not only more than doubled the number of tutors, which also include half a dozen parents, it has also brought professional expertise into the voluntary program, said Elaine Shaw-Taylor of Glenn Dale, one of four parents who founded the Saturday Academy in 2009 to help High Bridge teachers boost students’ state test scores.

“They’re bringing their perspective about what’s required and what’s needed, and there’s [also] the human capital,” Shaw-Taylor said.

Lynne Ciocon of Bowie, a special education teacher from the Philippines, teaches at High Bridge and volunteered with three other Filipino teachers at the Saturday Academy last year.

This year, Ciocon, as president of the Maryland chapter of the Association of Filipino Teachers of America based in Bronx, N.Y., invited more Filipino teachers living and working in the area to volunteer at High Bridge as part of a chapter community service project.

“The teachers are really willing to volunteer for community service,” Ciocon said.

The Saturday Academy, which charges no fee, currently serves between 15 and 20 students in grades three to five who are referred by High Bridge teachers for extra help with math and reading, Shaw-Taylor said. Currently there are about seven parents and more than a dozen Filipino teachers in the program.

Efforts at the academy, which started this year in October, are intensifying this month as students at High Bridge and other schools in Prince George’s get ready to take the Maryland School Assessment tests in mid-March.

MSA scores determine whether a school meets Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires that all students test proficient in reading and math by 2014.

About a third of High Bridge’s 400 students are special-education students, which as a school subgroup have failed to make AYP for the past two years, said Principal Charles Eller, who welcomes the work of the volunteers because it helps meets the unique needs of students.

“If [the students] do better on the MSAs, that’s great, but our primary goal is to meet the needs of the student,” he said.

Eller said he believes the Saturday Academy has improved grades and test scores for some of the participating students in the past two years, although he did not have data immediately available.

Mariatu Kamara of Bowie, whose daughter, Marie Harrington, 10, is a fourth-grader at High Bridge, says the tutoring made a difference in her daughter’s grades.

“It’s helped with her math and reading,” Kamara said.

“I think it’s a good idea, helping the kids to learn these skills.”

Another Filipino teacher who lives in Bowie, Marites Curley, said she is working with the principal at Thomas Stone Elementary in Mount Rainier to start a volunteer tutoring program next year.

Curley, a reading specialist who also works with special education students, currently teaches at Perry Street Prep Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., and she is also the District chapter president of AFTA.

Curley taught at Thomas Stone for four years but had to leave last year after a ruling by the U.S. Department of Labor that applied to more than 1,000 foreign teachers, including 800 Filipino teachers, in the Prince George’s County school system.

For years, American schools have been recruiting teachers from the Philippines to teach math, science and special education in the United States, which is short teachers in those fields.

In April, the U.S. Department of Labor barred the school system from sponsoring visa renewals after June 30, after the school system failed to pay teachers’ fees associated with visas.

Some teachers, including Ciocon, were ultimately able to keep working in the system, but others, including Curley, had to leave and find another job.

Although teaching in the District now, Curley said she also wants to put her years of teaching experience, including four years of teaching in North Carolina, to use at High Bridge in Bowie, the community where she lives.

“I want to share my knowledge with kids so they can benefit,” she said.

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