DESPITE that it was not my first time visiting a mountain school, I still cannot deny the fact that the perilous and difficult journey to reach these schools is not something that can simply be underestimated. The hours of the trail ride under the scorching heat of the sun, the dust from the lahar, and the bumpy, rocky parts along the way may be exciting and thrilling for first-time visitors, but for teachers who have to face this challenge every week, it is simply worth inspiring and worthy of recognition.

In the conduct of the pilot implementation of the limited face-to-face classes in basic education, I found the opportunity to visit two schools in Botolan, Moraza Elementary School and Burgos Elementary School, which both serve IP learners. After the arduous trip of our group, we were welcomed by the smiles and warmth of the young learners who were all inside their classrooms with their teachers.

It was indeed a sight to behold as for almost two years, schools remained empty and closed because of the threats of the Covid-19. With the possible expansion of the limited face-to-face classes, we are optimistic that our learners will gradually find their way back to our schools.

It should be mentioned that the consent to allow these schools to participate in the pilot implementation was not made by the Department of Education (DepEd) alone. The conduct of the limited face-to-face classes is supported by the Shared Responsibility Framework based on Unesco-Unicef – World Bank Framework for Reopening Schools and DepEd Shared Responsibility Principle which focuses on Safe Operations, Teaching and Learning, Including the Most Marginalized, and Well-being and Protection. Schools were declared eligible based on the expressed support from LGUs (Barangay, Municipality, City, Province) in the form of a resolution or letter of support allowing them to participate in face-to-face classes and expressed support and consent of parents of students who shall participate in the reopening of face-to-face classes, in the form of a written consent form.

In total, 447 learners and their 61 teachers went back to school physically in seven pilot schools in Zambales namely Belbel Elementary School, Burgos Elementary School, Maguisguis Elementary School, Moraza Elementary School, Owaog-Nebloc Elementary School, Nacolcol Integrated School and Palis Integrated School.