Flying into America

Jesl Xena Rae Cruz

Veteran Special Education teacher and arts integrationist Jesl Cruz reflects on her Filipino roots and how the arts can help to shatter myths about Special Education students.

I flew into America from the Southeast Asian continent, the Pearl of the Orient – the Philippines – the land where I was born, with my eyes wide open and my mouth closed.  I walked into a new world beyond my motherland, excited about the fact that I was in America—the land where Special Education was born[JN1] ; the land where, I was taught when growing up, everything was born. I was excited and enthusiastic about formulating individualized education programs for each of my students.  I looked forward to fully practicing prescriptive and diagnostic teaching and assessment in my very own Special Education classroom in an inner-city public elementary school.  I was all-set to make my university professors proud, and let my Philippine Special Education training shine through.

I have always found it fascinating to learn about education trends, research and practice in the American setting. When I first arrived in the U.S., I thought that in American public schools, school-wide and district-wide collaboration existed, Special Education and allied medical professions were closely interrelated, research projects were funded, and research findings were made public. The Philippine Educational System as a whole was centered on nation-building, the fostering patriotism, honor and academic excellence. Education was our passport to realizing our dreams, either locally or off-shore. In America, I have realized that success in education is seen through continuous change.  I am delighted by the fact I’ve been able to merge the traditional, and more static beliefs of the Philippine education system with the constant changes that are typical of the American education system. Change and tradition combined result in progress.

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