Photo credit to Shelby McNutt  Teacher Photo names left to right:  Mark Shera Cruz, Michael Corpuz, Alexander Lopez, Alberto Madilo, Stella Madilo, Ludmilla Dabajo, Mitchelle Perez, Juvy Mangulabnan

There is no secret that for decades, hiring teachers of all educational levels has been difficult at best in the field of education. So, it should be no surprise to anybody who lives here that USD 457, and in this case Garden City High School, has a strong cast of teachers from another part of the world.

GCHS has, in fact, eight teachers from the Philippines who are now part of the faculty. In many instances, the Philippine faculty members teach in the high-level sciences and math departments, often difficult areas to fill the voids.

This group, many of whom see their small group as "family," are enjoying their location in Garden City and western Kansas, making many new friends and contributing to the education of the city's youth.

The group includes Alberto Madilo, Geometry/Honors Geometry; Stella Madilo, ESL Math Teacher; Michael Corpuz, Geometry/Algebra II; Mitchelle Perez, Biology; Alexander Lopez, Algebra II; Mark Shera Cruz, Body Systems/Technical Physics and Physics; Ludmilla Dabajo, General Biology (for freshmen) and STEM classes in the After School Program of Jennie Wilson Elementary School; Juvy Mangulabnan, ESL Language Arts/Level II Writing/Survival Skills Classes.  

There are many connections from their early days in education in their home country, but one item that is clear amongst all of them – teaching opportunities in the Philippines are limited -- and the quality of education in America is at a much higher level.

 "I think we made decisions to locate here for a variety of reasons," said Juvy Mangulabnan, who has been in the States since 2008. "I like that it is not fast-paced, and I like the people here. They have been very welcoming."

 Mangulabnan, who teaches ESL Language Arts, Level II Writing, and Survival Skills classes, said that the district's multicultural aspects are positive for overseas teachers. "There are fewer kids, and sometimes it takes double the effort since we have students from many different backgrounds," Mangulabnan said of the students who come from places such as Vietnam, Honduras, Japan, Burma, and Guatemala, among other countries. "It's a small place, but it has many restaurants, hospitals, shopping, and all the amenities you would find in big cities without the crowds."  Mangulabnan is now a U.S. citizen.

 Ludmilla Dabajo, who teaches biology at the high school and then works with elementary-age students in after-school activities, has known the Madilo husband-wife team for a long time, returning to their university days in the Philippines. "We were all in the same school," Dabajo said of the Madilos and Alexander Lopez. "It helps when you know the people around you."

Dabajo, who first came to the US in 2015 on the Cultural Exchange program (J-1 visa) for two years, returned to the Philippines to serve in the Public School system for two years, which the International Exchange Program requires. She returned to the States in October of 2021, settling in Garden City.

"The weather here was one of the biggest adjustments at the start," Dabajo said. "People here are very respectful. I like teaching math because I can form my style, and it works well within the educational system we have. The students here are a little bolder and more outspoken than the students in the Philippines."

Dabajo, who has her Permanent Resident Card, is pleased that she will have the opportunity to work toward eventual citizenship. "It's a challenging process, but I know it will be worth it when I have completed it," she said. "The school system here supports the teachers by buying equipment with self-contained labs, where in the Philippines, I would have to buy my own things."

Alexander Lopez is another beneficiary of the Cultural Exchange Program, having arrived in the States with his family in August 2015, locating in South Carolina. Like Dabajo, Lopez was in the States for a couple of years before returning to his native country for the two-year home rule, which meets the Cultural Exchange Program requirements. "We settled in Garden City in September 2021," Perez said. "We were invited by Mr. Madilo to join them in the math department because the high school needed a math teacher."

Lopez, who teaches Algebra II, and his wife are working toward the goal of US citizenship, which in some cases may take as long as five to seven years.

Mark Shera Cruz is among the longest-serving teacher at GCHS to have arrived from the Philippines.

Having earned degrees in Physics and Physics Education from the Ateneo de Manila University, he arrived in the United States in November of 2008. He came under the H1B visa program, which is a non-immigrant working visa issued by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service with dual intent. It allows H1B visa holders to later apply for a permanent resident card (Green Card).

Cruz, who teaches Body Systems, Technical Physics, and Physics, took his Oath of Allegiance on June 21, 2022, after receiving his U.S. citizenship.

During his time in America, Cruz has earned his master's degree in curriculum and instruction from Emporia State University and is currently enrolled at the University of California-Berkeley's pre-medicine program. Since he arrived in the States, Cruz has been teaching in the USD 457 district at GCHS the entire time.

"I've never switched employers since I came to the United States," Cruz said. "This is a wonderful place to teach, and I'm grateful for all the opportunities that have been presented to me."

Mitchelle Perez is another Filipino who began teaching in the United States in South Carolina, arriving in December of 2014 and teaching there for five years. Then, through mutual acquaintances, she moved to western Kansas, where she taught in the Deerfield school district for two years before moving to USD 457. Now, she teaches Biology at GCHS and is in her second year at the school.

She continues to work with a Permanent Resident Card and is pursuing U.S. citizenship.

"I've got children who were born in America, so I'm grateful that they have their citizenship," Perez said. "The cold winters here are the hardest thing to adjust to, but I hope I can get used to it. This is a more diverse area than when I was in South Carolina."

Perez's brother and father still reside in the Philippines, but she was looking forward to a visit from her father for the holiday season. Her family was expected to arrive in Garden City via Amtrak on Dec. 15.

"It's very difficult to be apart from your family," she said. "But I'm very happy being here with all the opportunities I have."

She credits Alberto Madilo for encouraging her to move to Garden City.

"He shared his experiences with us when we were in South Carolina, and we trust him," Perez said. "He said it was the best school, and I think we made the best decision."

Michael Corpuz is the newest addition to the faculty at GCHS from the Philippines, having moved here in October 2022. He paid all of his expenses to travel to the United States and is now a Geometry and Algebra II teacher.

The anchor for the newest group of Philippine teachers is Alberto Madilo, who, along with his wife, Stella, arrived in the States in 2014. "Like others, I came for the Cultural Exchange Program (J-1 Visa)," Madilo said. "Arriving here (South Carolina) was a culture shock. I've learned how to be more flexible and handle things totally different than in the Philippines."

Madilo praised the administration at GCHS for supporting the Philippine group of teachers. "They encourage the diversity and respecting the different cultures," Madilo said.

The Madilos have been married for 21 years, and he indicated their decision to come to the United States was based on an uncertain educational future in their home country. "The situation was not good, and we learned about the Cultural Exchange Program and decided to try it out," Madilo said. "I had a friend who was already in South Carolina, and they sponsored us. We got our J-1 Visa."

Eventually, the Madilos were looking to make a move and through the cultural exchange program, former GCHS Associate Principal Charles Kipp interviewed the couple. "We qualified for the interview, and after being offered the jobs here, we made the move, and we're very happy to be here," Madilo said. In his first year at GCHS, he taught ESL before moving to the math department, where he now teaches Geometry and Honors Geometry.

The couple secured their Permanent Residence Card in 2021 and are now working toward full citizenship. "There are many benefits for us to be here, and one of those is the education our children are receiving," Madilo said. "It's a high-quality education and one we couldn't provide them if we were in the Philippines."

 The group agreed that they have become like one big family, gathering together to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays and even traveling as a group during the summer. "We will take long weekends and go somewhere close, or like spring break to take a longer trip to be together," Madilo said. "We all have the desire to travel and see different parts of the United States. It helps educate us in our new country."  Over the years, the group has made trips to 37 states, including New England, Florida, Niagara Falls, and many other locations. "We have a bucket list of places we have not been to," Madilo said. "I think there will always be places to see and places we'd like to return."

 Madilo said he is very happy and proud of the entire group of teachers assembled at GCHS. "We are grateful to Mr. (Steve) Nordby (GCHS Principal) and Mr. (Ryan) Meng (Associate Principal) for all the support they have given us," Madilo said.

 Madilo's wife, Stella, agreed with her husband that the Cultural Exchange Program has proven to be a successful endeavor for both the teachers and the school district. "There's a shortage of teachers, so they came up with this (Exchange) program," Stella said. "Our agreement is that we teach the students in the area of our expertise, and in return, we will get paid equally as the locals. We taught in South Carolina for five years and have been here in Garden City since 2019." Mrs. Madilo teaches ESL Math after starting as a math teacher at Horace Good Middle School for her first year.

GCHS Associate Principal Ryan Meng says the program has been a big plus for the district. "We really appreciate the sacrifice our Filipino teachers make to come to Garden City and the service they provide to our students," Meng said. "Many don't realize that The Philippines are approximately 8,000 miles and 14 time zones from Garden City."  

It can be daunting to get all the paperwork completed and then approved for these teachers to eventually find their way to the States. "The process to obtain work visas is lengthy," Meng said. "Often, it requires two to three months or more. These individuals come to us knowing that they might rarely get to travel home to see their loved ones." Extended travel days are required to cover the long-distance trip, both to go and returning. "It sometimes requires three to four days of traveling round-trip," Meng said. "They come to us with top-notch teacher training and content knowledge from their home universities."

 Additionally, making the transition to the American way of life, both personally and professionally, can be a taxing experience. "They adjust to American education very quickly," Meng said. "They are eager to form relationships with students and can routinely be seen working at activities and sporting events."

The Filipino Connection:

 MICHAEL CORPUZ

 Home City: Pasig City, Philippines

 Education: Philippine Normal University-Manila (Master of Education with Specialization in Mathematics); Cagayan State University (Bachelor's degree in Secondary Education with Specialization in Mathematics).

 Arrived in United States: October 2022

 Classes Taught at GCHS: Geometry and Algebra II

 MARK SHERA CRUZ

 Home City: Rizal Province, Manila outskirts

 Education: Ateneo De Manila University (BS, Physics and Physics Education); Emporia State University (MS, Curriculum and Instruction); Currently enrolled at UC-Berkley (Calif.), Pre-Med Program

 Arrived in United States: November 2008

 Classes Taught at GCHS: Body Systems, Technical Physics, and Physics

 LUDMILA DABAJO

 Home City: Caloocan City, Metro Manila, Philippines

 Education: Philippine Normal University (BS, Secondary Education, Biology Major); MS, Education, Educational Management

 Arrived United States: 2015 Cultural Program; October 2021 (Garden City)

 Classes Taught at GCHS: Freshman General Biology; STEM Classes, After School Program, Jennie Wilson Elementary School

 ALEXANDER LOPEZ

 Home City: Quezon City, Philippines

 Education: Far Eastern University, Manila (BS, Secondary Education, Mathematics major); New Era University, Quezon City, Philippines (MA in Education, Mathematics major)

 Arrived in United States: August 2015 on Cultural Exchange Program; Sept. 2021 to Garden City

 Classes Taught at GCHS: Algebra II

 ALBERTO MADILO

 Home City: Caloocan City, Metro Manila, Philippines

 Education: Normal University (BSE, Mathematics); National Teacher College at Ateneo De

Manila University (MS, Arts, Mathematics); MTAP Scholarship

 Arrived in United States: November 2014

 Classes Taught at GCHS: Geometry, Honors Geometry

 STELLA MADILO

 Home City: Manila

 Education: Normal University, Manila (BS, Secondary Education, Mathematics major)

 Arrived in United States: November 2014

 Classes Taught at GCHS: ESL Math

 JUVY MANGULABNAN

 Home City: Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, Philippines

 Education: University of the Philippines (BS, Education); University of Philippines (MS, Education)

 Arrived in United States: October 2008

 Classes Taught at GCHS: ESL Language Arts, Level II Writing, Survival Skills

 MITCHELLE PEREZ

 Home City: Davao City, Philippines

 Education: Silliman University (BS, Biology); University of Mindanao, Ateneo de Davao University, Philippines (MS).

 Arrived in the United States: December 2014

 Classes Taught at GCHS: Biology