INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S MONTH
Hopwood Middle School principal Rizalina M. Liwag was born to be an educator.
She herself knew this even while still a child and under the care of her aunt, a school principal, in Biñan, Laguna in the Philippines.
Soon after college, in 1994, she found herself starting her career as a teacher at the Sinapalo Elementary School on Rota.
In 2002 she transferred to Koblerville Elementary School on Saipan. And since 2017 up to the present, Liwag has been the principal of Admiral Herbert G. Hopwood Middle School.
“I was inspired by my aunt, Aurora Pena, who worked as a school principal. …I saw what and how she contributed to the community. …She encouraged me to become an educator,” she said.
Her aunt made her do that by making her practice her teaching skills when she was still young “because there was a big need for us to extend our helping hands to children.”
In high school, her aunt would bring her to school to see the kind of job that she does.
Liwag then became a teacher’s aide for summer classes, “which inspired me more to contribute to the community as an educator.”
“I live by the thought that our children are very precious and we want to make sure they are in good hands…,” she said.
Before Super Typhoon Yutu hit Saipan last October, the Hopwood administration and faculty were already putting together plans to advance the teaching and learning in the school. However, the typhoon took with it all those plans and left behind vast destruction.
Visiting Hopwood after the typhoon and seeing the extent of the school’s devastation was a heartbreaking sight. A teary-eyed Liwag said she felt terrible because they had so many plans for student success.
“We suddenly found ourselves setting aside those plans and looking at other things that we should prioritize.
“One thing was clear—the pursuit of education was the focus. Despite the things that needed to be done with infrastructure, we remained focused to ensure that we provide education for the students—education that they deserve despite the current circumstances.
“This was made possible by working hand in hand with Public School System leadership, community leaders and so we were able to identify plans for the transition or relocation of the school,” she said.
Moving 900 students, faculty, and staff to a different site was overwhelming but Liwag knew it had to be done.
Hopwood moved to Marianas High School temporarily “to get the children get back to school” and eventually transitioned everyone to the school’s current “tent” campus adjacent to the Koblerville Elementary School, which was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the local CNMI government.
“We are on our third week in the temporary campus and we thank the Lord that we are back to our normal routine,” she said.
That means having full-day sessions, with students participating in extracurricular programs and activities, and providing after-school programs.
To make sure that the students’ wellbeing is addressed, counselors provide services and mental health support.
Their “new normal,” Liwag said, now entails creating new plans for the school year that would address the current needs of the students. “Part of the plan is to proceed with the restoration of our old campus while the government is figuring out a plan to build a new school for Hopwood in a different location.”
“Getting to where we are right now was not an easy journey. …There were times when I just felt like giving up, but then I think of my colleagues who depend on me. I have to be resilient to make sure I give them strength, as their strength is my strength and my strength is their strength,” she added.
Learning never stops, whether it is within the four corners of the classroom or this bigger university called life.
“After all the trials and challenges, we grow stronger and I am blessed because, aside from my family, the teachers, government leaders, students, and their parents gave me courage and put their trust in me. If I were to talk to another woman who is in a difficult situation, I would tell them that nothing is impossible and continue to focus on their goals and plans for success,” Liwag said.
“My aunt is now 75 years old and still works as a school principal at St. Francis School in our hometown. …When I [became a principal], she was very happy. Like my aunt, I will be an educator even in my 70s, as long as the children need me and I am still able to contribute to the education system.” Liwag added.