Debra Pritchard has lived in Puerto Princesa for nine years. Many know her as the tall, gray-haired American woman who can be seen striding through Robinsons or sitting in a coffee shop in SM working on her computer, or chatting over lunch in Ling Nam’s or cheesecake in Heavenly. Mostly, however, she has been part of Palawan Pawnshop, where she has worked as a consultant for the last seven years.

But now she is returning to the United States, mostly for health reasons, and she has left a wonderful gift to PSU, a gift of expertise she has gathered through many years of work, study, and avid interest in Special Education and Special Olympics. On Wednesday, October 23rd, she opened the SPED Corner in PSU’s new library! And there it was! She had brought together a partnership of PSU and the Palawan Pawnshop, and friends and educators around the city had found a new home for her SPED book collection, and had put together a legacy!

The corner houses a wonderful set of books: textbooks, first-person narratives from parents raising children with disabilities, and workbooks, including one which Debra created just in time for presentation at this opening. The Palawan Pawnshop donated two computers that contain learning PowerPoints that Debra made. The Pawnshop also donated a printer, a projector, and a screen, thus making the SPED Corner one of the better equipped small units in the school!

During the program, she showed a video she had created called “Memories for Making a Future”. This was a slightly sentimental look at her time here in Puerto Princesa, but not overly sentimental, as she wasn’t in any of the pictures!! (Of course – she had taken them!) Most had to do with Special Education and work with special kids in the Special Olympics which she and Angie Mendoza had spearheaded and worked on together for several years.

And this is where the paradox of memories for making the future is resolved. For many of Debra’s memories revolve around children who need special attention. And Debra says that so so many children in Palawan DO need special education and are not getting it. Most of them have not even been identified. Children who are seriously autistic, or who have Downs Syndrome or other difficulties may be hidden by their families, especially if they live outside major municipalities. Others, both in the countryside and in the municipalities, are in school but rather than being identified as having special needs, are identified early on as “slow” or just plain “stupid” or “magulo” or “naughty”. And these labels stick for life and of course seriously undermine the self- image and confidence of the child.

Of course, special children are not easy to teach. Of course, it is assumed, or hoped, that all teachers have the required education and degrees to enable them to teach. Teaching special children requires more education, at least a concentration in SPED in college. But at present none of the colleges in Palawan offer such a concentration. Yet most of the neurological conditions involved in learning – ADHD, Autism, and other specific learning disorders respond very favorably to early intervention. This is why doctors like to pick up on these cases as early as possible. Failing to intervene is like wasting the best chance. Reverting to calling the child stupid amounts to create new problems.

So all teachers need to know a few basics about SPED. They should at least be able to recognize children with special needs and they need to make some adjustments for these children if SPED classes are not available.

When PSU’s President Ramon Ducto spoke, he challenged the Dean of the College of Teacher Education, Dr. Eunice Viray, to start a SPED program. The college could start with a course in SPED and eventually put up a program for a minor. This has to be our future if we are serious about the welfare of our children.

And this is the future that Debra’s SPED Corner should jump start!