Vice Principal Lily Capalad Adams: Helping out immigrant students to be successful

Community News & Features Oct 25, 2019 at 2:45 pm
Lily Adams, Vice Principal at Loretto College School

Lily Adams, Vice Principal at Loretto College School

By Jennilee Austria
The Philippine Reporter

As the Vice-Principal at Loretto College School, Lily Capalad Adams is a Filipina trailblazer in the Toronto Catholic District School Board. After growing up as a shy student in the Philippines, Adams emigrated to Canada in 1988 when she was in the eighth grade. With the support of her teachers, she found her inner confidence and was inspired to become an educator.

After finishing her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, and her Teachers’ College and Masters of Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, she rose to become one of the few Filipino school administrators at the TCDSB. As Vice-Principal of a school that is 33 percent Filipina, Adams has some powerful advice for students and parents who want a successful school year.

1. You grew up in the Philippines and moved to Canada in the eighth grade. How did being a young newcomer form you into the Vice-Principal you are today?

I was a very timid girl in the Philippines. I felt lost in the crowded classes where the normal class size was over 35 students. I never really liked the academic life of the school.

The first school I attended was St. Jean de Brebeuf in Scarborough. In contrast to my experience as a student in the Philippines, the smaller class sizes and tight-knit school community of St. Jean de Brebeuf contributed to my success. I also attribute my success and increased school engagement to the principal of the school (I still remember his name: Mr. McGuire). He was very welcoming since Day One. I was one of a few Filipino students, but I never felt left out or alone. He and the teachers provided a very nurturing environment for all students. I became more engaged— and happier— in school by participating in various activities such as the school play. I came a long way.

I want to give students, especially newcomers, the same experience. I wanted to become a teacher to directly impact student learning, but I know that as an administrator, on a larger scale, I could provide opportunities for teachers to better help students, especially students who are often marginalized.

Being an immigrant, I can empathize with parents who have made sacrifices of uprooting their families and moving to another country. Every year, I meet many parents who experience the same challenges my parents had. Being an administrator, I can be a source of support.

2. What was hard about being a newcomer student in 1988? How did your parents help you while you adjusted to Canadian life?

The hardest part was missing my family and friends in the Philippines. Christmas and New Years are never the same here. Back then, there were no social media, FaceTime, email, Viber, etc., and making long distance calls was so expensive, so it was really hard to keep in touch with family and friends.

Another challenging aspect was starting here in Grade 8. Many of the students had already built established friendships. On my first day of school, my mother went up to a girl in the schoolyard and asked if she could show me around. It was a bit embarrassing, but I got over it. It was very hard at first, but I eventually made some friends. I actually still keep in contact with my first friend in Canada.

Another big adjustment was learning French for the first time. My mother bought beginner books so I could get extra practice. I eventually got caught up. Our parents helped me and my brothers with our schoolwork. They were always available for extra help. My parents worked very hard and exemplified perseverance. I remember my dad saying, “Mag-tiis ka na lang…kayang-kaya mo yan.” They have always been encouraging and were proud even for just small achievements.

3. What inspired you to pursue a career in education?

When I was in elementary school in the Philippines, I was not confident in my math ability and did not love math at all— I had math anxiety. It wasn’t until the ninth grade that I came to enjoy and excel in Math. I became a Math teacher because I wanted to tap into that hidden potential in the students. I was also a very timid child in the Philippines, but when I started school here, because of the encouragement of my teachers, I came out of my shell. I believe that being a teacher is a way to give back.

4. What are the top tips you have for Filipino students starting school this September?

Always ask for help. Do not be shy. Speak up. Be assertive. Talk to your guidance counsellor, child and youth worker, social worker, school chaplain, teachers, or administrators if you are going through personal issues.

Keep your mental health in check. Make time to take a break— that includes unplugging yourself from smartphones, social media, etc., even if it’s for just 30 minutes a day.

Eat healthy and sleep— you can’t learn if you do not eat healthy or if you do not get enough sleep. Huwag mag-puyat!

Lily Adams with members of Loretto College Student Council.

Lily Adams with members of Loretto College Student Council.

5. Why are these tips so important for Filipino students?

Traditionally, Filipino youth tend to keep feelings bottled up. When I was growing up, there was no such thing as depression nor was there a focus on mental health. It is important for Filipino youth—and their parents— to realize that there are many resources and agencies who can help.

We live in a world in which technology has been so ingrained in our daily lives. We need to take a break from our smartphones, look up, and communicate face-to-face. It is important to develop early effective communication skills.

Like many Filipinos, I was trained as a young child not to “rock the boat”, “not speak up”, or to just accept how things are. Although it is important to be respectful towards authority figures, young Filipinos need to be confident, assertive, and speak up if they witness injustice or unfairness.

6. Can you share a success story about your most memorable Filipino student?

My most memorable Filipino student graduated in June. She had a rough home life both back home and in Canada. She found it very hard adjusting to life here. In addition, she had mental health challenges. Despite her personal obstacles, she remained engaged in school and did her best, working very hard. School was her second home where she formed friendships and received a great deal of encouragement from the caring staff of Loretto College. In June, she graduated with honours and was the school valedictorian.

7. What are your top tips for Filipino parents who want to be more engaged in their child’s education?

1. Develop great relationships with your child’s teachers. Remember, it is a partnership.

2. Attend parent council meetings.

3. Attend school events or volunteer.

4. Follow the school’s social media: Instagram, Twitter, etc.

5. Support your child by attending school shows, concerts, etc. Just be present for them.

I know it’s hard to juggle between work and home life, especially when parents work long hours. I am a mother myself. I count on my husband a lot. He is very supportive.

8. Some parents have teaching backgrounds in the Philippines and are looking to teach again in Canada. What is your advice for them?

1. Ask the Ontario College of Teachers for advice as well as Faculties of Education in the province.

2. Be familiar with the demographics of the communities you will be serving. Students in Canadian classrooms are very different from students in the Philippines. Do some research.

3. Make connections in your local schools. Get to know the administrators.

4. Volunteer in schools— network!

5. Know the Ontario Curriculum and other supporting documents well.

6. Know the school board’s mission statement and multi-year strategy.

7. Be familiar with culturally-responsive pedagogy.

8. Be familiar with numeracy and literacy strategies of the schools and the boards.

9. In the Toronto Catholic District School Board, how many fellow Filipino school administrators have you met? How would you encourage other Filipino-Canadian teachers to aspire for leadership positions?

I only know of one Filipino administrator who is now a principal at an elementary school.
Many Filipinos tend to pursue careers that relate to service due to our innate strengths and gifts of caring and nurturing for others, which I believe sometimes makes us shy away from assuming or pursuing leadership positions. I would encourage Filipino-Canadian teachers to draw upon our culture and tradition of service and duty by seeking leadership opportunities. Get involved in your school’s learning improvement plan team or in your school’s student success team. Start a school initiative that not only benefits students but benefits the entire community.

10. What do you love about being a Vice-Principal?

It is multi-faceted. You wear a lot of hats: teacher, parent, consoler, cheerleader, counsellor, peacemaker, problem-solver, recruiter, adviser, manager, “detective”, even “fashion consultant” (when you enforce the uniform policy, haha!)

It goes beyond just helping students— you are helping families and you contribute to creating a nurturing learning environment.  You make a larger impact in the learning of students. It is servant leadership at its fullest!