Escueta among Canada’s top teachers
By Ted Alcuitas
“You don’t have what it takes to learn French”, Emmanuel Escueta, (‘Noel’ to friends), was told as a young 16-year old immigrant in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1981.
That remark did not discourage him, Escueta told Philippine Canadian News.com (PCN.com) in a telephone interview. Instead, it challenged him to pursue his dream to learn French, a language he considered ‘exotic’ back in the Philippines.
Fast forward to May 12, 2016 – 35 years later.
That day, Escueta stood proudly on stage in Ottawa to receive an award for teaching excellence from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, one of 10 teachers in Canada recognized for their excellence.
“My strength was in languages and if I could not be a teacher, I wanted to be an anthropologist,” he recalls his days at Don Bosco in Manila where he was finishing his third year of high school.
Like any immigrant, he found it difficult to adjust to the new environment in Winnipeg and had to confront the question – “Who am I?” “What is a Filipino?”
To help him with his dilemma, he joined the pioneering dance troupe – Magdaragat Dance Company founded by the late Dante Buenaventura, where he found himself among Filipino youth also questioning their own identity.
While busy with Magdaragat,he also drove himself to learn French on his own and only took Basic in high school.
He worked as a waiter at the Franco Manitoban Centre where he could hone his French. He also worked with Lebanese immigrants in Montreal while completing a 6-week Summer Language Bursary Program.
After finishing a teaching degree at the University of Manitoba where he obtained a double major in French and English, Escueta taught at public schools. His first was at the remote northern city of Thompson. From there he moved to Powerview, Manitoba where he encountered the recurring problem of students “hating school”.
“They didn’t quite know what to make of me,” he remembers his early teaching days. One time, his students asked him – “Are you Native?”, to which he replied: “Close enough.”
These experiences formed the genesis for his Verbathon teaching aide which he developed over the years to help teachers engage students and encourage them to learn.
The award of excellence
The recognition comes with a $5,000 award to be shared with Irvine elementary school in Port Coquitlam where he teaches Grade 2 French Immersion. He used his share to bring his family to Ottawa to attend the ceremony.
Escueta said he was completely caught by surprise by the award. He thanks Jovita Kleim a parent, for nominating him.
“In his nominating papers, Escueta was recognized for his Verbathon — a relay for teaching kids their French verbs — which has spread across the country, his multi-cultural teachings in which he teaches students to sing Christmas songs in three languages and play traditional Filipino instruments, and for introducing Kidspiration, which helps students write speeches in French, with one Grade 2 student winning a district French speech contest, as a result, “ reports Tri-City News.
”It was an unbelievable, invigorating, inspiring, humbling experience to see what the other educators are doing. I’m like floating on air, ” the 51-year old father of three told Tri-City News after receiving the award.
Escueta was excited to discover that Prime Minister Trudeau who was a teacher in Vancouver, used Verbathon .
“I managed to give him a Verbathon t-shirt and he signed one for me in return.”
He was happy that his family shared the prize with him.
“It’s an experience they’ll never forget and will be greatly enriched. On top of that, my son, Dominic, celebrated his 16th birthday in Ottawa where we spent part of the time at Parliament Hill. Not too many 16 -year olds can say that they watched Question Period in the House of Commons, toured and was given special access to the Library of Parliament and dined at the Parliamentary Restaurant on their birthday!”
Move to B.C. and marketing Verbathon
After 15 years in Winnipeg, Escueta moved to B.C. settling in Port Coquitlam where he teaches Gr. 2 French Immersion at École Irvine Elementary School.
As Verbathon was getting known, he needed to manage its distribution. He formed Escutech Educational Products Ltd. which he operates with wife Jennifer, a music teacher, out of their basement.
“ A real Mom and Pop operation,” he said with a chuckle.
Available in French, Spanish and German, Verbathon is used to teach grammar through games in a fun, active, and team-based approach. It is based on what Escueta calls his Infinite Principle – Inclusive, Fun, Interactive, Integrative,Team-based and Empowering.
Verbathon (www.verbathon.com) is so adaptable that it can be used by teachers from elementary through university as well as immersion and second language teachers.
Asked where he gets his entrepreneurial smarts, Escueta, the youngest of six , readily credits his mother “a feisty businesswoman”.
“Utik utik” (bit by bit) , he explains how he run the business. Without any capital, he did all research, production and marketing of the product the best way he could.
Why is he doing it?
“Not as pure profit, but as a legacy,” he says, hoping that the award of excellence will boost Verbathon’s popularity more.