Recording Artist John Legend Visits Teach for the Philippines

The teachers and students of Highway Hills Integrated School (HHIS) in Mandaluyong City, the Philippines got a big surprise last week when a very special guest paid a visit to their school—Grammy-winning recording artist John Legend. The R&B singer stopped by to meet with staff and students a few hours before taking the stage for a concert in Manila.

An Ivy League graduate as well as musician, Legend is a long-time advocate of expanding and improving education and serves on the board of directors for Teach For America. Interested in learning about the public school system in the Philippines, he paid a visit Teach for the Philippines placement school, HHIS, where he was given a tour followed by a roundtable discussion with the school’s Teach for the Philippines Teacher Fellows and administrators, as well as Teach for the Philippines Fellows from other local schools.

HHIS Principal Romeo Bandal led Legend on the school tour, along with Teach for the Philippines CEO Margarita Liboro Delgado, COO Clarissa Isabelle Delgado, and Chief Strategic Resources Officer Patricia Feria. While visiting a classroom to talk with the students, Legend was surprised when his new young friends took his hand and pressed it to their foreheads. "It's the traditional Filipino way of showing respect for elders,” explained Feria, “like the bow for the Japanese." In the Philippines, children are taught "mano po" early on, a tradition reinforced by teachers.

The roundtable discussion offered Legend a chance to learn more about Teach for the Philippines and its efforts to achieve the organization’s vision of accessible education for all Filipino children by 2050.

“We come from different backgrounds,” Fellow Karis Corpus shared when asked what Fellows bring to the table. “And it’s from this diversity that we are able to see certain situations from a different perspective.”

Principal Bandal explained how the presence of Teacher Fellows in HHIS has helped decrease the number students in Grade 3 classrooms: “We created additional sections in Grade 3 that the Fellows took over. Because of this, the average number of pupils for each Grade 3 class in HHIS is now around 35.”

During the discussion Legend described himself as a “a nerdy student” who skipped two grades, was home schooled, and graduated high school at age 16. He loved to study, he shared, but it was his other love—music—that allowed him to open himself up and connect with the world around him. Upon learning that many of the Fellows’ students were musically-inclined, he encouraged them to foster their students’ love for music and, whenever possible, incorporate music into their teaching.

“Despite the heat in the classrooms and the humid climate, he spent a good hour and a half with us,” said Monette Santos, Director for Programming & Training for Teach for the Philippines. “It's not often that you meet a famous artist who is well educated and so aware of the issues around education.” 

Before recording a video encouraging Filipino kids to “study hard” in order to achieve their dreams, Legend gave the Fellows a lesson of his own: “Don’t forget to love them, too,” he said of their students. “Teachers especially need to see their students as people who need to be understood. At the very core, you have to show them you love them, because that is how they will grow up to be good people.”