TACLOBAN CITY- This reluctant educator never thought she’s gone this far at her present position as principal of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) American Elementary School at North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) based in Casteau, Belgium.

Bernadette Mondejar-Schlueter, 43, from Tacloban City took up Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at the University of the Philippines Visayas Tacloban College (UPVTC).

She took the position of principal at SHAPE School in August 2014, besting 400 other applicants.

SHAPE Elementary School is under the Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) and one of the 181 schools in 14 districts located in 12 foreign countries, seven states, Guam and Puerto Rico.

SHAPE is the biggest of the 13 international schools in the NATO installation in Casteau, Belgium. There are 600 students enrolled in the school with 51 percent Americans and the other 49 percent are represented by students from 28 NATO member countries and 22 partnership for peace nations.

ALSO A TOP-NOTCH RUNNER: Bernadette Mondejar-Schlueter  with her husband during the 102K Bataan Death March Ultramarathon last March 2, 2013. She ranked #87 out of 220 finishers.
ALSO A TOP-NOTCH RUNNER: Bernadette Mondejar-Schlueter with her husband Richard during the 102K Bataan Death March Ultramarathon last March 2, 2013. She ranked #87 out of 220 finishers.

Beginnings

Schlueter spent her elementary, high school years and summers, helping in the production and sales departments of J.E. Mondejar Press and Publishing House owned by her parents Jose and Lucita Mondejar in Tacloban.

“Helping my parents and my early exposure to business, me and my four siblings cultivated strong work ethics but also customer relations. By all means when I went to college, I took up business administration course,” she shared.

When her parents opened J.E. Mondejar Computer School in 1990 and was later renamed J.E. Computer College in 1995, they decided it was time for her to expand her skills and concentrate on the business side of education.

In a couple of years she earned her Master of Business Administration at the Philippines Women’s University (PWU).

Schlueter’s education career began as her parents prodded her to become a college instructor right after college, with her other positions as college administrator and vice-president for academic affairs of their family-run school.

“While on a New Year holiday in Boracay in 2003, I met an American high school principal and we started talking about education. Within three months, Richard and I were married and I joined him at Yokota Air Base, Japan where he was the principal of Yokota High School,” Schlueter recalled.

With a new environment, Schlueter humbly admitted, she continued her career in education as assistant teacher at Santa Monica International School in Tokyo at the same time, started her Master ofArts in Education/Elementary Teacher Education through the University of Phoenix, Yokota Air Base campus.

Journey with DoDEA

Armed with a teaching degree upon completion of her masteral at University of Phoenix, she started her career with the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) in 2006.

DoDEA is one of only two Federally-operated school systems, responsible for planning, directing, coordinating and managing pre-kindergarten through 12th grade educational programs in behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense.

She taught fifth grade for three years at Joan K. Mendel Elementary School, one of the four DoDEA schools at the airbase.

When her husband received a transfer to Seoul American High School located at the U.S. Army Garrison in Yongsan in August 2009, she was picked up as a local hire to teach fourth grade at Seoul American Elementary School for two years.

“I completed my Doctor of Education in Educational Management with The Philippine Women’s University that same year. I started it while still in Japan and finished when I was in Korea. It was a combination of distance learning and face to face instruction during my summers off in teaching,” Schlueter proudly beams.

Her involvement with education was not limited to the classroom alone. She led after-school clubs for students and professional educator organizations for teachers. I was the president of the Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) Tokyo chapter 1530 and PDK Seoul chapter 1432.

In between her teaching job, she joined marathons since 2009. The Tokyo Marathon is the first race she had and followed by 81 others from around the globe.

“I’ve just kept at it because running is a stress reliever for me. There is dedication and pain involved in running but with the ultra marathons, it becomes an issue of mental tenacity. My goal is to finish the race and finish without injuries,” she added.

2012 Korea District Teacher of the Year

“My commitment to education was recognized with my selection as a 2010 Awardee of the Scroll of Appreciation from US Forces Korea General Walter Sharp and as the 2012 Korea District Teacher of the Year. It was an amazing journey,” she said.

She was promoted as the assistant principal of CDR William C. McCool Elementary/Middle School at U.S. Naval Base in Guam. As the assistant principal, she led the school through the advanced accreditation where the school received the highest rating in the district and helped develop the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) district initiative.

“I was also invited to develop the 21st Century Teaching, Learning, and Leading (21st CTLL) initiative for DoDEA,” she added.

Meeting a real Queen

It is not every day that you meet and interact with a real queen.

“But Her Royal Highness Mathilde, the Queen of Belgium, visited our school on September 30, 2014 to see our world-class facilities. We just moved into a brand-new building that is part of the USD54million project in SHAPE. It was a great opportunity for me and the students because it’s not every day that you meet a real queen. She was very kind, asked a lot of questions and talked to many students,” Schlueter shared her excitement.

In February, Schlueter led the school to its all-time high advanced accreditation rating and is implementing the French immersion program next school year to take advantage of the host nation’s natural speaking environment for the students.

“I am proud of my Filipino heritage. Resilience and creativity are Filipino traits that gave me the edge to succeed in an international environment. I am completely comfortable in being uncomfortable. I look at challenges and goals as a way to grow and be better both as a person and as a professional educator,” Schlueter said.

“And the one Filipino trait I emphasized to our students is the Bayanihan spirit. It is strength in unity. Working together or collaboration is a 21st century skill that we as a pilot school are developing students as lifelong habits.

She hopes to inspire more people to explore the world through teaching.

“There is truth to the saying, parents know best. The success I have in my career was because of my parents who supported me and guided me to a calling I never even considered when I was growing up and of course my collaboration with my supportive husband,” Schlueter said.
By Vicky C. Arnaiz/ PNA