Pace Academy (培基中学) was brought about by a series of miracles, that is according to the founders Dr. Eddie Lao and Alice Lao, although establishing a school was never part of their plans in the first place.
About the founders
Eddie Lao was born in Hong Kong, but he came to the Philippines to study dentistry. Despite having a specific career path in mind, Eddie Lao said that he still wasn’t sure of what to do with his life at that point. He eventually realized he had no interest in dentistry and dropped out to start a business with his father. He also became a pastor along the way, and he credits God for the success of his business, which involved sewing covers for well-known mattress companies.
Alice Lao, on the other hand, wanted to be a nurse, but her mother didn’t approve of her course choice, so she took up BSE Education at UST instead. She believes that the sudden shift in her career path was God’s will, and after she graduated, she became a teacher at schools like Hope Christian High School, Chiang Kai Shek College, and Lifespring Academy.
Eddie and Alice Lao met at the Christian Gospel Center, which Alice also believes was God’s will. They were part of a conservative church, where men and women weren’t allowed to sit together, let alone talk to each other, but Eddie and Alice were introduced by one of the brothers on a whim. They got to know each other outside of the church, and they eventually got married.
Despite being a tandem of businessman and educator, Eddie and Alice Lao still never thought of opening a school. They carried on with their mattress cover business, which Eddie describes as a blessing because it was never too demanding to manage. He was able to take his kids to school every day and still keep his job as a full-time pastor.
However, things took a turn for the worst when their factory burned down. It wasn’t the first time it happened, but before, they were able to recover within 2 days. This time, the damage was more severe, and they had an option to either rebuild their business or start a new one. This was when Eddie Lao came up with the idea of opening a school.
“It never crossed my mind that I would be an educator, a principal, not even a teacher. But after the fire, I realized that God had a different direction for our lives,” Eddie Lao says.
Alice Lao was against it at first. Being an educator herself, she knew running a school was far from easy, but she asked for God’s guidance, and when her husband brought up the idea again, she was a little more open to it.
Bringing their vision to life
Eddie and Alice Lao encountered many challenges in the process of establishing Pace Academy. Their first location was supposed to be in Novaliches, the same property where their factory burned down, but the president of their homeowners association refused to allow them to open a school. Undeterred, they searched for a different location and opened their first branch at Sgt. Rivera Street.
Starting a new school is a bit tricky, especially since parents were hesitant to trust them with their children’s education. Alice Lao recalls the intense anxiety she felt when she wrapped up the first parents’ orientation and found out that only 2 parents confirmed that they were going to enroll their child to Pace Academy. She put her trust in God anyway, and when they finally started their first ever school year, they ended up with over 100 students.
The problems didn’t end there. They also faced the issue of traffic, limited parking space, competition with other well-known schools, and lack of students who were willing to stay for their newly-implemented high school program. Each time, Eddie and Alice asked for God’s intervention, and each time, all their problems were resolved.
Pace Academy now
Pace Academy was formally established in 2002. It currently has two locations: Sgt. Rivera and Talayan Village, and has an average of 800 students. Eddie Lao explains that it’s called Pace because: “We would like to set a pace in Philippine education. We would like to make a difference in our own small ways.”
They put emphasis on the student’s character-building, hence why their five core values are: Positive, Affirmative, Christ-Centered, Excellence-Oriented, and Respectful, which spells PACER. They also value academic excellence because they need to have an edge over other schools. It might have started as a way to survive, but it reflected positively on their school, as Eddie Lao revealed that they were able to send some students to competitions, while the graduating students of Pace had good college entrance results.
What it takes to run a school
When asked about what it takes to be the administrators of a school, Eddie and Alice Lao cite commitment and passion as the most important qualities.
“It is not easy to run a school, but if you have the commitment, then you can do it, you can survive. The most important thing for me is to always think of the interest of the student. Sometimes, parents don’t understand, and they may get mad at you, but you must always think in terms of what’s best for the student,” Eddie Lao says.
“You have to love children. You have to be willing to educate them and do the best you can do to help them improve…not for the sake of ‘If I have more students, I will earn more money.’ It’s not about that, but it’s about loving and educating children. It doesn’t matter if the parents can’t afford to pay the tuition at the moment,” Alice Lao adds.
Indeed, Pace Academy was a product of miracles, and Eddie and Alice Lao believe that miracles will continue to happen even amidst the challenges brought about by the pandemic. All they have to do is have faith in God.