By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
August 1st 2015
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Aurora H. Roldan was an extraordinary woman of many persuasions. When we were in college and she was newly returned from graduate studies at the University of Southern California, she introduced us to the then-intoxicating and radical concept of speed-reading. What a magical trick to learn, allowing us to devour even more books. We must have been her first set of reading lab rats because we were even showcased to speed-read in the cavernous St. Cecilia’s Hall at St. Scholastica’s College (SSC) along with her De La Salle University (DLSU) boys.

Model classes we were supposed to be, but I was not a good example. I was humiliated then at not getting the top reading scores. That was what I got for balking at the very idea of speed-reading through literature, preferring to savor every line.

I guess I somehow redeemed myself in my adolescent mind when, in the course of developing her own SRA reading comprehension materials for a Filipino audience, Roldan asked to use one or two of my school reports. (SRA stands for Science Research Associates, the Chicago-based company that produced reading comprehension materials that we as readers enjoyed, allowing us to progress from one color to the other, signifying levels of difficulty. And what a thrill to mark our progress on those bar graphs we had to shade in the appropriate color.)

In 1966, Roldan founded her own private reading clinic, Reading Dynamics Inc., using individualized reading instruction to help children—and, subsequently, even adults—make their reading more efficient. The clinic continues today, now headed by Amihan Roldan Lim, her granddaughter who has collaborated with her on many literacy projects. The clinic’s speed-reading course was a favorite among students, especially during the summer. It was a haven for parents confronted with children reluctant to read, most likely because of undiagnosed reading difficulties. As Amihan fondly recalls her grandmother emphasize, building the child’s confidence is more important than letter recognition.

But that world was not enough for Roldan’s grand plans and dreams for reading education in the Philippines. On her own in 1970, she established and became founding president of the Reading Association of the Philippines—an influential 45-year-old organization today—in close affiliation with the International Reading Association (IRA). It became the first Southeast Asian member of the IRA and hosted its first international reading congress in Manila, which she organized.

Roldan was also founder and president of Talented and Gifted Philippines Foundation Inc. and, as a prelude, she organized the Children’s Festival of Words (CFW), a creative writing workshop for verbally gifted youngsters. She did not use the “g” word then, but invited public and private schools to send students with a record of academic excellence and writing ability. Through the years of the CFW, many student talents were nurtured, among them Lea Salonga who was a preschooler participant in 1977. Gifted and talented education earned its legitimacy in the field with the World Conference on Gifted and Talented Children in Manila in 1983.

As if these professional commitments were not enough to tie her down, Roldan also had a stint as publisher of Parents magazine, keeping me busy with deadlines and even an interview with Cory Aquino.

Our last meeting was over a sumptuous Japanese lunch at her favorite Senju in Edsa Shangri-La three years ago. She was still obsessed with reading education, still concerned about the many gaps for teachers and students, but happy and relieved that her former colleague at DLSU, Br. Armin Luistro FSC, was at the helm of the Department of Education. And how, she wondered, could the National Book Development Board help in her many advocacies?

Roldan always loomed large and legendary to me, an attractive, well-coiffed woman who was tireless in the pursuit of reading for all. But on that day, she talked of old friends at SSC and De La Salle (my husband Elfren was also her Reading Dynamics lab rat, more promising than I ever was!), and mentioned something I had not known about her: that, yes, she was a Hagedorn and that she and Edward Hagedorn, former
mayor of Puerto Princesa, spent their childhood together as he was a half-brother.

It was not easy to think of the enthused and energetic Roldan slowing down in a hospital in the last months of her life. To her, retirement was an alien word, but her being wheelchair-bound was no deterrent. And until a stroke unkindly and unceremoniously imposed on her a passive life until her death at the age of 84 last April 5, she still continued to run workshops for reading teachers of all levels.

At the time of her passing, she was meeting regularly with writer Florina Castillo, longtime Reading Dynamics colleague Melissa Moran, and Amihan Lim for books in progress on English literature for the DepEd’s new Grade 7, 8, 9, and 10 curriculum.

As National Children’s Book Month winds up, there’s no better time to remember with gratitude the efforts of Aurora H. Roldan, who may be rightfully considered the pioneer reading advocate. If you and I can speed-read today and make meaning out of words, we have her to thank.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.