In the 15 years that Gloria Rasiang has taught Carolinian/Bilingual subject at Koblerville Elementary School, she saw how her school made inroads in the teaching of indigenous languages and culture.
From its beginnings, when a group of educators and advocates succeeded in pushing for the Chamorro and Carolinian language and culture to be taught in the Public School System, the program has survived and grown over the years.
And today, one of the program’s most challenging work is taking place.
“It has never changed back then—and finally, it is happening now,” said Rasiang yesterday, who is now part of the ongoing PSS-wide Chamorro and Carolinian Language and Heritage Studies Material Development and Teachers Institute held at Saipan Southern High School.
“It is a dream come through. I am very proud of it that we are all gathered now,” she added.
This week, CCLHS program educators participated in the first phase of the material development initiative of the CCLHS Program. For the first time classroom/teaching materials that were made, prepared, and written more than three decades ago for public schools students are being revisited and “re-worked.” And PSS Chamorro and Carolinian teachers themselves are taking charge of the work.
“Majority of these books were made back in the ’70s and ’80s. This is the first time that we have to revisit these materials, change or improve them to reflect today’s classroom teaching practices,” said Lumi Bermudes, one of the two CCLHS program managers. “This is it: teachers are themselves heavily involved in working on their actual classroom materials.”
The instructional materials include books, pamphlets, and finalization of the teacher instructional binder that includes lesson plans and PSS policies.
All products will be aligned with existing PSS standards and benchmarks and must follow the Chamorro and Carolinian orthography or the rules of writing these indigenous languages.
“This is about improving student achievement through the use of new and updated classroom materials that are aligned [with] PSS standards and benchmarks,” explains Bermudes.
A $500,000 federal grant awarded to PSS through the Office of CNMI Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan gave the impetus to this project.
Following the awarding of a $250,000 grant last year, work began on putting together a uniform, system-wide CCLHS instructional binder that will be used for all grade levels, from kindergarten to 12th grade.
The teacher institute for bilingual teachers, meanwhile, is an ongoing program that aims to raise the level of classroom instruction and enable these teachers to meet the highly qualified requirement for all public school teachers.
About 33 indigenous language teachers from Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, along with three regular classroom teachers, are participating in the ongoing material development and teacher institute at Saipan Southern High School.
Two years ago, former education commissioner Henry I. Sablan facilitated the development of short stories written by indigenous language teachers. These stories are now being put together in a book—the first of its kind that is printed in the vernacular and published by PSS.
Like Rasiang, Magdalena Mesngon said there is now greater emphasis by PSS in the teaching of indigenous languages and culture in classrooms.
“I feel that is about time for everyone to come together to reflect, create, and align what we teach to our students. What we are doing now will help close the gap with whatever is missing about student achievement,” said Mesngnon, who teaches at Sinapalo Elementary School and has been part of the program for 10 years now.
Garapan Elementary School Chamorro teacher Elsie San Nicolas said it is “perfect timing” that PSS is taking steps to improve teaching materials that no longer reflect current teaching strategies and uses.
“Now that we are making our own materials to be used in all schools and grade levels, reflecting the approved orthography and our standards and benchmarks, this is going to go a long way,” San Nicolas said.
Today, exactly three decades after the bilingual program was mandated in the 1985 CNMI Constitution, the CCLHS Program continues to emphasize cognitive skills, academic achievement, and greater understanding for public schools students to learn and value indigenous languages and culture.