A pre-algebra teacher at Marianas High School has proven the value of resiliency, pushing through extremely tough times to be able to secure not one but two college degrees, while looking after her 12 children.
Ritalina Chipwelong, 44, was born on the island of Chuuk to a poor family and several siblings.
“We were living off of government food packs,” recalled Chipwelong.
Chipwelong moved to Saipan in 1980 and attended Oleai Elementary School, where she got a perfect attendance award each quarter.
Chipwelong then started junior high at Hopwood Junior High School before ultimately making her way to MHS as a sophomore, the year she got pregnant with her firstborn at 18 years old.
In 2004, Chipwelong gave birth to her seventh child. That got her thinking how she would support her children.
Chipwelong reentered the educational system through the Northern Marianas College’s General Education Development program.
“In those years, starting out with the GED, it was really tough. I was not educated for about 13 years, so it was really hard to start from the beginning,” said Chipwelong.
“I started from the bottom. I was most challenged with writing essays,” recalled Chipwelong.
Despite having numerous children to take care of, Chipwelong persevered and eventually got her GED diploma in 2007.
Yet Chipwelong felt that wasn’t enough.
She strove for an associate degree in liberal arts at NMC soon after receiving her GED.
“From there on, being a college student without having future plans, I just wanted to try out college. I started to think that when I was in school, I thought of being a teacher,” she said.
While Chipwelong was at NMC, her mother helped her look after her children. Chipwelong’s mother did not inform her that she was diagnosed with cancer so that Chipwelong could focus on her degree.
“My mom did not show she was in pain and that she was not feeling well. She would just say she was okay and pushed me to finish my schooling. Her help got me through college,” said Chipwelong.
Chipwelong got her AA degree just before her mother passed away.
“I almost gave up on my education degree because she supported me and watched after my kids,” she said.
Chipwelong used the memory of her mother as an inspiration to obtain her bachelor’s degree in education, which she obtained in 2014.
“When I think back at her suffering and still watching after my kids, I almost gave up. But then I thought she was always giving me all her time and help, why waste it?”
“She constantly reminded me that through education, you will be able to secure your future,” said Chipwelong.
Chipwelong immediately used her two degrees to apply for her first Public School System teaching job at Kagman High School. After two years of teaching at KHS, Chipwelong transferred to MHS, where she is currently the pre-Algebra teacher.
Chipwelong thinks of herself as a good example for her children.
“I did my very best to be role model for my kids,” said Chipwelong.
Chipwelong always reminds her children to stay in school and that school is very important. She now has two high school graduates, which she is very proud of and is hopeful that they would look into securing a college degree in the future.
Chipwelong emphasized that it took her seven years to get her two degrees while looking after her 12 children.
“Our life is not always going to be perfect. There are times where you think that you can’t get back up, but actually, it’s only you that can lift yourself up. When you fall, do not ever think that is the end. Even small improvements would make an impact on the future if you persevere,” she said.
MD: A mother of 12 perseveres through college to obtain two degrees.