The Public School System celebrated November as Education Month last Monday with a small gathering at the Marianas High School in Susupe that recognized many outstanding teachers and staff.
The ceremony recognized the year’s outstanding retreats and maintenance administrators staff, instructors, counselors, teacher aides, and teachers from all 20 schools in the CNMI, plus representatives of the Head Start program and pupil transportation.
According to former Kagman High School principal Leila Staffler, who was this year’s emcee, this year’s celebration was a little more down-scale because of the pandemic. In previous years, PSS would have large gatherings, with all the schools present and all the award nominees joining the ceremony. This year, PSS scaled it down and focused on the members who were representing their category.
“This event was a lot smaller, and so it seemed a little simpler, but we were still able to honor and celebrate the ‘of the years’ for all the schools and the programs that represented the system to really honor those people and the hard work and service that they give to the community,” said Staffler.
Bonny Cruz, a fifth-grade teacher at Koblerville Elementary School who has been with the Public School System for over six years and was recently named the 2021 State Teacher of the Year, said she strongly advocates for mental health, especially for educators who tend to focus less on themselves and their needs and more on their students.
“We communicate and we interact with our students every day. A lot of us educators, we put others first. …I think that’s actually a common thing in the CNMI, and being brought up in this culture, we’re always taking care of other people on a daily basis, where our main focus is our students all day every day,” said Cruz. She said that not only does she need to be reminded but everyone and her colleagues as well, that they need to take care of themselves so that they are able to perform “at optimal performance for the students.”
Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred B. Ada also strongly believes that mental health needs to be addressed, and that the ceremony is needed “now more than ever.”
“In any organization, rewards and recognition are very important. A lot of people overlook it as if it’s not important. …It’s recognizing all the hard work, especially in this pandemic, in moving forward. It’s a combination of teamwork at the school level and the district level,” said Ada, adding that it’s more important this year because of the pandemic, where many changes that took place in the last few months.
Joshua Gomez Meneses, a teacher aide at Garapan Elementary School, received an award as Teacher Aide of the Year. “Receiving this award is very worthwhile, as this is an opportunity for me and all the other educators to keep doing what we do best and to continue to educate and move forward,” said Meneses.
He said this was his first time to attend a teacher appreciation event, and appreciated that COVID-19 procedures were being followed through and that the event was kept on schedule and ended on time.
Meneses, who has been with PSS for about three years now, said that one thing that he’s learned in that time is how to be patient and to find alternative ways to solve problems (adaptation). “As an aspiring counselor, I believe these key characteristics are essential to keep because you must be able to help your students/clients move toward positive changes. It is a time-consuming process, yes, but the journey and end results are very rewarding,” said Meneses.
With the support of his family and keeping a positive mindset, he expects better days ahead, despite the implementation of austerity days, payless paydays, and the ongoing pandemic.