Many a time I would find myself driving by Hopwood Junior High and, as I look at it, I would reminisce of the time I was a student there in the early 1950s—three healthy years of it. And then I would hum a tune from the past that was composed by our teacher, Mrs. Martin, to reflect a student’s love for the school. It became a song of Saipan Intermediate School of Chalan Piao, our alma mater of the early 1950s. The lyrics went: “Hail to the name of Chalan Piao, the finest school in the land…”
“Chalan Piao,” that’s what we called our school. Officially, it was Saipan Intermediate School of Chalan Piao. It used to be in the Chalan Kanoa Elementary School campus. SIS was a junior high level in a school system of 6-3-3. Graduates of SIS either went to work with the Navy or went to school in Guam to either Fr. Duenas Memorial School or George Washington High School. Mt. Carmel School with a high school came later. I was a product of SIS and I went to Guam for my senior high school year, graduating there in spring 1958.
SIS was a cluster of renovated quonset huts abandoned by the Navy when it started moving out. It was Kobler village then. The Korean war was on then. Along Beach Road were many breadfruit trees. Now they are gone. The Chalan Piao Beach, though, was lined up and down the shore with the windbreaker, Australian ironwood. Historically, Chalan Piao Beach was one of the landing sites of the U.S. Marines during the World War II invasion of Saipan. One of those marines was Mr. Jake Harshbarger of Idaho. A captain. Many years later, he became our principal. One of my most memorable episode was when Mr. Harshbarger joined the students at the SIS beach one P.E. day. Many a time, we would go swimming on our P.E. period. He would come down to the beach and would stand in the shade of the ironwood trees. He would glance up and down the beach as if he were recollecting an episode in his life. Then his look would stretch far out into the disappearing horizon as if he were seeing an event breaking out in a mirage, that deep and faraway look beyond the reef. And he was a part of it. Many young Marines died here while trying to open a landing beachhead, he would tell me, looking down and shaking his head. Mr. Harshbarger was my English teacher, too. I was a fidgety, “ants in the pants” talkative student, and Mr. Harshbarger would give me a thick English literature book with assignment to read Macbeth. Holy moly, what did I do to deserve Macbeth. Who is this Macbeth guy, anyway? A question of a naïve island student. The difficult reading spaced me out. It was the kind of English that story was written in. Many years later, in our senior English class under Mr. Jim Winzeler at George Washington High, I encountered the same guy, Macbeth, and now MacDuff. I have not forgiven Shakespeare for his complicated English.
At SIS, we learned many things that were meant to prepare us for life after graduation. There were typing classes in the 7th, 8th, and 9th grades, sewing and home economics, carpentry, farming, and the usual academics. Typewriting class prompted the school to start a school newspaper to enhance the typing class, which stretched into clerical projects. A contest for the newspaper’s name was set up. My cousin, Jesus S. Sablan, later of Sablan Construction, won the top prize. He came up with a great name, Blue Lagoon. I was appointed the first semester editor. Manny dela Cruz was the second semester editor. The entire school pitched in to make the paper successful.
We also had a string band with dancing ladies, home economics, carpentry, handicraft, and truck farming. The boards and lumbers for the carpentry class came from the Navy, as were the guitars and ukulele, courtesy of Mrs. Martin, the supply officer’s wife.
Mrs. Martin, Mr. Joe C. Cabrera-Tian, Mr. Joe M. Taitano, then Miss Rita dela Cruz were our band organizers and sponsors. We would be taken to Circus Beach, the “O” Club, and to other Navy functions to perform. There were Felix Fitial, Ando Rogolifoi, Juan Teregeyo, Canicio Limes, Silvestre Kaipat and me. Our student dancers were Frances C. Tenorio, Remedio C. Duenas, Silveria Tydingco, and Ana Kaipat. These were the band members I remembered. We had our student council. We had a campaign. Froilan C. Tenorio was one of the presidential candidates. I was his running mate. We won. Later, when Froilan transferred to Fr. Duenas Memorial in Guam, I became the president.
On the sports scene, we had our SIS softball league. We had our stalwarts. Nick A. Tenorio, Tom C. Camacho, Jesus S. Sablan, Frank S. Chong, among others. These best players were recruited to play with “Education,” the Saipan teachers’ softball team playing island major league softball.
We learned carpentry with Mr. Don Torres, handicraft and farming with Mr. Segundo Blas. Our work products were displayed on PTA Sundays.
We graduated in 1955, armed with knowledge to survive in the community, and we did. And our alma mater song may have long faded away, but we could still hear the echo of it, a stanza or so, in our memory. The song was a youthful pledge of loyalty and fidelity to a school, a tinge like that of filial piety, a child to his mother. The memory of everything that made SIS wonderful stays, maybe a bit misty but it’s there. It’s like the song, “Mem’ries, light the corner of my mind, misty water-colored mem’ries…” And the SIS lyrics fades out with “… loyal sons we will be till eternity, hail to thee, Chalan Piao.” And it closed out one phase of our life, that of Saipan Intermediate School.
Rudy M. Sablan