Leaders of the three largest educational institutions in the CNMI—the CNMI Public School System, Northern Marianas Technical Institute, and the Northern Marianas College—came together to discuss the state of education in their respective institutions during the Education Summit held last last Thursday at the Saipan World Resort’s Taga Hall.
During the summit, Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred B. Ada, Northern Marianas Technical Institute chief executive officer Jodina Attao, and Northern Marianas College president Dr. Galvin Deleon Guerrero delivered their state of education addresses to a crowd which included Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, NMC Board of Regents, CNMI PSS Board of Education, the NMTech Board of Trustees, some PSS teachers, NMC faculty and staff, and NMTech staff and instructors.
In his speech, first and foremost, Ada said, to think of all the teachers they’ve had from primary to high school, “think of all of the formative years, and the teachers that were there for us, as they helped us and groomed us to become who we are today.”
He then proceeded to talk about three trends within PSS that came about as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first trend “is the modern contemporary learning platform in public education. This platform in moving forward with future trends for the CNMI remains productive for our citizens in the global society. Thirty years ago, we had chalkboards, typewriters… Today, we have laptops, iPads, smart boards, technology on wheels, and access to endless online content programs centered around student use for the development of 21st century skills. Thirty years ago, we would not have ever dreamed of online learning. It just didn’t exist. But today, our remote islands have distance education.”
The second trend “is the devotion of social emotional learning and mental health. Our teachers are more than just textbook instruction. They give emotional support and structure and social emotional and mental health awareness has helped guide our children through their most difficult and formative years. Happy schools mean happy teachers, happy teachers mean happy learners.
The PSS mental health team, Haligi Aware, has “recognized that mental health crises exist in the CNMI Public School System, especially among our young children, who have weathered two years of disruption, virtual instruction, isolation, and constant changes to normal routines… Students must have access to professional help, health counseling services… Anxiety, stress, and depression is where our students are struggling the most. Over 954, students were given mental health skills to help their student peers. We continue to see alternative means to address the mental health needs of our students. And our counseling department is committed to training school counselors, so that they are able to respond to crises. As of today, sources of strength was the first training where our counselors were given firsthand training to teach their peers or to work with their peers about suicide ideation. We cannot deny the fact that mental health issues have come into the forefront lately, and we recognize that it is much more than a school issue. It is a community wide concern,” said Ada.
The third and final trend he discussed was “the educational programs that PSS has currently achieved.”
He talked about the state infrastructure technology increasing the bandwidth access connectivity within the classroom schools so that teaching and learning will be reliable and dependable, issuing one laptop and Mifi per family which makes distance education a reality, and the new CNMI PSS website, cnmipss.org.
Next up was Attao, who introduced herself, thanked the board and faculty, and gave a breakdown on the state of education for NMTech.
Attao took the role of CEO in April of last year “as it officially transitioned from a nonprofit organization to a government entity. And I’m going to be completely honest, it has been one of the biggest challenges I have ever tackled. Aside from being a fulltime student, a full time employee and a fulltime mother of five. This has not been an easy feat. Throughout my career, I’ve learned to embrace my struggles, look at my problems as opportunities for growth and learn from them. I learned to stop being afraid of what could go wrong and get excited for what could go right. Through the obstacles that we have encountered and overcame as an organization.”
“Part of my job is people, people that I’ve met along the way, creating partnerships and building on those relationships as it gives me the context to talk to you about the state of education in NMTech. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we also have a lot to be proud of. Much like our faculty, staff, students, various partners and stakeholders that have worked so hard in the past year, the state of education in NMTech can be described as growing and resilient,” she said.
She then listed the organizations they have worked with which include the Humanities Council when they built a movie set for a film project, the Women’s Affairs Office for Women’s Month, and the Pacific Mini Games when they built media walls, billboards, podiums, umpire chairs, and a 15-foot latte stone that is now a part of the Oleai Sports Complex landscape.
Lastly, she talked about the newly launched NMTech website, nmtechcnmi.org, and a partnership with Guam Contractors Association in an attempt to establish the CNMI Contractors Association, and many other accomplishments over the past year and a half.
The last speech was made by Deleon Guerrero and he talked about taking care of their people, resources, and community.
In his speech, he said “taking care of our people first means taking care of our students and empowering them to succeed. To do that, we need to offer a wider range of engaging programs, develop more targeted student support services, and provide accelerated curricular and career pathways. To empower students to succeed, the college’s Student Support Services, led by dean Charlotte Cepeda, is leading the way, with programs like Project PROA, which provides a wide range of services and activities, including mentoring and tutoring, for high school and college students. And, with support from Gov. Torres and the Legislature, the Board of Regents has launched the Proa Promise Initiative, which provides a last dollar scholarship to new students, enhances wrap-around student support services, and improves job placement rates.”
He then talked about resources in the form of “building state-of-the-art facilities.”
Phase 1 will be the construction of the Student Center, the flagship building of the new campus, Phase 2 involves the construction of a three-story workforce development and training center building and the new Center for Research, Extension, and Development, or CRED building, Phase 3 will be the construction of two two-story multi-use classroom and services buildings, with each building housing 16 classrooms, and Phase 4 will see the construction of the facilities maintenance warehouse and procurement services to include exterior storage space and construction of a new gymnasium.
Finally, he talked about the community. “This begins by recognizing the role that Northern Marianas College plays when it comes to investing in our economy. We do that by meeting workforce needs, promoting more entrepreneurship, and cultivating problem-solving skills. The college has already begun investing in our economy with the recent decision by the Small Business Administration to establish and fund a Small Business Development Center, or SBDC, in the CNMI, which is once-again housed at the college. Since earning this designation, the SBDC has aggressively engaged with community partners to support the governor’s BOOST program, bring women entrepreneurs together for training and development, work with local farmers on securing micro-grants, and hosting several small business nights at the college’s Mango Terrace.”
The summit ended with Deleon Guerrero’s speech as he said, “steady the course, batten down the hatches, and let’s sail ahead together, as stewards of each other. And, above all, stay safe, stay calm, and sail on.”
The summit is an annual platform for NMC, NMTech, and PSS to come together and present plans for student success and workforce development to students, parents, guardians, elected leaders, government officials, and community partners.