Both the Tanapag Village and its school, Tanapag Elementary School, are small but stable elements of the larger Saipan island community.  The school was started about 1962 as the island families recovered from the total destruction caused by the U.S. invasion of 1944 and returned to live in their former village site on the northern edge of Tanapag Harbor which had been cleared of war detritus and resurveyed for habitation.  The village has developed slowly over this period, however, with only the addition of a small homestead development on its southern edge in 1984 and a garment manufacturing agency on its eastern side in 1987.

The departure of the U.S. Naval government and the Central Intelligence Agency covert operation from the Marianas in 1961 had ushered in an era of change and under the Department of Interior stewardship social and political development would begin in earnest in the U.N. mandated Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands which included the Northern Mariana Islands.

The first significant funding for education, for example, in the Northern Mariana Islands came with the Accelerated School Construction Program (ASCP) in 1963 from the Kennedy administration's reaction to a critical UN Trusteeship visiting commission report of 1961.  American teachers came in greater numbers to most of the schools but now federal funds were added to programs and especially to physical plant.  Tanapag Elementary School's temporary structures of wood frames, screened windows, and corrugated metal siding and roofing were replaced with composite cement bock walls, and truss-framed roofs.  Over the three decades since then these composite stuctures have been incrementally replaced by cement block walls, louvered windows and shingle roofs structures and the most recent full cement structures.

The school can be considered small when compared to other Saipan elementary schools as it has just over three-hundred(300) students and a staff of almost sixty (60).  While the rate of students growth has been low over the past decade (less than 4%) the student body has only passed 300 this year. Bacause the growth has been relatively low and constant the student population has not outgrown campus stuctures and we have been able to house our students in safe and comfortable rooms each year.  Even with three classroom devoted to special subject use (computer, art, bilingual) this school year there is an average of 24 students per classroom.

This year and next will be the last years with class sizes having fewer than twenty students, however, as there are now increasing numbers entering the Kinder and 1st grade levels.  Keeping pace with the perceived growth and shrinking budgets the Parent-Teachers Association, the Board of Education and the Public School System administration have sought alternate to concrete and containing four classrooms.  This will be erected shortly and is expected to be ready for the start of SY 95/96.

Finally, it should be noted that Tanapag Elementary is community school serving an area of only eight square miles.  Less than thirty students are transported from out of the attendance zone to the school by either family car or school bus.  These have been done on a waiver basis in order to accomodate students whose families have recently moved to another attendance zone or would otherwise experience undue hardship.  We have been quite flexible in the matter of out-of-zone attendance as our concern is for the well-being of these children and their education program continuity.

The school has received an infusion of federal CIP monies over the past decade and has a total of ten buildings which includes a new library, cafeteria and six permanent clasrooms completed since 1989.  A second, pre-engineered classroom structure is being added in 1996 to replace an original wood-tin structure destroyed by a 1987 fire.  For the most part, the school structures are "cement hardened" and have emerged from several super typhoons intact and operational.

Like other Saipan public schools there are three distinct architectural types which detract somewhat from overall appearance but students and staff have covered the school whith environmental theme murals which have added an attractiveness that compliments the village.  A standard six-foot perimeter fence encloses 3.5 hectares of campus area containing a base ball field, volleyball courts, outdoor stage and two lower elementary playgrounds.

Electric power is constant, and, with a rain and water cachment/ storage system, there is drinking water and functioning sanitation facilities throughout the year.

Tanapag is undergoing both change and growth in an almost leisurely fashion when compared to the exposive growth in other schools and villages on Saipan.  Remarkably after a decade of vigorous Saipan economic growth, Tanapag village is still intact and relatively homogeneous.  However, us the community has grown and diversified, so has the school, student body, its staff, programs and physical facilities.

Tanapag Elementary has a population of 405 students which includes Carolinian, Chamorro, Chuukese, Chinese, Filipino, Ponapean, Marshallese, Bangladeshi and American ethnic groups.

There has been rapid economic growth and a population change spurred by the growth of tourism and garment industries over the past decade in the CNMI.  Permissive migration policies included within political agreements of the 1970's and 1980's among the former Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands entities (the CNMI, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Belau) have permitted unlimited migration to both the CNMI and Guam and have resulted in a substantial influx of young islanders, singles and families, from these central Pacific islands into the CNMI in search of jobs and a more westernized life style.

The garment industry, too, has contributed another seven-thousand workers of Asian origin, while the stimulated economy brought another ten thousand persons, mostly laborers from the Philippines for the service and construction sectors of the economy, to the Northern Marianas communities to live.  There has been significant intermarriage across the entire range of CNMI ethnic groups, and now, its effect is becoming evident in the school system as family names, physical features, first languages, cultural patterns and heritage are reflected with each new level of students entering the school.

Migration and settlement has not been even within the Commonwealth.  While migration has been from across the former U.S. Pacific territories for economic motives to settle in the CNMI as a whole, those from Chuuk State within the FSM have come to Tanapag village because of the clan ties and shared language of the Carolinians (Repaganuhr) who took up residence in the Tanapag area more than 100 years ago under the Spanish colonial administration.  Today, 55% of our students are either Carolinian or Chuukese or claim cultural or linguistic ties as Chamorlinians (intermarried Chamoros and Carolinian speakers).

The majority of our students share a Carolinian or Chuukese cultural heritage which has been reinforced by a constant, small but significant, in-migration of outer-island Carolinians from Chuuk and other former members of the trusteeship to the CNMI and into the Tanapag community.  Although they are recognized and respected at home in the community and on campus.  And in an effort to strengthen and rebuild student cultural identity the school and community have long sought to promote this cultural and linguistic distinction and reaffirm their roots on the one hand, while linking them to the commonalities of island cultures and the world through the Carolinian and Chamorro / Bicultural Program hosted by the school.

Another quarter or 27% of our students share Chamorro culture and language ties.  The chamorro are the orginal inhabitants of this archipelago who had intermarried with other Spanish colonials from Mexico and the Philippines over the past 350 years.  While there appears to be greather assimilation evident into the western world, the Chamorro have maintained major language and cultural components of their earlier culture until today.

Tanapag Elementary School administration continues to seek out and build a staff that reflects the ethnicity and culture of its students.  We believe that the culture and language components of child's identity are critical to their development and total well-being.  Today, our staffing reflects both adult male and female cultural resented by our students - the Pohnapeian and Asian.  The school administration, however, does incorporate native speakers for these students in alternative ways to that of full-time staff employment until qualified individuals can be found.

The language central to the curriculum is English and the largest single group of teachers are Americans (7) whose first language is English.  The twenty-two others have English as a second language.  The ability of the latter varies but all non-resident/non-U.S. citizen teacher applicants are required to pass a recognized screening test that sets an entry level for English reading and speech as part of the classroom teacher employment requirements.


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Government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
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Rachelle A. Ruivivar