By Liberty Dones

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, July 9) - The Public School System next month will begin a bilingual immersion program, extending the use of Chamorro and Carolinian in teaching all subject areas.

PSS bilingual program coordinator Jess Elameto said the use of both local languages will now cover other subjects but will only be limited to about half of the class time.

"For example, if they teach Math or Science for 45 minutes, half of that time or 22.5 minutes will be in Chamorro or Carolinian. The other half of the time will be done in English," said Elameto.

The immersion program is a pilot project for the Oleai and Kagman Elementary Schools beginning this fall.

PSS has identified some $90,000 in federal money to fund the pilot project. The bilingual program gets no local funding as yet.

The PSS began Monday its three-week bilingual teacher institute, participated in by over 40 teachers from the three islands.

"We've only allotted 40 slots but we've got more than that; there's a big demand," said Elameto.

Elameto, who speaks both local languages, handles the Carolinian group, while former Education Superintendent Herman Sablan handles the Chamorro group.

Bilingual class is a required subject in elementary. It is optional among junior and high school students.

Under the current program, bilingual is taught for 300 minutes a day covering all elementary grades.

Elameto said the immersion program's ultimate goal is to elevate the academic learning of CNMI students.

He cited a study by the U.S.-based Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence, which, proved that children who are taught in their native tongue perform better in schools.

"That's why we've decided to teach our students the language that they speak at home. It's much better for them to learn that way," he said.

He said that, as students widen their linguistic skills such as vocabulary knowledge, they could then translate the subjects to English.

"The point here is we develop the native language first because students will really excel that way," he said.

July 9, 2003

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