July 23, 2012

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

July 12, 2012 Pohnpei, FSM-Upward Bound students are half way through summer school at Pohnpei Island Central School. The Upward Bound program has held summer school before but the 64 students from all over the island including two students from the Marshall Islands; the cream of the crop of their schools, according to test scores and school grades, are the first ever in the FSM to have been taught by ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) Cadets participating in the Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency (CULP) program.

U.S. Ambassador Peter Prahar beamed this morning as he watched the Micronesian students in their classroom settings participating and studying difficult subjects diligently and effectively.

The students are living on the PICS campus in the dorms and at least while the ROTC Cadets have been part of the summer school a typical day begins at 6:00 a.m. with Physical Training followed by breakfast and a full day of rigorous instruction and study. Classroom instruction includes English language courses including reading for comprehension and vocabulary building, Mathematics, and science. But not just any Math or science courses; students were given training in second level calculus, physics, and chemistry, scary subject even for college students.

Two days before the Cadets were scheduled to leave island, Lt. Colonel Michael Feret of Columbus State University in the U.S. State of Georgia, who is also the CULP Program Coordinator for the FSM said that the program had been a win-win situation for the Upward Bound students and for the Cadet teachers.

The Cadet instructors said that they noticed during the first three weeks of the program that student vocabularies had increased and they had seen increased student confidence. The Upward Bound participants have also been exposed to college students from many different schools in the United States; the Cadet teachers.

Lt. Colonel Feret said that the Cadets had opportunity to create the curriculum, develop lesson plans, and to work as a team. Several of the Cadets said that the latter opportunity was surprisingly difficult but rewarding.

One Cadet said that since all of her associates are on an Officer track for the US Armed Forces they all have fairly dominant, leadership oriented personalities. She said that it was an excellent learning experience to really learn how to work as a team, even if it was sometimes difficult and sometimes even frustrating.

Several Cadets agreed with Lt. Colonel Feret's assessment that it was good for the Cadets to see how people in other countries live.

"They couldn't just get on their cell phones and surf the net like they're used to doing," Feret said. It was even good for them to experience power outages. "They're not used to those kinds of things in the U.S.," he said with a grin. One Cadet said that she had never heard of "cash power." Lt. Colonel Feret said that all of the experiences will help to prepare the Cadets to be better U.S. Army officers. 1600 ROTC Cadets participated in CULP programs in 83 countries this summer. Though this is the first time that Cadets of the CULP program have visited the FSM, plans are already in progress for another group of Cadets to come to the FSM next summer.

Both for the Cadets and the Upward Bound students, the summer program helps to avoid the "summer slide" that students so often experience. Ambassador Prahar said that after nine months of intense education and study it's easy for a student to "lose the program" during the summer months only to have to come back and start again when the have to rebuild their learning momentum.

Cadet Maychee Zah who attends the University of Georgia said that she discovered that the Micronesian students didn't relate to the English textbooks. The topics they covered had nothing to do with their lives, she said. She was surprised to find out that the Upward Bound students liked poetry so they studied some poetry and wrote their own poems. "Some of them were really good," she said. "It was cool to see a lot of improvement," she said, and her eyes flashed like party lights.

Zah said of her experiences on Pohnpei that she enjoyed all of her trips with the students and with other Cadets. She most enjoyed climbing "chicken shit" rock in Palikir. Her CULP experience made her "a lot more open to new experiences" especially in terms of food. On a fishing trip the Cadets "ate the heart right out of fish, right on the boat," as is traditional for some in Pohnpei. It was something she never thought she'd experience or for that matter, ever considered.

Melissa Fellrath is in her fifth year at Columbus State University where she is studying Special Education, a degree that requires an additional year of education. In Pohnpei she taught Introduction to Literature. She said she was impressed to watch the progress of the students. By the end of her time in Pohnpei the Upward Bound students were speaking more clearly and were not afraid to speak out in class.

"The kids who are here want to be here," she beamed. "That's really exciting and it makes it fun!"

The CULP experience showed her how different her culture is from the culture in Pohnpei and it taught her to be more humble about her life in the U.S.

Her favorite experience was snorkeling in the waters of the Ant atoll lagoon; seeing little "Nemo's," (clown fish). She had never been snorkeling before.

The U.S. Department of Education's Upward Bound is designed to increase the rate at which participants complete secondary education and enroll in and graduate from institutions of postsecondary education.

Cadet teachers were: Zhe Pan - Temple University; Samuel Watts - Minnesota State University; Andrew Munger - Wake Forest University; Daniel McRoy - Western Kentucky University; Stephen Cherry - Stephen F. Austin University; and Jack Wood - Lewis University in addition to the Cadets named in the content of the article above.

To quote a recent U.S. Embassy press release: "The Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps was formed when President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Defense Act of 1916. Since its inception, Army ROTC has provided leadership and military training at schools and universities across the country and commissioned more than a half million officers. It is the largest commissioning source in the U.S. Armed Forces."

Lt. Colonel Feret said that ROTC CULP Cadets were not in the FSM for recruiting purposes.