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Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

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Building Partnerships: The "Healthy Reefs, Healthy Fish" Teacher Camp

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Miss Megan is from Saipan, CNMI.  Miss Megan is a sixth grade teacher at Saipan’s biggest elementary school, Garapan Elementary School.  Every morning she greets this very diverse group of children.  In her classroom of 25 students, over seven different first languages other than English are spoken. 

 

Miss Megan signed up for the Coral Reef Teacher Camp as part of the CNMI Public School System’s annual and required Professional Development Days.  Aside from time spent at the beach swimming and snorkeling, Miss Megan knew very little about the islands’ coral reefs.  She could tell you that they were beautiful, that they didn’t look as healthy as they did twenty years ago, and that they were worth protecting.

 

The Teacher Camp was developed as part of the CNMI Pride Campaign’s effort to build ownership of and pride in our local MPAs as a means to address sustainable fishing and coral reef health.  Coordinating closely with the local Public School System, the event was included as an option during the annual, and mandatory, Professional Development Days.  The idea was to give teachers some coral reef basics, stress the importance of our Marine Protected Areas, provide them with materials to take back to their classrooms, and facilitate lesson plans and field trips for them to conduct on the information they gathered.

 

Miss Megan came to the Teacher Camp, like many with a number of barriers in front of her. 

 

·        It is difficult to incorporate coral reefs and MPAs into your lesson plans, if you the teacher is not comfortable with the information

·        It is hard to help build pride and ownership in MPAs if you are not even aware that they exist, are not sure why they exist, where they are located, and the rules that go along with them

·        Saipan is home to three “No-Take” protected areas.  Two of which are at the far northern end of the island, require a significant hike to get to, and can be hard to find.  The third is only accessible via boat.  How do you feel pride, how can you take ownership…further more, how can you teach these things if you have never been there yourself?

·        Once you have climbed over these hurdles, there are more to face.  Without available transportation, how can you take your students to learn about these places, see these places and know these places?  Busses cost over $100.00 for a round trip fair, food and water add to that cost.

 

So, in order to get more people to visit our MPAs, to develop Pride in them and feel ownership of them, the teacher camp, with the help of our many partners (teachers included) worked to break down these barriers faced by Miss Megan and other teachers.

 

·        Thanks to a partnership with two other government agencies the Division of Environmental Quality and Coastal Resources Management Office to provide expert instruction from two of our islands leading marine biologists.  Miss Megan was excited about what she learned in “Coral Reef 101.”  It helped her understand why the reefs are so colorful, why they are important, and why they don’t look as healthy as they may have twenty years ago,

·        With the help of MPA Conservation Officers from the Division of Fish and Wildlife Miss Megan and the other teachers were instructed on where our MPAs are, why they are important, and what rules to follow when we visit these places.

·        Thanks to the local NGO Mariana Islands Nature Alliance and the National Park Service, Teachers became the students during the camp and we took them on a field trip.  Beginning at the island’s highest point Miss Megan got a bird’s eye view of the coral reefs that surround Saipan, followed by a trip to two of our MPAs.  She got hands on experience on how to plan and conduct this sort of field trip.

·        And, as a result of the partnership with local NGO Marianas Islands Nature Alliance, as part of the teacher camp, Miss Megan was asked to create three lesson plans.  Two of which were to be conducted at school, and the third which was a field trip.  All teachers who completed the three lesson plans were given funding and assistance to carry that field trip out with their class

 

So as you can see, a great many partnerships went into the developing and implementation of the Teacher Camp.  I was very excited to have such a variety of groups involved.  Together we made the camp a success…a lasting success. 


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