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Voices from the Region: A Conversation with Mr. Dominic Fanasog

REL Pacific
Laura Ostrow
June 29, 2020

 Mr. Dominic Fanasog Yap, professional development coordinator at the Yap Department of Education central office speaking to a group of educators in Yap

“The sense of community in this part of the world is that ‘we get together.’ We chat, we eat together, but now it seems like that's going to be going a little different. This has changed everything. Tomorrow will never be like it is today. Even in small communities like this, we can never be like the way we were before. In a way it's good, but it has also changed the perspective of the togetherness that we have. It's still togetherness, but it's in distance. We're together...we're just six feet away.”
—Mr. Dominic Fanasog, Yap Department of Education

Mr. Dominic Fanasog graduated from the Micronesian Occupational College in Republic of Palau with a major in Automotive Technology. He worked at Yap High School as a Vocational teacher and grade 10 and 11 English teacher for seven years. Mr. Fanasog took a break from his education career to work as a marine engineer for 10 years before returning to Yap High School as a teacher and then principal. Mr. Fanasog then joined the Yap Department of Education central office, where he has now worked for 27 years and is currently a professional development coordinator.

REL Pacific recently had the chance to catch up with one of REL Pacific's locally based consultants, Mr. Dominic Fanasog, about his work in Yap State in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Read on to learn more about Dominic's important work and how Yap is adapting their education system to address the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.

REL Pacific: Could you describe your current role at the Yap Department of Education (YDOE)?

Mr. Fanasog: My current role now is acting as a professional development coordinator doing professional development for the YDOE. We have had a little restructuring at the department, so now I focus more on teacher certification, accreditation, and dealing with outside partners like the REL, PREL [which holds the Region 18 and 19 Comprehensive Centers], and institutions of higher education. My responsibilities include making sure our teachers are certified, our schools are reaching accreditation requirements, and trying to work with partners to help them in development.

REL Pacific: What drew you to work in education?

Mr. Fanasog: Well, originally, I was a teacher and then I became a principal at the Yap high school. Then the director of YDOE wanted me to do some trainings for teachers at the central office and that was how I transitioned into this position now. So, I am first and foremost a classroom teacher, which helps me in my work. Being a principal at the Yap high school was also a big help for me in learning how to identify training needs for the teachers and also for the system itself.

REL Pacific: What are some of the current needs and challenges that you see through your work at YDOE due to the current COVID-19 crisis?

Mr. Fanasog: A lot of work needs to be done due to the COVID-19 crisis, especially when we have had school closed for several months now. This is only the second or third week we've been back at school since closing, and school will be in session until the end of June or early July to allow us time to complete the fourth quarter of this school year.

One thing that I see is very important not only for COVID-19, which was the eye opener, but for the future as well, is that the system should be looking into PBL, or “project-based learning,” or in our definition here we call them “home packets” where we give students work to do at home. We started this as a trial during COVID-19 with Yap high school students here because not all students have access to internet so we can't really rely on the virtual learning process. In response, we have had to really come up with an alternative, such as these home packets, for the students to be able to learn. We're still exploring how to enhance those packets into projects, where you could give a project to a student and the student could be graded across all subject areas, rather than just a science project, or a language project. You can actually gain a lot of subject area reading out of one single project, but there are guidelines that we have to develop for these for students as they transition into working by themselves. They need to learn how to manage time better on their own, plan when they will do the project, and plan how they will manage that.

So, I think even though we are facing challenges with COVID-19, the other side of this is that it is opening up other avenues for us to work with. We can not only use these avenues through COVID-19, but we can use them, for example, during typhoons. Every year almost we have typhoons coming around the islands and afterwards there is always a restructuring of the schools. For example, sometimes we have no power or buildings are down, so students can use those packets to actually stay at home and work instead of not being able to continue with schoolwork during these times. I think it's a plus in some ways, and I think the COVID-19 pandemic is really an eye opener, especially for us.

REL Pacific: Has Yap DOE faced similar challenges in the past, and how is this situation different from past challenges?

Mr. Fanasog: Yes, and the difference is that during typhoons we haven't made home packets, and now we are starting to try to develop them so if this happens again, we'll already have the packets for students to take home or for their parents to come and get.

REL Pacific: How is the education system approaching these challenges and adapting education to the current crisis?

Mr. Fanasog: It's really going to change the way people live, especially in small islands like this. Everyone knows each other, but we can't get too close to one another. It's a social change that is going to be very difficult for everybody. So, in the classroom, they are putting up wash stations for students to use before coming into the classroom, and teachers need to disinfect almost everything before they leave and before the students come back in the morning. Even the way we live is starting to change, so that is amazing. We are stepping into an almost non-island style way of life. But in a sense, it's good. We show that we care for each other more.

REL Pacific: Could you tell me more about your teachers and students and their responses to these challenges?

Mr. Fanasog: Well, most of them are not used to all of these changes, so they kind of rebel against it, but the moment you start telling them why they need to do it, and what happens if they don't do it, they start to understand. It's understanding why they need to do those things. Even though Yap doesn't have COVID-19 here yet because we closed our borders just when it started spreading out, eventually we have to open the borders. Our economic impact is very high from this so eventually we need to open up, but the best way to do it is we get educated ourselves so when we open the borders we already know what we're going to be facing, rather than it being too late.

REL Pacific: Could you describe YDOE's plans moving forward into the summer and next school year?

Mr. Fanasog: We're still projecting to open the schools up in mid to late July for next school year, but it really depends between now and then if we get COVID-19 and it isn't contained, we may have to push the opening of the schools, or have the packets in place. Some of the schools had to become quarantine facilities, so that's why some schools had to close earlier when flights were still coming in. For the home packets so far, it has only been the high school that was having the trial, but the curriculum plan is to prepare those home packets for longer periods of time if needed in the future.

REL Pacific: What are some strengths of your community that are helping to fight this current challenge?

Mr. Fanasog: The community is very sensitive to this sickness and to keeping everyone safe. I know our communities are supporting this crisis by everyone following the rules to keep everyone safe. For an island community to avoid crowds and follow all these rules, that is really hard. The sense of community in this part of the world is that “we get together.” We chat, we eat together, but now it seems like that's going to be going a little differently. This has changed everything. Tomorrow will never be like it is today. Even in small communities like this, we can never be like the way we were before. In a way it's good, but it has also changed the perspective of the togetherness that we have. It's still togetherness, but it's in distance. We're together...we're just six feet away.

We are so thankful for Mr. Fanasog for sharing some insights from Yap and how YDOE is responding to the
COVID-19 crisis!