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REL Pacific

Voices from the Region: A Conversation with Ms. Tiana Trepanier

REL Pacific
Laura Ostrow
August 14, 2020

Ms. Trepanier, locally-based consultant for REL Pacific in American Samoa

“At the end of the day, you're in the business to change lives. That's what education is. It's definitely not for the faint of heart. The lessons learned from this time have outweighed the negatives. We're still learning, we're still trying to improve, but...progress”
— Ms. Tiana Trepanier, REL Pacific consultant in American Samoa

Ms. Tiana Trepanier graduated from Chaminade University with a B.S. in Criminal Justice and a M.S. in Criminal Justice Administration. After serving in the United States Marine Corps she transitioned into education working at Argosy University as an adjunct criminal justice professor and at Wayland Baptist University as an adjunct justice administration professor. Ms. Trepanier also worked for 8 years at Manumalo Academy as an English and History teacher and as the high school principal. Following this, Ms. Trepanier began work as a developmental English instructor at American Samoa Community College before transitioning into her current position as the principal of South Pacific Academy. Ms. Trepanier has served as a locally based consultant for REL Pacific in American Samoa since 2019.

REL Pacific staff recently had the chance to catch up with one of REL Pacific's locally based consultants, Ms. Tiana Trepanier, about her work as an educator in American Samoa! Read on to learn more about Tiana's important work and how American Samoa is adapting their education system to the challenges that the COVID-19 crisis brings.

REL Pacific: Could you describe your position and work in your current role as an educator?

Ms. Trepanier: I'm with the American Samoa Community College (ASCC), but I'm transitioning out of that role. At ASCC I'm a developmental English instructor, working with students who aren't necessarily ready to take college classes and preparing them for when they are. I'm going back into private education soon, as the principal at South Pacific Academy in Pago Pago. Prior to ASCC I was in the private education system and now I've found my way back. The public education system has opened up my eyes a lot to what our needs are in terms of education as a whole in American Samoa. Together, we are trying to bridge that gap on how we can all work together to help our education system.

REL Pacific: What drew you to work in education?

Ms. Trepanier: I was in the military, stationed in Hawai'i. My background is in criminal justice. If you would have asked me 10 years ago if I would have been a teacher I would have said “no.” I got injured at Marine Corps Officers School. I needed a job and teaching was available. I loved the school where I was born and raised here on American Samoa, so I took a job here and after the first year I realized how difficult the job was, but also how much I loved it. And I've never looked back. There is truly a need here and I love my job.

REL Pacific: What are some of the current needs and challenges that you see through your work in education because of the COVID-19 crisis?

Ms. Trepanier: Of course, education is changing and will continue to change, so our question is not how will we integrate technology into our education system more, but now the question is how to effectively use distance learning in the future? What online platforms will we use? Difficulties have and will continue to surround consistency and accountability amongst students and teachers on these digital platforms. So, it's those challenges coupled with a lack of internet access, resources, and the challenges of homeschooling which have been very difficult for parents of our students. It's all about ensuring constant communication amongst everybody: teachers, parents, and administration. As difficult as it might seem, it's brought everyone closer together because we understand that we're all facing these challenges and struggles together.

The reality is that not all our students have computers or internet access. As a parent, I can see what's happening in my daughter's classroom. They are trying to align take-home packets to what the students are supposed to be learning and integrating all these new things while working to ensure that at the same time, no one gets left behind. A big part of what we've done here are those take-home packets. Depending upon the different needs of the classes, teachers have that option to use take-home packets in hybrid education as well. Parents would come to the school and pick them up to ensure that all our students are being reached. The reality is as much as we want to push our online schooling 100 percent it's not realistic. We have internet issues and most families don't have those resources. COVID has pushed us into online learning faster than we would like, but it's been a great push for us overall. Our situation is almost identical to other Pacific islands. At the forefront of our work to address these challenges are our teachers. They know the resources our students do or do not have. They know our students.

REL Pacific: Has American Samoa faced similar challenges in the past and how is this situation different from past challenges?

Ms. Trepanier: We have cyclones all the time. This last year has been crazy in terms of the amount of storms we have had on top of the measles epidemic and now COVID. Normally our closures are for a week or so. With COVID, now it's about “how are we going to prepare for the future” in situations that are as long as these. It's an eye opener to ensure that we start to think about implementing changes that will create progress in these processes so that we won't be left behind when something similar happens again. With all the bad things happening, it's surprising how much hope there is. There's just hope. People are just more focused on making the necessary changes and just trying to put proper processes in place as opposed to focusing on the negative. It's a lot more community-based and it's refreshing that people are coming together.

REL Pacific: Could you describe the actions that the American Samoa Department of Education have taken over the summer to mitigate some of these challenges?

Ms. Trepanier: Some of the things ASDOE has done over the summer are summer workshops for the teachers focused on blended learning, including Google classroom training and a variety of other platforms. Different schools were holding workshops for parents over the summer to teach them these skills as well. Having to be thrown into homeschooling is daunting and difficult, so I really like that our schools had those options. They did open up schools for the summer for kids who might not have met requirements, so we did have summer programs and school.

REL Pacific: How is the education system approaching these challenges and adapting education to the current crisis as we move into the school year?

Ms. Trepanier: ASDOE has their plans that the schools here will be following as they open within the next few weeks. For smaller schools, with student bodies of under 200 which are easier to facilitate social distancing with, they will be going back full time. For the bigger schools, they have planned that they will reopen and ninth and tenth grade will be doing classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and juniors and seniors will go in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and when they aren't in class they are doing online learning. They are limiting classrooms to 20 students, with a heavy push for proper hygiene, making sure we teach our students all the proper protocols.

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

Ms. Trepanier: It's difficult. I know for my students at ASCC it was difficult because they are developmental English students, so they are already behind the power curve. They are not as technologically savvy and most don't have computers. But when schools closed, we 100 percent got thrown into that online platform. I had to teach my students how to upload documents in email, we use Moodle, Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, and more to ensure that if this is the method that this kid needs, then that's what I'm going to do for them. It was difficult, but it got done. They still wanted to learn.

At the beginning I didn't know how we were going to do it, but at the end of the day communication is everything and I was so surprised at how many students finished the courses. They had to do more work of course, teach themselves proper time management, hold themselves accountable, and more. The lessons they learned from that probably pushed them forward a lot more and made them more confident in themselves. Now they have all these skills and know they were able to learn how to do it. I know for sure my students got a sense of accomplishment from it.

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

Ms. Trepanier: Since the beginning when our borders closed, our government has taken a more proactive stance, not a reactive stance. There's no way the virus could come to our shores. Our businesses are restricted now in their hours, we are practicing social distancing in stores, we are doing exactly what people are doing off-island. Now it's eased up a bit, but we are being proactive so that when we do open our borders, we can ensure we know how to conduct ourselves, so it doesn't spread. In the face of all this negativity, our people understand the rationale behind it and understand at the end of the day our safety is paramount. We're used to meeting up every weekend, having barbeques, going to the beach, having all of these social activities and now it's limited and difficult. But now we have time to focus on our families and different things, so as much as there are negative aspects, there are a lot of positives that have come. That “togetherness” is always going to be an island thing. That sense of community doesn't go away.

At the end of the day, you're in the business to change lives. That's what education is. Definitely not for the faint of heart. The lessons learned have outweighed the negatives. We're still learning, we're still trying to improve, but...progress.

We are so thankful for Tiana for sharing some insights from American Samoa and how ASDOE is responding to the COVID-19 crisis!