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Voices from the Region: A Conversation with Ms. Eleanor Ioanis

REL Pacific
Jason Victor
February 8, 2020

Eleanor Ioanis of Salapwuk Elementary School in Pohnpei

Eleanor Ioanis—Principal of Salapwuk Elementary, Pohnpei

Ms. Ioanis is the principal of Salapwuk Elementary, where she has been working for almost 40 years. Initially hired as a teacher in 1982, Eleanor became the principal in 2011. Salapwuk Elementary School is a small school in Pohnpei, serving a total of 46 students.

REL Pacific staff recently had the chance to catch up with Ms. Eleanor Ioanis, principal of Salapwuk Elementary, about her work as an educator in Pohnpei. Read on as Eleanor shares some insights as to how schools in Pohnpei are dealing with the challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic, current initiatives to improve stay-at-home learning, and lessons learned from their experiences in 2020.

REL Pacific: What are some current projects or initiatives at your school or in your work?

Ms. Ioanis: Schools in Pohnpei are practicing social distancing, and getting used to measures to protect against COVID-19 in case the virus ever hits the shores of Pohnpei.

REL Pacific: How are the students handling the changes?

Ms. Ioanis: Some kids are complaining that they miss their friends since they're not attending school at the same time. They don't know who to talk to, but I always tell them that everybody in this school could be their friend, so they have to make new friends! I don't have that many kids, only 46 students at my school, so it's good that they're being cooperative.

The kids do understand the importance of social distancing, but parents can have difficulty understanding.

REL Pacific: Are there any initiatives you've started to help parents understand the need for these measures?

Ms. Ioanis: We've had PTA meetings where I introduced the topic of COVID. I even talk with them in the evenings if I happen to run into them at the markets. I try to explain to them how important it is to be prepared if it hits us. Most of our homes are not that safe. The houses here are open: because of the tropical climate we enjoy living in open spaces. My school is way up on the mountains, close to the jungle, so we're kind of isolated.

Some [parents] said “Oh! We didn't know that this disease was that dangerous!” I even showed them clips, which is one way they came to understand what's happening.

REL Pacific: What do you expect will be different for you in 2021?

Ms. Ioanis: Some schools, the high schools, went back to the schedule they were following a year ago. They had very low academic performance at the end of the year, so they decided to go back to the old schedule.

What they were doing was to have freshmen come to school on Mondays, sophomores on Tuesdays, juniors on Wednesdays, seniors on Thursdays, and they correct papers on Fridays. That wasn't enough, because when they analyzed their findings, the academic performance was really low. So they asked the director if they could go back, so now they're back to their original schedule, with everybody going to school daily.

But us, a primary school, we're still half-and-half. In a meeting this morning, some principals suggested going back to the old schedule. The director said that we'd keep this schedule until January, then we'll decide what to do then.

From what the governor said, once COVID hits the shore, we will shut down completely.

REL Pacific: Are there any other measures you're taking to prepare for COVID?

Ms. Ioanis: Now we're working on learning packages. Teachers are providing lesson plans, along with worksheets, assessments, as well as the content of the lesson to help parents follow the lesson plan. Some parents wouldn't understand how to follow the lesson plan, so teachers write up content for them.

We're preparing these learning packages in advance so if COVID were to ever hit the shore, the schools would all shut down and we, the teachers, would have to take these packages to students' homes and introduce them to the parents. This way, the parents can help us. We'll be exchanging these packages between parents and teachers once per week. [Now], mostly parents help kids with homework. But they even come to school to help with cleaning.

All schools in Pohnpei are uniformly working on these learning packages. We're still working on it; we're not quite done yet. The deadline is supposed to be on December 23rd, which is when the Department of Education will be coming to check on our progress. But maybe they would need to extend the deadline. It's really hard for the teachers.

REL Pacific: What would you say is the biggest priority for your school?

Ms. Ioanis: Right now, I really want my school to be accredited. Now my staff are working on the learning packages, and I'm alone in preparing for the accreditation in March. And I want my students to pass the grades they are in and move on to the next level.

REL Pacific: How are the students handling the changes?

Ms. Ioanis: The students really don't like the changes. They have no choice but to deal with it, but they don't like it. Academic performance is suffering, like with the high schools.

REL Pacific: Is there anything you're doing to address their academic performance?

Ms. Ioanis: Since I don't have many students, we only have classes in the mornings. Everyone else on the island has classes in the morning and the afternoon. Half attend in the morning, and half in the afternoon. I am the only one that has all the classes in the morning. In the afternoon, we do tutoring.

On Monday, we prepare students for standardized tests that fourth, sixth, and eighth graders take in Math and English. We do this by looking at the poorest benchmarks from last year's students and work on those on Mondays for this year's students. And on Tuesdays, we tutor the low-GPA students in our schools.

REL Pacific: What made you decide on a morning-only schedule?

Ms. Ioanis: Some kids come from far away. Their homes are far and we don't have any buses. So, in order to get them home in the daylight, I thought of having classes in the morning only so that every student can get home safely each day. Some kids come from the woods where no car can go, so they need to get home in daylight.

REL Pacific: What's something you've learned from the changes caused by COVID?

Ms. Ioanis: Cleaning! Cleanliness! We don't usually wash our hands this often, and now I know I need to wash my hands every twenty minutes or something like that.

Even the kids are doing it. Every morning I take their temperature and see that they wash their hands before they can enter the classroom. Every morning.

We are so thankful to Ms. Ioanis for sharing some insights from Pohnpei and how they have adapted to the COVID-19 crisis!