The Majuro Cooperative School: A unique experience in education
Majuro Cooperative School (MCS or "Co-op" as it is often called) is a private, secular school educating students in grades pre-K through 11th. The school's campus is located on the southeast corner of Majuro Atoll, the capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The estimated 2007 population of the Marshall Islands is 53,000 with more than half that number living in Majuro.
The school was founded in 1975 by a small group of concerned parents who wanted to provide their children with a quality education. Co-op was first accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges in March 1994. In April 1997, the school was awarded a 3-year extension of its term of accreditation. It was revisited again in March of 2000, obtaining another 3-year term of accreditation, which was subsequently extended for an additional two years through 2005, and then again through 2007. In July of 2007 the school was accredited for three years through to the summer of 2010. In 2010 the school was given a 6 year accreditation by WASC.
Our Little United Nations
The school has grown significantly since its early days as a one teacher school with a single classroom. There are currently 321 students (about half boys and half girls) enrolled at Co-op, representing diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. The current ethnic/nationality makeup of the student body is very similar to what it was in the late 1990s. This is reflective of the fact that a consistently large number of Marshallese parents have chosen to send their children to Majuro Cooperative School because of its remarkable academic record.
The large percentage of Marshallese attending Co-op means that English is a second language for the majority of students. For the vast majority of Co-op students, even those who have one parent who is a first language English speaker, the language that they use with their family and friends is Marshallese, and English is used only at school. The need for strong English skills underlies the school's policy of starting English language instruction from the earliest grades in an effort to develop fluency in written and oral English among the students.
A significant challenge for the Marshall Islands is its transition from a rural, largely subsistence way of life to a highly urban, cash economy. Today, with more than 2/3 of the population living in the two major urban centers, cultural norms through the extended family system that governed the society for generations are breaking down.
In 2009 MCS students, parents and staff starred in the Marshallese feature length film, Ña Noniep (I am the Good Fairy)
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Traditionally, the biological parents did not provide nearly as much "parenting" as in the Western world. Such responsibilities were often handled by grandparents or aunts and uncles in tight-knit extended family units. But in today's urban centers, families have become more nuclear in makeup. Thus, there are many young parents in Majuro who have little or no "parenting" experience and skill and who also lack the English language proficiency needed to encourage their children's studies.
The lack of parenting knowledge and experience is compounded by the fact that close to 20% of all births each year in the Marshall Islands are to teenagers. This has led to noticeable problems in the urban centers. Lack of supervision results in a lack of discipline and established limits for children, and increasing anti-social behavior among teenagers has led to the formation of neighborhood gangs and violence that was virtually non-existent ten years ago.
Despite these increasing social problems relating to young people and their parents, children generally respond very positively to authority and the setting of limits. This is the case at the Majuro Cooperative School, which implements a school discipline policy that is delineated in the School Handbook. Over the years, in an effort to improve the conduct of students, the school has expanded the discipline policy in the Handbook in order to reinforce the procedures for insuring an acceptable standard of behavior.
In recent years there has been a more focused effort by the government of the Marshall Islands to improve education standards in the country in general and in public schools in particular. Poor academic achievement in many public schools, as documented through a variety of independent evaluations and student tests, resulted in many parents turning to private schools in an effort to provide a quality education for their children. The government's focus on education improvements and frank acknowledgment of the problems in the last four years has helped raise the awareness of and demand for quality education in the community.
Appropriate educational opportunities for children are limited in the Marshall Islands. The public schools are overcrowded. While there are many private schools, only two of these schools are accredited. The Majuro Cooperative School is one of the two accredited schools, and educates students in preschool through grade twelve. The lack of accreditation means that many schools lack the following: standards for instruction; licensed teachers; meaningful, standardized, challenging, and comprehensive curriculum; student performance that leads to success in higher education; and lack of meaningful and appropriate support for the many students who fail due to specific learning needs, including challenges with the language of instruction (English.)
There is an extremely high drop out rate, and most students who do graduate from schools in the Marshall Islands have difficulty succeeding even at the local community college. Recently published results for the MISAT (Marshall Islands SAT test) for the 2007-8 school year indicate that the majority of students (7 out of 10) in public schools in the Marshall Islands are "at-risk" in English. In private schools, students fare somewhat better, but up to 35% students in private schools are at risk in English. An inability to read, write, and speak English leads to failure in school, limited opportunities to succeed in higher education, poor job performance, and an inability to compete and succeed in today's global society.
Within both the Majuro community and the Marshall Islands, the Majuro Cooperative School is perceived as producing a high level of academic achievement. Annually, the MISAT (Marshall Islands SAT test) is administered for all 4th and 8th graders in the Marshall Islands. The Co-op School students consistently perform at the top for all schools in English, Reading and Math. Tuition fees generally cover the school’s recurrent operating costs . External grant funding has been used to address needed facility upgrades, Special Education programming, a computer lab for students, professional development for teachers, support for at-risk students, and curricular improvement. Fundraising and grants cover about a third of the school’s operating costs.
For many years, parents and staff at MCS considered the addition of a high school at program. In 2005 a committee of parents and administrators began to formalize plans to gradually add a high school program. At that time, the majority of graduating 8th grade students attended high schools off-island. Parents were interested in a challenging high school curriculum at Co-op that provided equivalent curricular and instructional standards to international high schools. Through grants and parental support, Coop school’s first high school class began in August 2008. The Majuro Cooperative High School provides families and students of the Marshall Islands an alternative to the previous options that include sending children to 1) Assumption High School (limited space and a Catholic orientation) or the Marshall Islands High School (a very large student body), which are the only other accredited high schools in the Marshall Islands ; 2) non-accredited local high schools 3) off island high schools. The Co-op High School added a tenth grade in 2009-2010 and will add the 11th and 12th grades for the 2010-2011 and the 2011-2012 school years.
Annual tuition at Majuro Cooperative School for the 2009-2010 school year is $2100.00 for grades K through 12th (it is slightly lower for the two levels of pre-K, which provide instruction limited to half days). The school's Board of Directors has frequently wrestled with the issue of the amount of tuition, attempting to strike a balance between school needs and parents’ ability to pay.
Majuro Cooperative School has the highest tuition of any private school in the Marshall Islands. Nevertheless, its current level allows many Marshall Islanders with modest income levels to send their children to the school.
English is the medium of instruction with specialty courses in Marshallese culture and language. Teaching staff in the 2011-2012 school year are from the United States, Fiji, Japan, Korea, and the Marshall Islands. The teaching staff brings together a unique collection of instructors with a wide range of academic training and experience. Because Marshallese see the value of strong English speaking and writing skills for their children, there is widespread support for the hiring of native English speaking teachers from off-island because of the perception that this translates directly into stronger English ability and fluency. The school's overseas recruitment also reflects the fact that there are few Marshallese teachers who have attained a B.A. or teaching certificate, and the few that have are mostly in the public school system.
HELP US CONTINUE TO FUND THE BUILDING OF OUR HIGH SCHOOL
The Majuro Cooperative School Board and the MCS PTA decided to move forward with a high school beginning with the 2008-2009 school year. During the 2011-2012 school year, we achieved this goal and had our first graduating high school class in June of 2012. We continue to search for ways to fund high school buildings and supplies.
To donate to this much needed project for the children of the Marshall Islands, please click on the "click to donate" icon at left.
We also have a program to help students with our tuition costs. If you would like to donate to this program, please make note of this desire when you send us your donation.
Majuro Cooperative School broke ground on March 10, 2008, to build two new Science and Social Studies classrooms for its Middle School. The high school had its first graduating class in June of 2012.
(photo) Students look on as Principal Kathy Stratte, Co-op Board member Jack Niedenthal, eighth grade Class President Anthony Reyes, Japan Embassy Charge d'Affairs Dr. Kazuyuki Ohdaira and Hideyuki Shiozawa along with building contractor and Board member Scott Howe, 'dig-in'.
Japan's Grassroots Grant program is providing $84,503 for the effort.