Friends of the Mariana Trench Announce New ANA-funded Program: Project HOPE

The Friends of the Mariana Trench (FOMT) is excited to finally get to engage at selected PSS middle schools. Project HOPE (Healthy Ocean & People Empowerment), an ocean science program for CNMI sixth graders funded by a grant from the Administration of Native Americans (ANA) and made available through a partnership with PSS. 

Inspired by the desire to improve our 6th graders’ ACT Aspire test scores, Project HOPE uses experiential learning to increase students’ understanding of experimental results, inferences, evaluation of models and analyzing data. Our weekly ocean science learning sessions also combine traditional cultural methods and STEM principles to promote ocean conservation stewardship; local elders with a lifetime of ocean expertise participate in ocean science activities right along with CNMI 6th graders.

“The goal of Project HOPE is to make a crucial and complex subject like ocean conservation more accessible to our students,” said FOMT Executive Director and Project HOPE Director Laurie Peterka. “We believe that by creating fun, hands-on ocean science activities and incorporating local community members from multiple generations, we can help our students envision themselves as the CNMI’s next wave of ocean protectors.”

Project HOPE conservation teams consist of Ocean Elders, college students and 6th graders. FOMT is pleased and grateful to acknowledge our inaugural year’s ocean elders, Antonio U. Piailug, Cecilia K. Selepeo, Edson Limes, Joseph A. Omar, Frances Sablan, and Diego and Vicky Benavente. In support of our ocean elders, Project HOPE sessions will be facilitated by NMC Environment & Natural Resource Organization (ENRO) students Dhalian Alvarez Salas, Catherine Tanseco Calma, Eloise Lopez, Anela Duenas, Richelle Ramon, Wileen Mongami and Mathew Richardson.

Project HOPE will consist of approximately 12 weeks of activities, with teams meeting twice per week. FOMT’s Outreach Specialists team will engage in two-hour sessions every Friday at our three participating schools (Tanapag Middle School, Chacha Oceanview Middle School, and Dandan Middle School), followed by a three-hour session every Saturday at the Guma Sakman in Susupe. Teams will also participate in a stewardship project of their own creation, which will span the duration of the program. Project HOPE will conclude with a five-day ocean camp held from December 26-30 in coordination with MINA and 500 Sails.

FOMT has structured all its small group meetings as well as the ocean camp with appropriate social distancing protocols in place to protect all participants’ health as much as possible. Our COVID-19 protocols are based on CDC, CHCC Public Health and PSS guidelines.

“We’re grateful to our partners at CHCC and PSS for helping us design our activities so that they’re aligned with island-wide COVID-19 protocols,” said FOMT Assistant Project Coordinator Jessielynne Quitano. “It takes cooperation across our community to allow these programs to continue while preserving the safety of our students and their families.”

Because the global outbreak of COVID-19 prevented FOMT from initiating the program in Spring 2020 as planned, our Fall 2020 program will be for 7th grade students (Spring semesters 6th graders) and our Spring 2021 program will be for SY2020-21 6th grade students.

“I want to thank PSS principals for working diligently alongside FOMT to ensure that students and parents can easily register for Project HOPE,” added Project Coordinator Joseph Villacrusis. “Anyone interested in registering can contact FOMT or find the appropriate information and forms on the FOMT website.”

There is no cost for student participation. Registration is open through October 4th. You can obtain information from your school’s principal or contact Joe Villacrusis at (670) 483 – FOMT (3668). Orientation will be held on October 9 & 10 and is mandatory for all participants.  For more information, you may also visit our website at or email us at