Friends of the Mariana Trench: Enrollment extended for Project HOPE

The Project HOPE leadership continues to adjust on a weekly basis to accommodate circumstances. Project HOPE’s latest registration deadline is October 22 to allow for more students to get involved. Additionally, due to low response at the originally selected schools, the program is being opened for all PSS Saipan middle school 7th graders for the Fall SY2020-2021 and all activities will be held at the Guma Sakman on Fridays. The original plan was to focus on only three PSS middle schools initially and to give the FOMT the opportunity to build capacity, then new schools could be added in subsequent years.

Project HOPE (Healthy Ocean & People Empowerment), an ocean science program underscored with local, cultural relevance, is funded by a grant from the Administration of Native Americans (ANA) and made available through a partnership with PSS. There is no cost for student participation. The Friends of the Mariana Trench (FOMT) is diligently working with PSS and other community leadership to recruit students for Project HOPE. There is still time to register your 7th grader!

Like most people, places, agencies and programs, Project HOPE’s schedule continues to adjust accordingly with the latest available information. The program was initially planned for Spring SY2019-2020 for 6th graders from Tanapag, Dandan and Chacha middle schools. When COVID rules created new norms, FOMT put the Spring program on hold and attempted to engage with parents and students for a summer program. When that did not work out, FOMT shifted again and aimed for the SY2020-21 Fall semester. SY2020-21 Fall will be focused on 7th graders because they would have missed the opportunity from the previous school year. SY2020-21 Spring will be available for this year’s 6th graders. 

“Our third attempt to engage was supposed to be the first week of October, but we had to delay and wait to hear how the new austerity Mondays decision would affect PPS,” said Project Coordinator Joseph Villacrusis. “Project HOPE’s schedule was built around austerity Fridays, providing students with after school learning opportunities on Fridays and Saturday mornings. We had to postpone our start to wait for PSS’s decision about which day would be their austerity day.”

“Our enrollment numbers have been affected by the new normal with COVID causing PSS to go to mostly virtual learning. It’s a lot for parents to deal with and now, with the change of the austerity day being Monday, there’s that much more to figure out,” said FOMT Assistant Project Coordinator Jessielynne Quitano.

Project Director Laurie Peterka shared, “There have been a lot of setbacks and adjustments to getting Project HOPE up and running. It seems like every other day we are working on new contingency plans, but we will do everything we can to make sure the PSS Saipan middle schoolers get the chance to try our program.”

Inspired by the desire to improve Saipan’s 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 are planned to 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. 

“I want to once again thank PSS principals for working diligently alongside FOMT to ensure that students and parents can easily register for Project HOPE,” added Villacrusis. “Anyone interested in registering can call me or view the project information and forms on the our website.” 

For more information you can contact Joe Villacrusis at (670) 483 – FOMT (3668) or visit the FOMT website at or email us at