Jun 26, 2009

P.I.C.--Recipe for a Perfect Day

Pacific Islands Club. To truly experience it, you really need the whole day. I mean, sure, those little two hour trips for free with the students on a weekday morning are nice and all, but for the proper PIC experience you've gotta go full-day, lunch at the Magellan included.

One of my favorite memories of our first year in Saipan, was the trips Steve took the staff on to PIC. The resort had just expanded it's water park, adding the lazy river, the Point Break flow rider machine, and some additonal slides, so everything was brand spankin' new. We had so much fun together as a staff, playing volleyball, and an enthusaistic game of water polo, stuffing ourselves at the Magellan buffet, and riding down the lazy river on a giant train of inner tubes, one big joyous, sun-soaked family.

Since then the staff at SDA has grown to the point where such trips aren't financially feasible anymore, but Babs and I continued,on our own, to make a habit of going to P.I.C. for the day. In recent years, we'd started making it a Christmas vacation tradition.

Well, this past year, we were in the States for the holidays and next year we will be again, so we decided to take a classic Day at PIC two weekends ago on June 14, 2009.

Here's our recipe for what amounts to a pretty near perfect day--a day at PIC.

Welcome to Pacific Islands Club! Let the fun begin

We always start off the day with a couple rounds on the lazy river.

On a nice, sunny day, it feels especially good to get drenched by the waterfall.

After some rest, we're ready to hit the water slides. There are two small slides that splash into the large free form pool. Me and the Feller are stadning near one entrances (You can just make out the foam at the right behind me where the flume hits the water).

After awhile Babs usually gets a little dizzy from floating in a long, lazy loop for so long, so we head back to our chairs, for some reading and maybe a little nap.

It's time for lunch, and after a morning in the sun and water, the Magellan hits the spot.
In my opinion, P.I.C.'s Magellan restaurant has the best buffet on Saipan (well, with the possible exception of Sundays, when the Hyatt's famous Sunday brunch gives the Magellan a serious run for its money). You can stuff yourself on a multitude of delicious entrees, select delicasies from the monster-sized salad and dessert bars, and stop in at a chef's station or two to top it off. All the big hotels and resorts on Saipan, but none, on a daily basis, come close to the quality and variety of the Magellan.

I didn't actually take the photo above by the way. Babs and I didn't take any photos from our day at PIC until the afternoon when we came back with Elijah. So I nabbed this one from PIC's website. The funny thing is the model family in the photo are people we actually know--our friends Tyce and Angie Mister and their kids.

After lunch, we went back and retrieved Elijah from Virle who was watching him, and brought him back so he could experience some P.I.C. magic too. We started by taking him to the kiddy pool, pictured here.

Elijah with Mom and Dad at PIC

Retrospectives: The First Year


The Maycock Family, 1998

Looking back You know You had to bring me through
All that I was so afraid of
Though I questioned the sky, now I see why
Had to walk the rocks to see the mountain view
Looking back I see the lead of love
--"Lead of Love" Caedmon's Call

The Maycock Family 2009

This is the first in a series of blogs reflecting back on our years in Saipan.

The 1998-1999 Saipan team in Hawaii, August 1998. From L to R, standing: Principal Steve Namkung, Susanne Namkung (holding daughter Katie), preschool teacher Emily Finch, officer manager Melissa Sell, Me, Babs, kindergarten teacher Shelly Willauer, then-GMM education director Wlibur Claus. Kneeling, L to R: preschool teachers Lisa Kapiniak and Cherie Dale.

We were young. 25 and 28 years old. Fresh out of college. Married just over a year. Not quite ready to settle down to conventional, suburban American life and not quite ready to marooned miles and an ocean from civilization.

And so, eleven years ago this coming August the gentle hand of God led us to Saipan--a gem of white sand beaches,aqua blue water, and verdant tropical greenery that hid a McDonalds, a KFC, and even a Wendy's behind it's small island front. It had the conveniences of home, without the soul-numbing excesses and hyperspeed pace.

From the moment we arrived, we felt blessed to be here.

Back then we lived in the little apartment with the low-ceilinged loft bedroom and hot pink carpet (back then that carpet was brand-new, much to Bab's dismay so we couldn't justify getting rid of it). These days it's the main teacher apartment and has a large second bedroom and bath built on where the sidewalk, laundry room, and plumeria tree used to be. We drove the little white Toyota pick-up truck, the twin to the blue pick-up (now known as Rusty) driven by 3/4 teacher Jeanie Drake, who lived next door to us. Barbara taught 1st and 2nd grade in the same classroom it's taught in now. I taught 7th and 8th grade upstairs.

The first year was all about learning. Despite our prior experiences in the classroom (Barbara had been a second grade teacher in Palau in 1992-1993 and I had been a 5/6 and high school English teacher in Chuuk in 1994-1995) and our training in the field, we were essentially new to our jobs. There was so much we didn't know. But we learned, and we not only survived but we thrived in that first year.

Here are three big lessons I learned during that first year of finding my footing and making my way:

1. Ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask, ask, and ask some more. I did. During that first year I was constantly at principal Steve Namkung's door, picking the brain of longtime teacher Will DeWitt, and getting pointers from Jeanie, who only had a few years seniority on me. I'm sure there were those who tired of my many questions about classroom management, lesson planning, teaching, the grading program, 8th grade class, etc etc, but I refused to feel bad about it. It was hard enough being unsure-I wasn't going to waste a moment being embarrassed to find the answers I needed. Just as the best students always ask for help when they need it, the best teachers are never shy to seek resources, assistance, and advice from those around them. Veteran teachers and the principal are great sources of wisdom. You may actually not need as much as help as you think you do--but don't worry about it, go ahead and ask, just to be on the safe side.

2. You're doing better than you think you are. So don't beat yourself up. That first year, my missteps and mishaps seemed so horrible, so huge. I was certain I was making mistakes that would screw these kids up for life. There was the time Jessica threw cake in Jamal's face at lunch time, and he chased her out of the lunchroom, out the back gate and down the street. And then the time Abbey just disappeared for an hour or two--how does a teacher lose a seventh grader--only to finally discover her hiding under my desk, where she'd apparently been all along. There was the parent who referred to me as a "penny teacher" (I guess I was two persnickety about little things, a penny counter, in his estimation). On the 8th grade class trip to Bali, I lost $76 of the class's money to shady money-changers. When these and other minor catastrophes occured I felt like the biggest failure in the teaching profession. But I wasn't. I was growing.

And the kids? They turned out fine. They managed to graduate 8th grade and high school. Many have already graduated from college, some are working on the Masters degrees. The parent became one my favorite aquaintances, always great for a chat when our paths cross (turns out he's a teacher too). And the money was long replaced and the 8th grade finances remain solvent.

Yes, you're making a lasting impact on your students, but don't worry, you can afford a few little mistakes (and even some big ones), a few less-than perfect moments without it ruining their lives. The good you're doing invaribly far outweighs the bad.

Our first 8th grade class trip, to Bali, in March, 1999. From L to R, back row: Babs, Jennifer Angello, Levayna Ngirablosch, Nick Tollett, Daniel Nevitt, co-sponsor Melissa Sell, Jane Moore, Clarence Manglona, Jamal Palican. Kneeling, Josh Hardt, Myoung Hun Kim, and Me.
3. Work hard, but not too hard. Babs and I worked so hard that first year. We came early and stayed late (going home at seven or eight in the evening was not unheard of). And Sunday? It was all work, all day. There was a never-ending mountain of work to do--lesson plans to create, classrooms to decorate, a continuous stream of grading--and we were determined to get it all done. Of course we couldn't, but we didn't know that. We were young, idealistic (some would say perfectionistic), energetic, and determined to do it all. I remember Steve sitting us down in his office one day, and asking us if we ever planned to have children. We said yes, eventually. He said, "Well, you're going to have stop working and go home if you're ever going to have a chance to make that happen." He was kidding of course, but he was serious in telling us we needed to slow down, and pace ourselves.

Babs and I in our teacher's uniforms and ready for work.

Over the years, hard work has been our hallmark. We eventually got the systems in place so that we didn't need to spend so much prep time in the classroom, but then we added other responsibilities like coaching volleyball or basketball, REAL Christian Theater, serving as church elders, and, in Barbara's case, becoming the school principal. As a result, I don't think there's ever been a year in Saipan where we haven't been busy. We believe in putting in the full effort, taking joy in the work, and looking back I don't regret the hours and labor we put into the school. But we have also learned to relax more. I stopped going in on Sundays years ago, and we usually get home while it's still light outside now. We've made time for the many leisure activites available to us here on Saipan--going to the Mandi, the gym, scuba diving, running on the beach pathway. We found a good pace and eleven years later, we haven't burned out yet!

Taking some time out for some fun. Check out those jumpers the women on our staff had to wear. "Tent dresses" was one of the nicer names we had for those frocks. Babs hated them!

So we made it through the first year, and we couldn't have done it without the support of our friends and colleagues: Our principal Steve Namkung, his warm and welcoming wife Susanne, and their adorable daughter Katie; Jeanie Drake, who lived next door to us and worked next door to Barbara; the Hartshorns--George, Denise, Lauren, and Leah--who always invited us to P.I.C. (and we hardly ever went because we were "too busy." Babs and I were talking about this just last week, and we looked at eachother and said "What were we thinking?!?) and who let us housesit in their gorgeous Mt. Tapochau home that summer after the first year; Jana Gatchet, our preschool director, who always gave me my monthly haircuts, Ricardo and Gina Rankin, the Taitigues, the Hardts. And of course there were the first of the many student missionaries we'd come to know and love over the years--Tenera, Cherie and Lisa, and our "daughter", Melissa Sell.

Babs and I with Steve, Susanne, and Katie Namkung. Imagine how crushed we were when they told us that they'd be moving to Chuuk the next year. We only had them for a year, but they are a truly lovely family and they continue to hold a special place in our hearts.

Two of our SM's, Cherie Dale and Lisa Kapaniak, at the airport about to take their Long Walk, June 1999. I remember being kind of blue for a week or so after they left--they were such good friends.

"The Janos". Babs and I with our "daughter", Melissa Sell, in Guam, January 1999. Melissa was a student missionary and the school's office manager, and over the course of the year, we "adopted" her as our "daughter." We went to Guam at Christmas time, and she was co-sponor with us on the 8th grade class trip.

And the kids. . .who can forget the kids--Josh, Nick, Daniel, Jennifer, Levayna, Jane, Jamal, Myoung Hun, Clarence, Franklin, and Justin--all of them adults now. Barbara's second graders, among them little Fredo Paez--have just graduated from high school. It was the kids, more than anyone else, that made that first year one of learning, loving and truly living. Eleven years later, that much remains the same.

The "Myla Hardtigues" at Josh Hardt's 8th grade graduation. This group of kids--Myla Caplitan (second from right), Josh and Austin Hardt (right), and the daughters of our pastor, (L to R) Fressie, Bernelle, and Ciana Taitigue were always together, thus earning the moniker, "The Myla Hardtigues."

Bab's first class.

Our church family in 98-99. See how many familiar faces you can find!

Jun 25, 2009


Here's the thing--the great thing--about Nicole French. It never was about her.

All of us teachers struggle with it being about us: I want the kids to respect ME. I want the kids to obey ME. I want the kids to like ME. I want the kids to think the coolest teacher is ME. I want the kids to think of ME as their friend. It's not that these things are bad or that good teachers don't often desire these things, but great teachers understand that at the end of the day--at the end of the school year--it's not about me. It's all about them.

Nicole got that. And this is why despite all her humble protestations and insistence on bouncing my compliments back to me, I maintain that Nicole is a great teacher.

Nicole walked into her classroom, all about business. She was motivated to teach science, excited to see the kids succeed, burdened by her desire to do her job well. Often times there's a distinction in approach between the "SM" teacher and the professional teacher. With French there was no distinction. She was a professional.

Nicole worked very hard this year. She understood she had only ten months to do the job and she was determined not to waste a second. She taught all day, coached volleyball and basketball, tutored into the evening, and then round about 8 o clock headed back into the classroom to pore over lesson plans and grading. At 5:30 A.M. she was often back at her desk getting the job done. Fortunately, especially as the year wore on, and she found her groove, Nicole found time to have fun too. Running, scuba diving, reading The Fountainhead, and even talking on the phone to good friends back home (okay, one dear friend in particular :) ). But it all came second to the kids she loved, the kids she gave her life to this year.

Some come for the sand, some for the sun, others still for the scuba. Nicole came to Saipan for this girl. . .

. . .and them. . .

...and him. . .

. . .and him too. In serving these young people, she was rendering the highest service to the One who called her in the first place.

Nicole and I worked together a lot this year. I pitched in on some P.E. classes, was co-sponsor of the 8th grade class (though she did most of the work), and teamed up with her for the school Christmas play. We always had great conversations, and I always learned from her, whether it was the value of wind sprints in our morning runs or something from her store of science teacher knowledge. One of my favorite memories is of our Turkey Trot run up Mt. Tapochau Thanksgiving morning.

Nicole, it was a privelege to serve with you. You've been a good freind, a wonderful colleague, and yes, a great teacher. I'll miss you!

French, Jaimie and Rhonda getting ready for the pudding drop game at their going away party. Saturday night, June 6, 2009.

French and Me in Guam.

Nicole takes her Long Walk. Well done, French. Well done!

Jun 19, 2009

The Last Last Day of School

Friday, June 5, 2009. . .

The Last Joint Worship: Raise your hand for quiet.

"Stand up and Fight Anyhow!" One of the kids' favorite songs this year. Apologies for the egregious "joyful noise" I happen to be making. :)

Babs gives her final Joint Worship address.

All of this year's Students of the Month.

Last Words of Appreciation: Each year Babs has students volunteer to write a message of appreciation to their teachers. Then at the last joint worship, another student reads the messages on their behalf while the authors look on. Then the writer goes up and gives their teacher a hug. It's a really sweet tradition, and means a lot, especially to those of us who are leaving. Here's "Koala" reading my letters.

A "man hug" for "Ko"

The Last Farewells to my kids: For many years, I would give a little farewell speech on the last day of school, addressing each of my students individually and sharing my unique memories and impressions of them. I stopped doing it after awhile when it seemed that many of my students were usually back in my class the next year. I brought it back this year. This video is specifically for two of my students, siblings Won Ho and Ha Yan Lee, you left Saipan the day before. They are relocating to Berrien Springs, MI this summer and Babs and I already have plans to stop in and visit them this fall.

The Last Water Fight: For the first few years we were in Saipan, the last-day-of-school water fight was a school tradition. This year we brought it back, thanks to our Student Association. Our camera battery died so all we got of the water fight was this short video snippet just before the fight began. If you look quick on the left side of the screen just before the end of the video, you'll see me crouched with my SuperSoaker, ready for action.

he Last TGIS. Actually this was the Bible study before TGIS was supposed to start. I was expecting just our Bible study regulars--"Little Sister", "J" and maybe "M". But half the school showed up early for TGIS, thinking that's when it started and so they all ended up joining the Bible study.

. . .The Last Last Day of School

My Life in Saipan: These two students, "M" above, and "J" below, as well as "M's" twin brother "K", are what I call my "life" in Saipan, because that's what they represent to me. When we moved here they weren't even in kindergarten. Now they are high school sophomores. I've literally watched them grow up and it has been wonderful. I will miss these kids especially.

Jun 18, 2009


Rhonda Prokopetz--another totally cool girl from Kelowna saves the day!

If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

I'm not sure who originally coined that little phrase, but I'm pretty sure I heard Rhonda use it more than a few times, and it certainly applied to her this year.

Imagine leaving your home for six weeks. . .and not coming back home for a year. Rhonda had it all planned out--six weeks in the Marshalls to get a taste of missionary life before moving on the next carefully planned and organized item on her life agenda. But instead of a mere taste, she got the full course meal (you can ready the account of how it happened here): ten months on Saipan, a dozen or so energetic third and fourth graders,official "Auntie" to one Little Fella, REAL Christian Theater, trips to Japan, Yap, and Australia, a sometimes fractious, sometimes affectionate coterie of roommates, cockroaches and rats, early morning runs and exhausted early evening bedtimes, tutoring, scuba diving and camping, relaxation and stress, peace and struggle, joy and heartache, life, love, and laughter. She did it all, and she made it look easy.

I know it wasn't easy for her all the time. I know there were times when her heart broke and her spirit threatened to break as well, but Rhonda always managed to find a brave smile and wry laughter, and carry on. She spoke matter-of-factly of how she was such an organized, careful planner and how God had upended all of that in one eventful year. You really had to play close attention to realize what a challenge such a growth experience must have been for her. But grow, she did, and her decision to follow God's plan rather than her own, has made a difference not only for her, but for all of us who had the privelege of knowing her here in Saipan.

Rhonda with one of her best buds from REAL Christian Theater, "Little Sister", at the farewell party for this year's departing teachers.

Rhonda and Angie at the airport the morning of Rhonda's departure.

Rhonda and Nicole

In the midst of an emotional farewell, Rhonda is poised and cool as always.

Me and Prokoptez. It was great to have you next door all year long, Rhonda!

I'll remember Rhonda as quick--she could put together a classroom, a great lesson plan, a drama show, a yearbook--well, just about anything, faster than anyone I know. She was punctual enough to set your clock by. She was a solid, serious teacher who was also lots of fun and who loved her students deeply. And they loved her back. She doesn't know this but several parents of her students reported that their kids were in tears for a few days after she left. One precious boy even cried himself to sleep the day she left. Rhonda Prokopetz left her mark.

I haven't talked to Rhonda since she and James flew away on June 8. But if I did, the first thing I'd ask her is: "So, Prokopetz, what's the plan now?"

And I'm pretty sure she'd reply with her trademark laugh, point up, and say, "Ask Him."

Rhonda and Jaimie take the Long Walk. You done good, ladies. You done good.

Jun 16, 2009


Jaimie "James" Nickell. She enters with style. ;)

We here at Saipan SDA School owe a great debt to Judith Edwards--beyond the generous gift of herself--she gave us the woman we've come to know simply as "James."

Jaimie Nickell heard Judith share her heart last summer when Jude was fresh back from her year in Saipan. Something clicked, and Jaimie decided to follow Judith's path--one that led to this tiny little dot in the Pacific. It was a tiny little dot that grew and grew and grew some more until it became James' whole world. She left a little more than a week ago a changed woman. Saipan won't be the same either.

James and I shared a lot of good times. Many mornings we ran together. We were co-secondary sponsors of the 8th grade class and we both went to Guam with the eighth graders on their class trip. We had a lot of laughs on that trip--she rode shotgun in my rental car a lot of the time, and together we suffered the dirth of decent music on the radio. She joined up with REAL halfway through the season and served as our set, light, sound, and props tech. I got the sense she was often out of her comfort zone in this world, but she toiled on gamely, and in the end did her job well. She traveled with REAL to Australia, and while I didn't see her as much on this trip, we still found opportunities to trade a wisecrack or two. She made me smile. She's good at that. It seemed like we were always joking around--never serious, but in the end, she turned out to be seriously good friend.

James is known for her quick wit, ironic commentary, and scathing sarcasm. But as I've come to know James, I've found that this tough "whatever" exterior is a vital cover for a tender, loving heart--a big heart that loves easily and with true feeling. Such a heart bruises easy, and James did her best to keep it safe. Still, one can only do so much when surrounded by precious pre-schoolers, precocious tutoring kids, great pals among the older students, cool colleagues, and a roommate that knows your soul.

Her People:

Roommates for a year; Friends for life: Rhonda and Jaimie

"James" with one of her beloved kids at the preschool.

James with her boys, "K" and "M".

You see, with James it was all about the people. The people she taught, tutored, worked with, lived with--the people she loved and who loved her. Love is what defined Jaimie Nickell's year in Saipan--love is what she'll take with her and what she has left behind. I can think of no better legacy than that.

"James" and Rhonda with two REAL team members, "Miss Em" and "Little Sister" at the going-away party, Saturday night, June 6, 2009.

James rules the pudding drop game at her going away party at the church, Saturday night, June 6, 2009. In this game, where the object is to have your partners drop chocolate pudding into your mouth, James ruled, emerging spotless.

She's good people, that James. Good people.

Jaimie's Long Walk will appear at the end of Rhonda's blog which is up next. It was only fitting that these two who walked (and ran) together all year long would take the Longest walk of all together too.

You can read Jaimie's own account of the places and people she came to love here in Saipan at her blog, Hey Jude.

The first three photos on this blog were taken from Jaimie's blog. James was always real particular about proper acknowledgement of photo credits! :D