View more photos for the Guam’s Bilingual/Bicultural Program entry here.

Designed to promote the use of CHamoru

The Chamorro Bilingual/Bicultural Program began on Guam in 1970 as a five-year test program run by the Guam Department of Education to promote the use of the CHamoru language in public schools on Guam. It served as the precursor to the CHamoru Studies Department, which continues to operate in the Guam Department of Education. This program marked the first time the CHamoru language was officially used in classrooms in the Mariana Islands. 

On 11 April 1965, the United States Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), enabling federal funds to be used for the development of education programs in primary and secondary schools. In 1967, Congress passed Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Amendments, known as the Bilingual Education Act. These amendments allowed federal funds to be used specifically for the purpose of developing and implementing programs to assist students with limited English skills. 

In 1969, Sister Ellen Jean Klein of the School Sisters of Notre Dame worked as an educational consultant to the Guam Department of Education (GDOE), where she specialized as an instructor for the Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) program. Upon hearing of the amendments to the ESEA, Sister Ellen urged GDOE to apply for funding through the newly passed Bilingual Education Act, to which they were approved for five years of federal funding to implement this new bilingual/bicultural program. 

The bilingual/bicultural program was first implemented in School Year 1970-1971 on Guam in two schools: JP Torres Elementary and Captain HB Price Elementary. Each school had one master teacher, Sarah Chargualaf Taitano at Torres and Josephina Barcinas at Price, to oversee its implementation. Sister Ellen led the recruitment of young CHamorus who served as teacher interns to implement the program in the class setting. Lagrimas LG Untalan was responsible for developing the bilingual materials.

The teacher interns were trained by linguist Dr. Donald M. Topping at the University of Guam in the Summer of 1970 before the school year began. Training for this program included in-depth lessons on the grammar and orthography of the CHamoru language as well as aspects of CHamoru culture. Lessons on CHamoru culture were developed by the Southwest Regional Education Laboratory Program, an educational network also established by the ESEA; village commissioners; Catholic priests; and practitioners of the traditional arts.

In this program, the use of the CHamoru language in the classroom was not limited to a specific period of CHamoru language and culture, but rather, was used in the course of regular teacher-student communication throughout normal subjects. The program began with a cohort of 50 first grade students for both schools. Upon completion of their first year, that cohort continued the program in the second grade, and a new cohort of 50 took their place in the first grade. At the start of the first grade, CHamoru language was used in 10 percent of teacher instruction, increasing to 20 percent in the second grade. This pattern continued until the fifth grade, where a true bilingual education could be reached with the entire course being taught in 50 percent English and 50 percent CHamoru. 

Determining which subjects would be taught in CHamoru and which would be taught in English was left to the discretion of teacher interns. Rosa Salas Palomo, a teacher intern at Price Elementary, alternated the language of instruction each time a subject was taught. For example, if one day Social Studies was taught in the English language and Science was taught in the CHamoru language, the next time around she taught Social Studies in CHamoru and Science in English. Another approach utilized by teacher interns was to designate certain subjects to be taught in either English or CHamoru throughout the course of the year. 

Despite its successful implementation in pilot schools, by the School Year 1974-1975, the program had reached its five-year funding limit and was not renewed for a second round of funding. 

Legacy of the program

On 19 June 1973, the 12th Guam Legislature passed Public Law 12-31, authorizing the Guam Board of Education to begin the development of a similar program for use in a wider range of public schools titled the CHamoru Language and Culture Program (CLCP). By 1977, the CLCP was adopted in 16 public elementary schools, providing students with 20-30 minutes of instruction in CHamoru language and culture per day. This program was met with great support by students and teachers. In 1974, GDOE conducted a survey of 1,659 elementary students and 90 elementary teachers. This survey indicated that 85% of student respondents expressed both the importance of learning and the desire to learn CHamoru in school.

This prompted the members of the 14th Guam Legislature to pass Public Law 14-53, continuing the use of federal funding for the CLCP. Senators who advocated for the legislation were Sen. Ricardo Bordallo (later governor) and Sen. Manuel Lujan.

In addition, this law indicated that the use of local funds could be appropriated towards this program in the event that federal funding was ceased. This ensured that the CLCP would not end for the same reason as the Bilingual/Bicultural Program. 

The law also outlined that by no later than 1980, GDOE would implement CHamoru language and culture as mandatory subject in all public elementary schools and offered as an elective in all public junior and senior high schools. Upon integration into the GDOE curriculum, the duration of these lessons would progress with each grade level, beginning with 20 minutes in kindergarten and up to one full period when offered in junior and senior high school. 

The Bilingual/Bicultural Education Program served as the catalyst for cultural education reform in GDOE as the first attempt by teachers to incorporate CHamoru language, culture, and history in the island’s classrooms. Although the program only endured for four years, its predecessor, the CLCP would further develop into an entire department (CHamoru Studies Department) within GDOE.

Today, CHamoru language and culture are taught as a required subject for 20 minutes in kindergarten thru third grade and 30 minutes in fourth and fifth grade. CHamoru language and Guam History are also required as a subject period for a full year in middle and high schools.  Sen. Franklin Quitugua led the fight for the Chamorro Language and Culture Program.

By Lazaro Quinata

For further reading

An Act to Add Subchapter B to Chapter VI of Title XII of the Government Code of Guam Relating to Chamorro Language and Cultural Education. Public Law 12-31, Bill 269. 12th Guam Legislature (1973).

An Act to Amend Section 11200 of the Government Code and to Add Sections Teaching of Chamorro Language and Culture in the Public Schools of Guam and for Other Purposes. Public Law 14-53, Bill 304. 14th Guam Legislature (1977).

Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Public Law 89-10, US Statutes at Large 79 (1965).

Palomo, Rosa Salas. “Bilingual/ Bicultural Education Program on Guam.” Interview by Lazaro Quinata. Modern Guam Rises from Destruction of War: 1945-1970, Guampedia, 10 March 2021. Audio, 56:31.