Island sights and sounds: more than waving palms and melodious harmony

Multiple choice: Which of the following apply to the South Pacific – soft gentle breezes rippling through palm trees; fragrant floral aromas riding the calm night air; the melodious harmony of voices blending in song; the ringing of school bells.

The correct answer is a, b, c, and d.Schools play a vital role in the completion of today's typical Pacific Island scenes. And the Church Educational System makes a major contribution toward the success of students achieving their scholastic goals.

From agriculture to auto mechanics, from computer science to zoology, schools operated by the Church Educational System provide a varied curriculum for some 6,500 students in the South Pacific. LDS schools function in such places as New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and Kiribati.

According to Garry Moore, Church Educational System zone administrator, the Church established schools in the Pacific to provide education for LDS children where other schooling was not available.

"In some areas of the South Pacific adequate public schooling is not available to students," he said. "In those areas, many schools are operated by various churches, including Catholics, Protestants and Latter-day Saints." The LDS schools accommodate member and limited non-member students from primary grades through high school levels.

In Sauniatu, a picturesque Mormon village nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano on Western Samoa's main island of Upolu, the LDS school is the only school in the community.

Sauniatu (pronounced "Sawn-ee-ah-too") was established in 1905 as a refuge for Latter-day Saints persecuted and driven from their seashore villages. Looking for a place where they could live in peace, leaders purchased an 800-acre tract in the mountains.

An LDS missionary, Elder Francis M. Young, started the school soon after Sauniatu was founded. While the Saunitau school was not the first LDS school in the islands, it is one of the early Church-sponsored schools that has operated continually since it began. (According to an April 14, 1893, article in the Deseret News, the first school taught by missionaries in the South Pacific was in the Samoan village of Simu.)

Many LDS schools in the South Pacific are "chapel schools." Classrooms are either attached to or located in meetinghouses. Most of the chapel schools accommodate primary grade school levels.

Patterned after the British educational system, high schools in the Pacific generally are called "colleges."

All LDS high schools or colleges in the Pacific have their own campuses.

"In some places, such as Kiribati, some off-island students could not attend school if they didn't live in the dormitories," said Brother Moore. "A number of the Kiribati students arrive by boat. A few who live on nearby islands commute to school in outrigger canoes, but others live too far to travel between their homes and school every day. While we prefer students to live with their own families, this is not always possible.

"But in places where students must board, we have dorm parents and wards organized on campus so the students are fully cared for."

At the Church College of New Zealand, for example, three wards serve 350 boarding students. On the first Sunday of the school year, the boarding students are divided into their respective wards. While adults hold many of the leadership positions, students often teach the lessons.

"To visit a Sunday School class you would think you were in a regular LDS ward," observed one of the school's staff members. "The difference lies in students teaching students."

In addition to the boarding students, the New Zealand campus enrolls a large number of day students. Many of the present student body of 650 are sons and daughters or grandchildren of those who labored to build the Church College of New Zealand from 1954 to 1958.

Throughout the South Pacific, local islanders usually are teachers and administrators in the LDS schools. However, in some schools, Church Educational System missionary couples comprise part of the faculty. These missionaries, usually called to serve two years, are retired educators who teach math, science and, in more recent years, computer classes.

In addition to regular academic and vocational curriculums, each school conducts classes in each island's own culture. Most campuses have at least one structure – usually a thatched-roof building – where students learn of their heritage through songs, dances, stories and other island traditions.

John D. Jeffrey, whose office is located in Sydney, Australia, is the Pacific Church Educational System area director. He noted that teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ is one of the main functions of LDS schools in the Pacific.

"This is done not only in seminary and religious education classes, but also in secular classes by teachers and administrators who love the Savior and teach gospel principles by the way they live and how they work with their students in the classroom," said Brother Jeffrey.

He pointed out that all Church schools in the Pacific teach in English. "This is so students can study the LDS edition of the scriptures and the abundant gospel resources written and spoken in the English language," he said. "Also, we teach English so students can prepare to receive calls to English-speaking missions, and so they can have access to university institutions and other places of higher learning, which are not provided in their native languages."

Brother Jeffrey said the greatest impact of the schools is related to the development of desires among students to serve missions.

"Much encouragement is given by teachers and administrators to help students see the importance of serving missions," he said.

Church schools in the South Pacific also train Church leaders. Numerous mission presidents, stake presidents, bishoprics, Relief Society, Young Women and Primary presidents, among other leaders, graduated from LDS schools. Many went on to attend BYU-Hawaii and other colleges and universities.

Also, many of the schools' current teachers, principals and staff are former students.

The Church schools receive acclaim not only from members but also from others as well. The LDS institutions compare favorably to other schools throughout the Pacific area. Sometimes, they excel.

"We have had many successes in athletics, literature, art, science and math competitions," observed Brother Jeffrey.

"Government education officials bring overseas visitors to our school campuses to show what we are doing and to tour our wonderful facilities. Fiji LDS Technical College receives numerous visitors.

"Some Church teams are national champions and receive excellent press coverage."

"In countries where there is so little employment opportunity, the Church makes a major contribution to help local members obtain employment. Of course, this financially helps the country concerned. The governments of those countries are very grateful for the significant assistance provided by Church schools helping them educate their young people."