The American Samoa Community College (ASCC) recently held a ceremony to recognize instructor and administrator Mrs. Elisapeta Faalafi-Jones, who has retired from the College after 44 years of service. During the ceremony, hosted by ASCC President Dr. Rosevonne Pato, Mrs. Faalafi Jones attributed her long record of success at the College to her spiritual foundation, and also shared that she retires with reluctance only because she wishes to tend to her mother, who has reached the miraculous age of 95. “Whenever my responsibilities to my mother permit,” she said, “I intend to stay involved with ASCC in an informal capacity to help in whatever way I can.”
Long considered a mainstay among the ASCC faculty, Mrs. Faalafi-Jones has for many years led the academic department now known as the College Accelerated Preparatory Program (CAPP), formerly known as the English Language Institute (ELI). She has also been a regular member of the College’s Curriculum Committee, including a tenure as its Chair, a role she has reprised in spring 2018 when she became Chairperson of both the General Curriculum and newly-formed Core Curriculum committees. In addition, Faalafi-Jones helped facilitate the College’s adaptation of Service Learning as a teaching component, assisting instructors in finding ways to combine classroom instruction with activities of benefit to the community.
Mrs. Faalafi-Jones was born and raised in Laulii and Nuuuli in the 1950s when American Samoa had yet to achieve the level of economic prosperity most now take for granted. “Because my father was a Methodist pastor, we moved from here to Upolu then Savaii,” she recalled. “My Elementary schooling took place wherever the father was serving. Later, I attended Methodist High School and received a scholarship to continue my studies in New Zealand. Upon my return to Samoa, I served the Methodist Church by teaching at its high schools in Savaii, and Upolu before I came back to American Samoa.” Here at home, she began teaching in 1976 with brief tenures at Faasao and Samoana high schools, concurrently upgrading her credentials in the American education system. Faalafi-Jones first earned a BA in English through a joint DOE/BYU Hawaii program, followed by an MEd in Secondary Education and English as a Second Language through a combined DOE/ASCC/UH program called Teacher Corp. After completing her MEd, she joined the faculty of the ASCC ELI department in 1981.
During her long experience with ELI (later CAPP), which serves students who do not test into college-level English courses numbered 100 and above, Faalafi-Jones has consistently advocated for youth who, for whatever reason, enter college not fully prepared. “I noticed how people tended to look down on this population,” she said. “When I became the ELI chairperson and joined the Curriculum Committee, I started to fight for these students and have done so ever since. We tend to forget that some students need more time to master English as their second language. I taught my students to walk with their heads up, and I’ve been so proud to see ones who started in ELI go on to do well in the military and other professions.”
A person of strong faith who served as the longtime advisor for the ASCC Christian Club, Faalafi-Jones frequently used examples from the Bible to keep her students motivated. “I often reminded them how only the lowly servants of Christ witnessed the miracle of their Savior changing water into wine,” she shared, “while the privileged guests at the wedding had no idea where it had come from. This shows how good things happen in special ways even to those considered as disadvantaged, and sometimes in ways those considered as privileged cannot fully comprehend.”
With 44 years being time enough to touch many, many lives, Faalafi-Jones has strong views on the need for education to mean more than simply what takes place in schools. “Basic skills learned from parents enhance a child’s learning in a formal setting like school,” she reflected. “Parents are really the first teachers. Pastors at church or teachers at school are just additional resources who guide children’s spiritual lives and teach them new knowledge. As a child develops physically, academically, culturally, and spiritually, a well-rounded and a secure foundation from home will assure him or her success throughout life.”
Faalafi-Jones also recognizes a shift in the way American Samoa’s students perceive things, but she feels that with a firm cultural and spiritual foundation they can meet the challenge of the outside world being closer than ever before. “We witness drastic changes in our children’s behavior, attitudes, manners, and learning today,” she said. “This is to be expected because technology gives them access to the world and its wonders, but if they have a secure foundation in our values, our children will not be easily influenced. They can enjoy modern trends but still be wise enough to discern what is appropriate for them.”
The foundation she refers to requires the involvement of not just teachers. “Especially now, with drastic changes brought by time, I encourage parents, family members, teachers, community leaders, pastors, and government leaders to make our young people our priority,” she explained. “We also have to maintain our foundation in God and in our beautiful, respectful and loving culture. As we witness today a world in turmoil is trying to solve its medical and economical problems, unless we return to our foundation, life will only be fragmented and disoriented.”
As ASCC prepared for its fall 2020 semester, Faalafi-Jones found the time to join her CAPP colleagues during registration, to counsel and encourage new students as she has always done. The coming weeks will see her assist CAPP when she can, but her time will mostly center around caring for her 95 year old mother. In preparation for this new role, Faalafi-Jones became a student herself once again and completed a 10-week care giving course with the ASCC Nursing Department. “My sole purpose of retiring is to take care of her while she’s still with us,” said Faalafi-Jones, who offered one last piece of advice, “Do not take your loved ones for granted. Spend time with them.”