I arrived in Guam on Sunday evening, May 3, having traveled 24 hours in daylight. The setting sun was both a beautiful and welcome sight. So were the 40-plus teachers, students and charter school leaders who greeted me upon landing at the Guam International Airport in Hagatna, the capitol, showering me with beautiful orchid and floral leis for my neck and hair.
I made this historic trip to celebrate the inaugural Charter Schools Week in Guam, and the opening of their first two charter schools on the island. Who would have thought when we worked on this legislation over 20 years ago in Minnesota, that it would today help to transform young lives on this beautiful U.S. island territory halfway around the world?
Guam is located approximately 6,000 miles from San Francisco California and about 900 miles north of the equator in the Western Pacific. It is 32 miles long and only between 4 miles wide at its most narrow point to 8 miles wide at its broadest point. It is the largest of the Micronesian Islands and the southernmost island of the Mariana Island chain. Guam time is 15 hours ahead of US central time. Because of its western location from the International Date Line, Guam is the first to experience the new day in the United States—the islanders proudly proclaim it is “Where America’s Day Begins.”
Guam hosts two major U.S. military bases (Navy and Air Force) and will welcome 5,000 Marines from Okinawa in 2016 as the military presence on the island grows.
There are nearly 160,000 people in Guam—the island geography and population mirror a medium-size American city. Primary ethnic groups are Chamorro (37%), Filipino (26%), Pacific Islander (7%), and Caucasian (6%), with the balance of its people tracing their heritage to other Asian ethnicities. English and Chamorro are the official languages.
The wide-ranging diversity of the people is a key motivation for expanding education choices. But the enrollments and waiting lists attracted by the first two charter schools in such a short time is nothing short of amazing.