17th Annual JESS Gala Set for Saturday


Don’t miss out on chances to win a three-night stay at the W Hotel on Vieques, Puerto Rico.

An evening of glamour and fun and diversity is promised as the annual Julius E. Sprauve School Gala on Saturday, January 18, at 6 p.m., at Caneel Bay’s Terrace Restaurant.

This year’s event will celebrate the harmonizing of cultures that can be seen at the island’s largest public school, explained JESS Principal Dionne Wells.

“This year’s theme is, ‘Colors of the rainbow flowing together, growing together, celebrating diversity and unity,” Wells said.

Rainbow colors will decorate the Estate Turtle Bay House where Lieutenant Governor Gregory Francis and his wife Cheryl Francis, school administrators, parents, students and supporters will gather for dinner, music and a silent auction.

Efforts leading up to the gala get started several weeks in advance, Wells explained. Members of the school’s gala committee prepare for their assignments on the night of the event. They also reach out to businesses from St. Thomas and St. John for sensational items to put up for bid.

“It’s work,” the principal said. “The school plus a few dedicted individuals put together the event.”

Wells and former JESS Principal Mario Francis explained that proceeds from the gala help fund programs and services needed on a daily basis.

Furnishing classrooms with technology, increasing safety with security cameras, a longstanding pre-K summer program and curtains for the cafetorium have all materialized, thanks to the annual fundraiser.

Many needs have been filled with community support, Francis explained. He credited the Sprauve School principal before him for gettting the effort underway.

“I can never talk about the gala without talking about Shirley Joseph and how it began with her,” Francis said. “It was right after the hurricane. The community was hurting, the school was hurting.”

Joseph approached the general manager at Caneel Bay and asked if they could help stage an event that would lift spirits for the school and the community.

“The first event raised between $7,000 to $10,000 and from there it grew and became an institution on St. John,” the former principal said.

In fact, the gala enjoyed enough support in 2008 to raise $115,000.

Since then, according to Wells, the gala has seen its popularity wane a little. The gala, however, is slowly regaining its previous panache and now how has a new Latin flair appeal, Wells explained.

More Hispanic students are joining the Sprauve School community, she added. They bring a vibrancy to the school’s cultural mix.

This year’s rainbow theme recognizes that Latino contribution, according to the JESS principal.

Tickets for the event are $100, and can be purchased at the Sprauve School main office. Raffle tickets for a myriad of exciting trips and prizes can be purchased at the school or at the gala. The evening will also feature live and silent auctions.

Dinner and beverages and the elegant setting are furnished by Caneel Bay. Music will be provided by the Eric Provost band and the JESS choir.

Proceeds from this year’s gala will benefit the school’s music department and purchase playground equipment for the primary school. A portion will also be used to provide scholarships for JESS students to attend the St. John School of the Arts.

Wells said she also hopes to fund a psycholgical counseling service for faculty, students and their families.