The Julius E. Sprauve School ninth grade class gathered on the steps outside the ballroom at the Westin Resort and Villas on Saturday evening, June 18, just before the start of graduation.
It was standing room only at the Westin Resort and Villas on Saturday evening, June 18, as family members and well-wishers packed a ball room at the resort for Julius E. Sprauve School’s double promotion ceremony.
The ninth grade graduates were joined this year by JESS eighth graders, who were informed by V.I. Department of Education officials last month that they would be attending ninth grade at either Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, or a high school of their choice.
The promotional exercise was also the last one JESS Principal Mario Francis oversaw as well, as he will be transferred to a St. Thomas high school in the fall. Former Guy Benjamin School Principal Dionne Wells will be replacing Francis at JESS, while St. Thomas educator Whitman Browne will take over the helm at GBS.
Following inspirational remarks by eighth grader Keshoi Samuel, Francis addressed the graduates and well-wishers.
“This is a unique experience for us today,” said Francis. “History is being made right before us and we are witnessing it. The eighth and ninth grade classes at JESS for the first time will both be leaving.”
“The entire eighth grade class will leave to become ninth graders at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School or a high school of their choice,” he said. “This will be the last promotional exercise for ninth graders and this is my last promotional exercise as principal of JESS.”
In his last remarks as JESS principal, Francis offered both graduating classes a few pieces of advice.
“Develop a passion for reading,” said Francis. “Success will come easy to those who read various genres regularly. Continue to build strong character.”
“If you do not stand for something, you will fall for anything,” he said. “Carry yourself in a manner that carries respect. Manners and respect will take you through this world.”
JESS 8th graders, above, shared the spotlight with this year’s 9th graders.
Many people fought hard to have JESS expand to a ninth grade class and were not consulted when leaders decided to do away with the class, Board of Education secretary Oswin Sewer explained.
“Fifty years ago it was a special day for me and my fellow eight graders as we graduated from school on St. John and prepared to attend the Charlotte Amalie High School,” said Sewer. “Tonight I am saddened and disturbed by what this represents for our St. John educational future. Many people allocated for the addition of ninth grade at JESS 45 years ago.”
“This decision was made without any input from anyone I know on St. John,” Sewer said. “How does this affect our dream of having a K-12 school on St. John? Is it a dream deferred?”
While the decision was made to not have a ninth grade at JESS next year, that does not mean there will never be a ninth grade at the school again, explained DOE St. Thomas/St. John District Superintendent Janette Smith-Barry in her remarks.
“First of all, DOE has not said that this is the last ninth grade at JESS,” said Smith-Barry. “DOE said there will be no ninth grade for the upcoming school year. The primary reason for that is that St. John parents, the majority of them, are not sending their children to JESS for ninth grade.”
“We do not have the student population to justify the resources needed for the first year of moving toward a high school diploma,” she said. “We knew the decision would be unpopular to some and welcome to others. The bottom line is change happens.”
Switching her focus to the graduating students, Smith-Barry congratulated the ninth and eighth grade JESS classes.
“You are all well on your way to success,” said Smith-Barry. “There has never been a question about the quality of education you received on St. John.”
Eighth grade salutatorian Kennisha Estrado worked hard to get the second best grade in her class.
“I worked really hard,” said Estrado. “But this is the payoff for all of that work and for listening to my teachers and my parents. Getting good grades is not a privilege, it’s something you have to work hard for.”
Devante Monsanto, the eighth grade valedictorian, also learned that hard work pays off.
“I was surprised to hear that I had the best grade in the eighth grade, but it shows you that hard work pays off,” said Monsanto. “One thing that got me here is being serious in school. I do my work in class and don’t fool around.”
As a tribute to the ninth grade class, Aaliyah Carbon, Shemeara Fahie and Adelto George sang a beautiful rendition of “Hero” by Mariah Carey.
Ninth grade salutatorian Nyree Doway thanked her family and especially her mother for helping her reach her goals.
“I want to thank all of the people who encouraged me and especially my mother who is my rock,” said Doway. “At JESS we are like one big family and the staff is like our parents. They try to guide us and educate us.”
Ninth grade valedictorian Ashley Thomas learned many things at JESS, not the least of which was who she was as a person.
“I found out that I have a talent — I can write,” said Thomas. “I write to express myself, my ideas and my feelings. I have become more confident and outgoing.”
Following speeches by guest speakers Lucille Parsons and Skip Lockwood, the graduates were handed their diplomas to raucous cheers from the crowd. Congratulations JESS graduates!