From marine biology to gardening, students from St. John’s remote south shore neighborhoods have enjoyed all that John’s Folly Learning Institute (JFLI) programs have offered over the years.
Volunteers at JFLI, which began out of the rubble of the ramshackle Horace Mann School, will celebrate the 11th anniversary of the renovation of the building from wild animal pen to place of learning on Saturday afternoon, April 21, at 2 p.m.
First Lady Cecile deJongh will be the keynote speaker and other dignitaries are expected to join the festivities as well, explained JFLI director Alvis Christian.
What is now JFLI was once an elementary school building named after the father of American education, Horace Mann. The building functioned as a public school until the late 1950s or early 1960s when, for economic reasons, it was closed by the V.I. government, according to Christian.
Neglected Until 1996
Between the 1960s and early 1970s, the building was briefly used by the V.I. National Guard and Peace Corps, but was eventually abandoned. The building then stood neglected until 1996 when Christian and other volunteers began renovations.
JFLI offered its first summer program in 1999 and since then has offered students programs and trips both during the summer months and after-school.
The time has flown for Christian, who originally came up with the idea of bringing educational opportunities to children in some of Love City’s most isolated neighborhoods.
“Wow, I can’t believe it’s been 11 years already,” said Christian. “Eleven years ago, I knew renovating the building and what we have achieved was possible once the community decided to put its energy toward doing this.”
“I think the community feels a whole lot better because they have seen the growth from a housing for animals to an after-school tutorial and youth community and gathering space,” Christian continued.
Results Are Worth Challenge
While the institute keeps Christian — who is also the St. John Deputy Director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency — busy, the students are worth it, he explained.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s great,” said Christian. “I have already seen the work begin to pay off in terms of the attitudes of some of the youngsters. Before John’s Folly, there was nothing for these kids.”
Over the past year, JFLI students have participated in a number of exciting activities, highlighted by their trip to Washington, D.C. in August.
JFLI Students to Washington
Ten students and their chaperones went on the trip, where they toured a number of national landmarks including the Lincoln Memorial, the National Cathedral, the Capitol Building and the White House.
While in the nation’s capital the students also toured several museums, including the American Indian Museum, the Museum of Natural History and the Frederick Douglas Museum and Home.
They were even treated to a special lunch at the Capitol Building, compliments of V.I. Delegate to U.S. Congress Donna Christensen.
Other than enjoying museums and new sights, the students were afforded a greater appreciation of St. John through their Washington trip, Christian added.
Better Appreciation of Love City
“Through travel, we expose the kids to the world and give them a better appreciation for the precious resources of these islands,” he said.
The JFLI library continues to expand and Christian is planning additional opportunities for both the youth and adults in the area.
Opportunities For Adults
“One of the things I am venturing into is a series of programs to get the adults and parents involved in the JFLI family,” said Christian. “As soon as we are able to get some computers, we’ll offer beginning classes.”
“Also, we want to have a night where the people in the community could come and talk about St. John in the past and St. John in the present and have a setting where they feel they can just sit down and talk,” Christian continued. “We’d like to open up the school so parents and the older generation can feel that they can come together at least one time a week.”
Connecting Seniors and Youngsters
Currently, Love City senior citizens use JFLI as an activities center three times a week — a connection Christian wants to foster.
“This summer I’m looking forward to having great interaction between the seniors and students,” said Christian. “We’ll have the summer program from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day which will give the seniors and the youngsters that time to really get into all the cultural aspects.”
“It’s important because that is the way you are able to maintain and really carry on the culture in ways we are losing because there are so many things that aren’t being passed on,” Christian continued. “Indeed, if the youngsters don’t learn the ways of cooking, setting fish traps or making charcoal, they will eventually be lost. It’s a blessing that it has all come together with the seniors and youth out here.”
Life-long Love of Education
JFLI is also important because it gets students interested in education when they are young, Christian added.
“The kids get these opportunities from when they are young and they don’t have to wait until they are in high school or college,” he said. “They get exposed to the sciences, art and technology from a young age and that is very important.”
The public is invited to join JFLI students and volunteers at their 11th anniversary celebration on Saturday, April 21, at 2 p.m.