Going away to college can be an overwhelming experience, especially for students coming from St. John, where the population is less than that of most major universities.
The Junior Statesmen Summer School Program helps students from all across the world broaden their horizons and prepare for college, according to Junior State of America recruiter Marc Stridiron.
“I really believe in what they stand for,” Stridiron told a group of almost 10 students at the Gifft Hill School on Monday morning, December 18. “Growing up in the islands, we have a narrower perspective on the world. Getting off the rock really broadens your horizons.”
More than 200 students from the Virgin Islands have attended the JSA program since 1991, Stridiron added.
Government, Speech Classes
The 1996 Charlotte Amalie High School graduate, who now works as a spokesperson for the Virgin Islands Port Authority, attended the program at Yale in 1994 and Stanford in 1995. Stridiron stayed on with the program in several different capacities until 2005, when he moved back to the V.I.
The program consists of a four-week session at Stanford, Princeton or Yale, or a three-week session at Georgetown.
Students take government and speech classes, and participate in debates.
“The program is focused on academics, leadership and preparing students for active citizenship,” said Stridiron.
The classes are college-level, and students take exams and write essays as part of the program, Stridiron explained.
“It is summer school, so you will be taking classes,” he said. “It’s a rigorous academic experience. You are taking college-level courses, with college professors, texts and teaching methods.”
Prepares Students for College
“They try to mirror the program and college very closely,” Stridiron continued. “It’s not just presenting a watered-down high school version of the class. It prepares you for what you will find in college and allows you to explore what your limits are.”
The program helped Stridiron get through his first semester of college with ease, he explained.
“I had a much greater comfort level with the workload and exams, because I had seen a lot of it before,” Stridiron said.
The JSA program encourages students to be active citizens, Stridiron explained.
“We’re not trying to create the next politicians or presidents,” he said. “Every person in a community should know what your government is doing and how to influence your government. We have resisted expanding to offer math and science classes, because that is not our purpose.”
Public Speaking Builds Confidence
In addition to learning how to be active citizens, students learn the art of public speaking.
“Public speaking is one of the most important skills you can develop,” said Stridiron. “A lot of people are reluctant to do public speaking, but it’s a skill that will always be in your favor. Knowing how to write, present and deliver a public speech effectively is going to build your confidence.”
Students then use their public speaking skills in a debate, which is often a new experience for Virgin Islands students, who are not taught how to debate, Stridiron explained.
“I was least enthusiastic about the debate, because I didn’t have a lot of experience,” he said. “My first day there, someone got up and made a speech, and I found it so flagrantly wrong that I was the first person up to respond. I thought it would be a real stretch to get through 90 seconds of public speaking, but they had to drag me off the stage.”
A Lot of Work, Fun
GHS student Cassie Pociask was one of two students to attend the JSA program last year.
“When I first heard about it, I was kind of rolling my eyes about having to do summer school,” Pociask said. “But I realized it would be an awesome experience, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. My professor was one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met.”
Pociask enjoyed meeting people from all over the world, she said.
“You get to talk to people you have a lot in common with,” said Pociask. “We got to meet lobbyists, and President George Bush’s secretary. I’d urge everyone to go.”
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” Pociask continued. “It’s really worthwhile.”
Students get to experience life on a college campus, and have the opportunity to explore the city they are staying in, Stridiron explained.
“You have full run of the campus, and there are hundreds of people your age from all walks of life,” he said. “We work particularly hard to recruit from the territories, and there is an increasing number of international students. It’s a very diverse group.”
The program is a lot of work, but students find time for fun as well, according to Stridiron.
“We do not kill you with work,” he said. “The professors are aware of the stress level of the students, and they manage that. There are dances, and you get to go into the city and explore.”
“The most fun part is the opportunity to hang out with people your own age,” Stridiron added.
All Virgin Islands high school students are invited to apply to the Junior Statesmen Summer School program. To be considered for a scholarship from the U.S. Department of the Interior, completed applications must be turned in to school guidance counselors by Wednesday, January 17.
For more information, contact Stridiron at 344-2434, 774-5510 or [email protected], or visit summer.jsa.org or jsavirginislands.blog-spot.com.