CFVI president Dee Brown, center, looks on as HPR Assistant Director Stanely Smith and Joseph Paoli from the Westin Resort help St. John Methodist School pre-schoolers open the first St. John Born Learning Trail, above.
Students tour the Born Learning Trail with CFVI’s Ellie Hirsh.
On Tuesday morning, March 20, officials installed an exciting new educational tool in Cruz Bay for parents with young children — and the project already received enthusiastic thumbs up from the first set of youngsters to use it.
Continuing a more than 40-year-old partnership between the V.I. National Park and the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation, officials last week unveiled the first Born Learning Trail on St. John, located in the Cruz Bay children’s playground next to the VINP ball field.
The project also brought together the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, which created the Born Learning Trail and spearheaded the drive to bring the trail to St. John, and the Westin Resort and Villas, which sponsored the project.
The new Born Learning Trail in Cruz Bay aims to inspire parents to engage with their children and to find ways to merge education and play time. The trail consists of actual signs which have been installed around the perimeter of the playground and suggest activities like, “Look, Laugh, Learn,” which asks kids to make funny faces and discuss what makes them happy.
Judging from the smiles on the faces of the first youngsters to tour the project, the Born Learning Trail is one thing that makes them happy. About 30 children from the St. John Methodist School pre-K class were on hand during last week’s ribbon cutting ceremony and they gave the Born Learning Trail their seals of approval.
“The Born Learning Trail initiative focuses on finding ways to get information to the community about the importance of early childhood education,” said Ellie Hirsh, director of CFVI’s The Family Connection. “It’s about getting kids ready for kindergarten and having them reading by the third grade.”
The trail was designed for kids in pre-K and even in early elementary grades, Hirsh added.
“The idea is to get kids and parents really interacting,” she said.
The new St. John Born Learning Trail joins five trails already installed on St. Thomas and one on St. Croix. The project captures exactly what the CFVI strives to achieve, explained the group’s president Dee Brown.
“This captures what the Community Foundation lives and breathes for — partnerships with private, public and philanthropic groups,” said Brown. “Today we have the partnership with the VINP, which helped us find a wonderful place to put our Born Learning Trail and HPR, which has worked with us on six of these trails and been absolutely enthusiastic about the project.”
“The real star of the day is the Westin Resort, who stepped up and said ‘This is important, there is strong support for this and we’re going to make it happen,’” said Brown.
The seeds for the St. John Born Learning Trail were actually planted more than a decade ago, explained Brown.
“I was here 12 years ago at a day event in this little playground and thought it would be a perfect location for this project,” she said. “For the Community Foundation this is something wonderful and shows what you can get done when you stick to something and are committed to it.”
For Westin Resort officials, jumping on board to sponsor the Born Learning Trail was a no-brainer, explained the resort’s Human Resources Director Joseph Paoli.
“We consider the Westin to be the community of St. John and we were excited to partner with a group to give back to our community,” said Paoli.
HPR officials were also excited to be able to take part in the project, explained the department’s Assistant Commissioner Stanley Smith.
“We are excited to be able to be part of this project,” said Smith. “We’ve had a great partnership with the VINP and especially since Superintendent Mark Hardgrove took over, things have really been moving in the right direction. We’re very happy to provide this for the residents of St. John.”
The VINP playground is the perfect location for the Born Learning Trail, explained VINP Superintendent Mark Hardgrove.
“This facility is a jumping off point for many of our guests and is a great place for families to meet in the afternoons in a safe, outdoor environment,” said Hardgrove. “NPS places safety as a high priority and I want the community to know that is a safe place. The NPS is and always will be a partner of this community.”
After giving remarks under the stone gazebo outside of the VINP Visitors Center in Cruz Bay, officials gathered at the entrance to the playground for a ribbon cutting ceremony. After the ribbon fell, all one could hear was the laughter of little children enjoying the playground and the new Born Learning Trail.
The St. John Born Learning Trail signs, and all six permanent sets as well as three portable sets, were all made by CFVI volunteer Leslie “Whoopsie” Richardson.