Students Head Back to School


JESS Welcomes Students Back to School

With a new school uniform, a full backpack and a big smile, Emilyn Reynoso braved her first day at Julius E. Sprauve School.
Though the first grader admitted to those familiar first-day jitters, she could not hide her excitement for three things: “reading, having fun and eating lunch.”

With her mother, Erenia Gil, by her side, Reynoso said she was most surprised by how much bigger JESS seemed than St. John Christian Academy, the school she attended last year.

“This is such a big school,” she said. “I am nervous because I thought this was going to be a little school, but this is a very big school.”

Students, teachers and parents packed in the school’s cafeteria Monday morning, August 31, for a first-day orientation featuring a warm greeting from Assistant Principal Brenda Dalmida and an encouraging speech from Governor John deJongh.

“I want you to have a very successful school year,” Gov. deJongh told the students. “Make new friends and listen to your teachers – you are the best thing the Virgin Islands has to offer.”

The Governor began the day at Guy Benjamin School and made an appearance at JESS before he returned to St. Thomas to greet students at various schools and then headed to St. Croix for scheduled afternoon school visits.

“I do this every year because I want the students to realize that even though they are on St. John, they are just as important as the students on St. Thomas and St. Croix,” he said.

Gov. deJongh acknowledged the common feelings of excitement and anxiety the first day of school  often brings, but he said he hopes by visiting the schools and talking to the students, he is able to relieve some of those feelings.

“I believe the first day of school is the most important,” he said. “It sets the stage for the entire year.”

The kindergarten through ninth grade school’s beginning enrollment for the 2009/2010 school year was 230, slightly above last year’s count of 212, according to Principal Mario Francis.

Lucinda Parsons, who is entering her 25th year as a JESS teacher, said this year is already off to a busy start, with teachers attending professional development workshops on St. Thomas last week.

“They were very beneficial and a great start to the school year,” she said.

Parsons has taught kindergarten through third grade for the past 24 years at JESS, but this year, she will be the school’s reading intervention teacher, working with first through sixth graders.

“I’m looking forward to the new challenge of being out of the regular classroom and working with students to improve their reading skills,” Parsons said.

Dalmida thanked the parents at orientation for the opportunity to serve their children as she introduced the school’s teachers and discussed some new changes which will be implemented this year.

“We work for you,” she said. “It is our job to educate your students to the highest of standards.”

Beginning this year, the school is introducing departmentalization for fourth, fifth and sixth graders similar to its secondary (seventh, eighth and ninth) level classroom structure. Rather than having a fourth, fifth and sixth grade teacher, each teacher will teach certain content areas – language arts and reading; math; and science and social studies – separately to all three grade levels.

“As we look at the data and try our best to optimize on our teachers’ strengths, we realize some teachers are stronger in certain subjects,” Francis said. “And when they have to plan for one subject area, rather than four content areas, they are able to dig deeper and stretch the children wider.”

Francis also said that because of the growing number of non-English speaking students enrolled at the school, mostly from St. Lucia, Dominica and the Dominican Republic, JESS has expanded their ELA (English Language Acquisition) program and hired Mr. Luis Roman to assist Ms. Milda Montes.

Thirty-five students will attend regular classes  teaching  English-based curriculum, but their learning experience will be supplemented with special assistance from Roman and Montes inside and outside of the classroom setting, he said. The two Spanish-speaking teachers also provided translations for the non-English speaking parents and children who attended orientation.

Three eighth graders, Aaliyah Carbon, Nyree Doway and Johnalyn Edward, were selected to serve as JESS’s student greeters – a new initiative aimed to inspire and welcome students on the first day of school.

“We are just here to put the spirit and pep back in school,” Edward said.

Students huddle outside the bathrooms at Guy H. Benjamin School in Coral Bay.

GBS Students Head Back to School

Guy Benjamin Elementary School greeted its 96 students ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade bright and early Monday morning, August 31.

Beginning the day with Governor John deJongh interacting with staff and students and a parent orientation session encouraging parents to become more involved in their children’s education, students soon filed into their classrooms while teachers went over expectations for the new school year.

“We welcome parents and people from the community to come visit and volunteer or to just pass by to see what is happening in the classrooms,” said Principal Dionne Wells. “We have an open door policy.”

The Coral Bay school recently created their mission statement: “At Guy H. Benjamin Elementary school we do whatever it takes to empower ALL students with the tools necessary for success.”

“We will do everything in the best interest in the child and preparing them for life,” Wells said. “Everyone here is energized and ready to go – we are looking forward to working together for the betterment of our children.”

Wells said the recent training and development workshops the school’s teachers attended on St. Thomas helped generate excitement and ideas for the 2009/2010 school year.

“It was excellent,” she said. “My teachers enjoyed them and got a lot of ideas we hope to implement in the classrooms this year.”
GBS has one teacher for each grade level with the exception of its fifth grade class, which is participating in a pilot program separating boys and girls into different classrooms.

“We read some research studies that state all-girl and all-boy classroom increase improvement and meet more needs of the students so we are doing a pilot program to see if it makes a difference,” Wells said.

The principal said the students will be measured on an individual basis to determine whether they have gained proficiency in reading and math since last year.

“We will be charting their progress and monitoring the students closely to see if this really makes a difference,” she said.

Wells said GBS looked perfect just in time for the first day due to the recent repainting of the school and individual classrooms.

“Our teachers came in weeks in advance and got our classrooms together and they look awesome,” Wells said. “When you walk into these classrooms, you really see an inviting, nurturing and caring environment.”

Wells commended her staff on their commitment and dedication to educating their students and said she looks forward to a successful school year.