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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, March 30, 2023


March 30, 2004 — During Monday night's hearing held by the Education and Youth Committee, senators heard countless individuals testify that the Department of Education's Vocational Education Program will not survive unless radical changes, including additional funding, are made to the program's administrative structure.
Senators and witnesses noted that the sparse attendance at Monday night's hearing at the St. Croix Legislature was indicative of the lack of concern for vocational education in the territory. Only 13 education personnel were present. Students, parents and other community leaders were not present.
Vocational education programs are currently offered at the St. Croix Educational Complex and St. Croix Central, Charlotte Amalie and Ivanna Eudora Kean High Schools.
Vocational education instructors and craftsmen alike gave passionate testimony on the challenges faced as they try to maintain a program that has successfully provided both students and adults with marketable skills. Rev. Eddie Williams, who chairs the Board of Vocational Education, said he has been an advocate for the program for more than 20 years and has seen its value decline on the Education Department agenda and amongst teachers and administrators. "The fact is that vocational/technical education in the territory is slowly dying," said Williams.
Like many other government agencies, the vocational education program is suffering from a lack of funding. Williams said the board has been mandated to integrate special-needs children into their programs, but funds have not been appropriated to make the necessary accommodations, such as special tools, specialized staffing, facility alterations and appropriate curriculum. Williams said the board needs $10 million to bring all programs and student organizations up to standards to meet the needs of future job markets.
"Surveys need to be conducted so that we can track what past students have done or are currently doing," said Williams. "We need to know what is the current need of the community and the job market so that we can implement the corresponding programs in our school." He testified that the majority of the vocational curriculum has not been upgraded since the '70s.
Sen. Usie Richards questioned if apprenticeship programs might be able to receive some of the monies allotted to contractors winning bids for repairs on schools and other government facilities.
Richard Difede, owner of Gold Coast Yachts, said his company’s alliance with the vocational education program has been a success, but there were some shortfalls in the expectations of technical training programs and the basic academic skills necessary for student success.
He said a strong focus on basic math and reading skills is essential.
Another partner with the vocational education program is Pinnacle Services, a Hovensa-sponsored training program conducted evenings at the St. Croix Educational Complex. "The average per-pupil cost for career development training is between $8,000 and $14,000," said Daniel McIntosh, Pinnacle's craft training manager and chairman of the School Improvement Accreditation Committee at the St. Croix Vocational-Technical School. The program’s career fair is planned for May 15.
Although several testifiers called for a separation of the Board of Vocational Education from the Board of Education, McIntosh disagreed. "There are too many entities dialoging in isolation. In such a comparatively small school district, it seems counterproductive to have two boards looking at student needs through separate windows."
Over 35 private businesses and government agencies have played an integral part in the success of the school-to-work program which allows students to get hands-on training along with real-world experience. "Approximately 320 students have participated in the program thus far," said Olga Petersen-Hewitt, chairperson for the Business Education Department at the Educational Complex. She said the main objective of the alliance is to familiarize students with the procedures, techniques and technology used in various industries. "Our program has been a tremendous success in spite of the many handicaps," Petersen-Hewitt said.
Last week, three students selected to attend an apprenticeship program in Denmark for brick laying and structural restoration made headline news. "I was pleased to hear now that three children are moving on to travel to Europe by something that was started here by you and others," Sen. Ronald Russell said, recognizing one community-based program for its role in providing the skill set and the link to the Danish artisans.
Carl Christopher, general contractor and program facilitator for the YouthBuild Project of the Virgin Islands Housing Authority on St. Croix said, "We need to implement a working plan to solve this problem. We must have a workable vision to include our young, we are losing too many of them in our present system."
YouthBuild’s mission is to unleash the intelligence and positive energy of low-income young people to rebuild their communities and their lives.
Christopher said he talks with at-risk youth on a regular basis and offered the senators a few recommendations. "It is the people of the crafts and arts that developed our modern technological society, without the craft persons and artists there would be no society. I hope that we begin to take a different perspective on the vocational education system in the territory. The voc ed side is considered less than an education."
"It is high time that we stop talking about all what is wrong and what we do not have and take a stand to encourage our children to learn a skill that would enable every child to be self-sufficient and an outstanding, contributing member of the society," said Williams.
Russell said that Monday night's hearing was originally planned as an open forum to be held at the St. Croix Educational Complex during school hours. However, that plan was met with opposition.
Testimonies continued into the night on the status of the general education development (GED) program and bilingual and special education.
All committee members were present: Sens. Roosevelt David, Louis Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste, Shawn-Michael Malone, Luther Renee, Richards, and Russell.

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