May 1, 2004 – Sixteen students from the Puerto Rican municipality of Toa Alta will begin a week of cultural exchange activities Monday on St. Thomas, continuing a program begun 14 years ago in which their school and the public schools of the St. Thomas-St. John district take turns hosting each other's visits.
The students are from Nicolás Sevilla Guemarez High School in Toa Alta, a city of about 60,000 inhabitants located some 40 minutes' driving time southwest of San Juan. They are 16 to 18 years of age and are being accompanied by three teachers and one parent.
The idea of the annual exchanges is for the visiting group to enjoy the people, food, arts, culture and visitor attractions of the host venue, Myrna V. van Beverhoudt, St. Thomas-St. John district foreign languages coordinator, said in a release.
"Whenever students and teachers from the Virgin Islands have gone to Toa Alta, they have been treated as royalty," van Beverhoudt said. They have visited schools and public officials' offices, enjoyed tours at discounted prices, and received free lunches, bus transportation and "lots of warm hospitality," she said.
This year, through May 10, "our friends from Toa Alta will be visiting our district, and it will be the Virgin Islands' turn to reciprocate," she said.
"Local businesses, government agencies and public school principals have been very enthusiastic about the program and have generously contributed toward the development of a schedule of events," she said.
On Monday, the young Toalteños will arrive on St. Thomas and visit Coral World.
On Tuesday, they are to visit Michael J. Kirwan Elementary School and Addelita Cancryn Junior High School, then take a guided tour of Government House.
On Wednesday, they are to pay visits to Lockhart Elementary School and Charlotte Amalie High School and receive complimentary rides on the Paradise Point Tramway.
On Thursday, they are to visit Joseph Sibilly Elementary School and Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School, followed by an excursion to MountainTop.
On Friday, they are to travel to St. John to visit Julius E. Sprauve School and be treated to an island tour and a tour of the Westin Resort.
After a weekend break, on May 10 they are to visit Ivanna Eudora Kean High School before returning home to Puerto Rico on May 11.
At each school, the students "will perform typical dances, recite poetry and also perform at least one English modern dance," the release stated. At each secondary school, V.I. students will have an opportunity to practice their Spanish with the visitors in a "Make a Friend" session.
Van Beverhoudt said local business have collaborated with gifts and discounted fares "to ensure that our visitors feel welcomed." The young people and/or their chaperones will receive hospitality bags from the Tourism Department and gifts from Perfume Palace, Caribana, Havensight Mall and A.H. Riise. During the week they will get to spend some time relaxing on the beach at Magens Bay.
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