June 8, 2004 – Two Virgin Islands public school teachers are being honored Sunday, June 13, for their teaching in the humanities. They are each very obviously devoted to their students, have been involved for decades, and lead their students on very different journeys into the humanities.
The V.I. Humanities Council has bestowed the Heath Award for Excellence in the Teaching of the Humanities upon Glenn "Kwabena" Davis of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School and Anselm Richards of St. Croix Central High School. The award recognizes two teachers "who have exhibited outstanding ability and unfailing dedication to teaching the humanities."
An awards luncheon will be held at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, June 13, at Palms Court Harborview Hotel. Each will receive a cash award of $1,000 and a commemorative certificate. For further information or tickets, call 776-4044.
Glenn "Kwabena" Davis: "Culture is always evolving."
Glenn Davis, a native Virgin Islander born and raised on St. Thomas and a graduate of Charlotte Amalie High School and of then-College of the Virgin Islands, has been involved with teaching children for at least 35 years.
He teaches the Cultural Heritage class at Kean High School from the perspective of appreciation for Virgin Islands and the broader Caribbean cultures — their similarities and dissimilarities and celebration of both sides. It starts, he believes, with a journey within and through all aspects of V.I. culture. His class encompasses:
1 – Wild and domestic plants. On the Kean campus, there were 70-plus varieties of plants; after Home Depot's contribution some weekends ago, there are now, Davis estimates, about 110 varieties. By the end of the semester, students must be able to identify 70 varieties, recognizing both medicinal and poisonous plants.
2 – As a corollary to that, the students become tour guides and lead other classes on "academic strolls" around campus.
3 – They learn local fruits and make drinks. They learn to graft fruit trees; an expert who taught them late last semester will be back in September, so the students can each perform grafting and see several months' worth of growth.
4 – Other cooking: pepper sauce (vinegar-based), fry fish. Julian Frett comes in and teaches them to make dumb bread and johnnycake on a coalpot.
5 – Native music: quelbe, quadrille, bamboula, basic instruments. Next year, they'll form fungi ands. Edwin Davis comes in to teach quadrille.
6 – Dancing. The dance company thrives when younger students take the class and then take it again a second and third year.
7 – Storytelling. They learn techniques, the role stories play in culture, how stories are used by storytellers. They learn comparison to Southern U.S., British and Irish folk stories, and are assigned to watch Public Television's Book of Virtues program.
After this preparation, students tell stories to their peers and, later, go to elementary schools for several sessions and receive a grade for these performances.
8 – Composition – poetry and song. They read their poems, sing their songs.
As a sort of final test, students working in groups of four plan a cultural fair, encompassing all the learning for the year.
Any student, freshman through senior, may take the class, but Davis prefers to have only three or four seniors. The class is never the same two years in a row, he notes, because culture is always evolving.
"Kwabena" has received many community awards and is a very popular calypsonian. He's a board member of the V.I. Council on the Arts, a charter member of the Committee to Revive Our Culture, and the founder/director of the Voices of Love, a lead group in the traditional Charlotte Amalie Christmas morning Challenge of Carols.
Anselm Richards: "There's no limit to what they will do."
Anselm Richards has taught art for 28 years, preparing students for the prestigious colleges in the visual arts, preparing them for competitions. Although he teaches at St. Croix's Central High School, he also teaches informally and mentors private-school students. Among his techniques are use of sketchpads, workshops, slides, and a stellar field trip. His students know the premises are available to them until 8 p.m. every school night.
Whereas Davis takes his students to open their eyes on familiar paths in familiar territory, Richards takes between 5 and 17 "deserving" students annually to an eye-opening, senses-stunning place that few of them have visited before: New York City. A culmination of his teaching, the trip is six days and five nights of intensive visual arts: They stay in a good hotel, eat a good restaurants where they go appropriately dressed, visit three art universities including Parsons and Pratt, tour five or six art museums, and always take in a Broadway musical that has a major visual-arts component – "Les Miserables" and "The Lion King" are examples. And he always takes them to Pearl Paint Art Supplies. Among the art museums they visit, he always includes a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Queens, which is, he says, "on the fringe, the edge, of art," and he finds this visit sparks creativity in the students.
He prepares his travelers intensively with slides and books and discussions; he is rewarded at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan, when other wandering visitors stop to listen as his students gather in front of a Renoir and discuss the differences they see with a Degas or a Monet.
Richards received another "perk" from his students' behavior while they were dining at a fine restaurant during one visit, well dressed up as they were to continue on to the Broadway evening. A black couple passed behind them, and Richards overheard the man say, "Now why can't our Virgin Islands children behave like this when they're out in public?" The man's companion warned him he'd better be careful what he said; she brought him over to Richards, introduced them, and advised the man: "These children are from the Virgin Islands, and this is their teacher."
The field trip always occurs in March, and the students return inspired to produce entries for the annual Congressional High School Art Competition, which comes in May. His students have won in nine of 14 years of competition, and in three of the nine years, his students swept all the prizes: in '90, '92 and 2002 — a feat, he says, no other U.S. school has achieved even once.
Richards, who was nominated by Central's principal, Kent Moorehead, says he was inspired a decade ago by an 11-year-old Canadian boy who wrote an essay on children forced into child labor. The boy addressed the American Federation of Teachers convention, and charged all teachers to stop thinking "the kids can't do it."
He sees the Humanities award as an honor for accomplishment over his entire career. Awards he has won, he emphasized, have come because of his students and their work.
— In 1992, he and winning students of the Congressional competition were brought to Government House. Then-Gov. Alexander Farrelly asked the students what classes they took, what school they attended, who their teacher was — and the answer was the same for all: Central High, Anselm Richards. Obviously, the governor said, we should be honoring the teacher as well. He promptly nominated Richards for the Morris F. DeCastro Fellowship for Outstanding Government Service.
— His students created and released a Drug Free Schools comic book, and won over all high and junior high schools in the territory. The students wrote five stories on how to avoid drugs, creating interesting characters in V.I. settings, recognizable neighborhoods.
— Richards won the National Gallery of Art 50th anniversary Outstanding Teacher Summer Fellowship, which was awarded to one teacher in each state and territory.
— Richards has been listed in "Who's Who Among American Teachers" four
times and, unlike some publications of similar titles, the teachers are chosen in a special way: Students who are high on college dean's lists are polled nationwide for the most influential pre-college teacher they have had. Richards was thus chosen the four times.
From childhood, Richards has loved children. "I'm still a kid," he says. "Parenting is not for quitters."
If you show the students love and they "know you are supportive, even when they make bad mistakes, that you are still there for them," he says, "there's no limit to what they will do."
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