Teaching vocabulary aimed at standardized testing requirements, serving nondairy milk beverages at lunch, bulldozing and rebuilding decrepit schools and doing much more maintenance were just some of the public suggestions for improving V.I. public education during a Senate information hearing Monday.
The hearing was scheduled to listen to the concerns and recommendations of community leaders regarding V.I. education. No bills were before the committee and no Education Department officials were present.
Parent Teacher Student Association officers, along with teachers, coaches, other parents and even some students signed up to give their two-cents’ worth to legislators Monday at a public hearing before the Education, Youth and Culture Committee.
Some had extensive and detailed laundry lists of concerns—from proper air conditioning maintenance and mold prevention to replacing vocational teachers when they retire. Many spoke of the need for parents to take more responsibility and become more involved. Yet more complained that building and grounds maintenance continue to be neglected.
Elishua Mitchell, a junior at St. Croix Educational Complex, told the committee that as students prepare for college, they need more preparation for the standardized tests required by many of the best colleges and universities.
"One of the major topics we as students don’t do too well in is vocabulary," Mitchell said. His English teacher does use vocabulary words that will be included on the SAT test, he said. "But many classes don’t, so that is a major concern for me," he said.
Sen. Sammuel Sanes agreed with Mitchell and said V.I. students had to work especially hard on the tests because they are designed for an average U.S. resident living in the states. He recalled seeing a question on one of the tests he took, asking about a squirrel scampering into an attic.
"What is a squirrel? What is an attic?" Sanes said, recalling the question. "If they’d have said ‘mongoose,’ I would have had no problem."
Kemuel Russell, a 9-year-old fourth-grader at Claude O. Markoe Elementary, advocated for a nondairy alternative to milk in the classroom.
"I am a chronic asthmatic," said Russell. "Milk and dairy products cause congestion for asthma sufferers like me, triggering attacks…. Is there any way they can serve alternatives to milk, such as rice, almond or even soy milk, at lunch?
Sen. Janette Millin-Young, who chairs the committee, opined that getting a milk alternative should be possible if only a small number of students need it. But no one from Education was there to give immediate feedback.
Anna Petersen, president of the Alexander Henderson Elementary PTA, said that school had been struggling with a mold and mildew problem since flooding last November. Testing has found mold in the air, but how severe the problem is remains uncertain, she said. The playgrounds at the school are dilapidated to the point of being useless, she said.
Daniel McIntosh, chairman of the Career and Technical Education Board, said technical courses and programs are gradually evaporating.
"A sort of attrition takes place when a person retires," McIntosh said. "If the person is not replaced immediately, the position is absorbed." Sometimes courses and programs that are in high demand by employers get the ax this way, he said.
"When we lose these positions it is very difficult to recover them," he said. "We recognize the difficulty of funding, but it is something we must look at."
Several sets of testifiers took their turn in the well of the Legislature on St. Croix at Monday evening’s hearing, with testimony and discussion continuing until well after 11 p.m.
Present were: Millin-Young, Sanes and Sen. Neville James. Absent were Sens. Craig Barshinger, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Louis Hill and Shawn-Michael Malone.