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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, June 15, 2024
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A Superior School

Dear Source:
In this time of economic worries, it’s especially important to celebrate the things that work right within our community – and acknowledge everyone’s contribution to making good things happen. The Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School in Coral Bay, St. John is one of these accomplishments worth celebrating. This small public school has grown from 64 students five years ago to over 100 children learning on a quiet and beautiful 7-building small campus under big trees. Every year this school stands out at the top in the Education Department’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) statistics. This has happened through the dedication of the teachers and staff and the students and their parents, with lots of support from the local community and the government. Historically, the central government has not paid much attention to this remote facility, and understanding this, the local community has always been willing to provide skills, funds, and volunteers to fill the gaps.
Before 2006, there was truly very little effective government support for the school, on any level. Since then, we have seen VI Government financial resources devoted to a much higher level of maintenance and upkeep, for a much improved facility, and the establishment of an extremely effective teaching and administrative team totally devoted to the school and children. Even with occasional staff changes, the core is strong and locally based in Coral Bay. Much of this good change was also due to significant financial and volunteer support from individuals and businesses in the community, as well as charitable organizations and EDCs. For instance, the Coral Bay Community Council helped the school get a 5-year federal grant to have an afterschool program with educational, art, music, and sports components, led a refurbishment of the playground several years ago, and reduced school ground flooding in rainstorms.
Every year there is a Flotilla Fundraiser to benefit the school sponsored by the Coral Bay Yacht Club and the Parent Teachers Organization. This year’s Flotilla is March 24th. Hosting this annual sail and East End beach party under Vie’s tamarind tree has raised lots of money for the school: 400 ordinary people paying $20 each raises $8,000 in one glorious afternoon. Add raffle tickets, a few checks from wealthy donors and food prepared by parents and local businesses – and we have all the ingredients to raise from $10,000 to $16,000 each time for our local school. What have these funds purchased over the years? All the desks and chairs for the students, Promethean interactive whiteboards for teaching, a character-building teaching program, math books, playground equipment, and many other items have that been selected for purchase at the recommendation of the principal and teachers.
The new principal assigned by the Education Department, despite his long commute from West End St. Thomas, has brought inspiration and new ideas to the school that are being enthusiastically welcomed. Superintendent Smith-Barry was correct when she said before the Legislature last year that Dr. Browne was an excellent principal who would do good things for Guy Benjamin School.
Patriarch Guy H. Benjamin, at 98 years of age, for whom the school is named, lives just a few hundred yards away. One of the teachers is his niece and the majority of the rest of the teachers and staff live within 5 minutes of the school in Coral Bay. The firemen at the station next door help out whenever needed.
Since the new Calabash Boom affordable housing apartments in Coral Bay were occupied in 2009, more than 35 new students have been added to Guy H. Benjamin’s numbers. Now as the townhouses get sold, there will be more children attending school in Coral Bay. If you live in St. Thomas or St Croix, you may not realize it is a winding 10-mile, 25-minute drive to Cruz Bay from this new neighborhood. As a community, we have been glad that this new housing is convenient to the public elementary school and to the local private preschool (which has scholarships).
All the children know that the people in the community want them to learn, do well, and have some fun too. They see the support. The parents are involved, via the Parent Teachers Organization. They raise money for items for the school and students too. At a recent celebration for achievements, the parents all proudly donated a literal mountain of cupcakes and cakes.
Yes, 104 students does seem small for a public school, and the number of staff is very small too. But in this case, small is the right size for the biggest gains for the children.
For all of this investment and the very significant improvements in the last five years, everyone involved should be applauded.
Thank you to everyone who has helped make Guy H. Benjamin School become one of the premier schools in the whole Virgin Islands, public or private. Let’s work to keep it that way and make it even better– and help the school and the children grow.
by Sharon Coldren, president, Coral Bay Community Council

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