While St. Thomas students were splashing at the beach, wrapping and unwrapping gifts, indulging in cookies, visiting family and texting friends these past few weeks, school administrators and staff were getting ready for 2014 and a new semester.
Returning students at V.I. Montessori School and Peter Gruber International Academy may not notice anything different on their campus, but there have been some changes – hundreds of them, in fact.
“We’re doing the next step (in a longstanding ‘green’ policy) going from fluorescent to LED,” said Head of School Michael Bornn. “We’re changing like 500 light bulbs. We’re leading the way one more time.”
Montessori began putting up solar panels in earnest in 2008 and has continued to expand in an environmentally friendly direction. The school also sponsors and promotes recycling; its website boasts it has kept more than 70,000 aluminum cans out of the Bovoni landfill. And on Jan. 18, it will host its second Fun Day to show off its solar system while entertaining the community.
Bornn said the switch to LED was relatively simple; maintenance crews just had to hard wire the new tubes. He expects the change to save the school about 10 percent on its electric bill.
Given the high cost of power in the territory, going solar is less a matter of ecology and more a matter of economics these days, he said. “It has to do with whether you can survive.”
Over at Antilles School, the installation of solar paneling for the MCM Center was recently completed.
“It saves us $10,000 the first month,” said Donna Davis, director of development.
Another physical project in the works is the renovation of the Early Learning Center, said Jamie Aubain, assistant director of development. The rooms housing prekindergarten through kindergarten classes are getting a complete makeover and will be fully air conditioned.
The little ones are getting special attention at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School too. Principal Samuel Belmar said the school is reconverting a downstairs classroom to make way for an expansion. Currently class offerings start at age 3, but the school will soon be able to serve infants and 1- and 2- year-olds.
For older students, a new offering in 2014 are sewing classes, some as part of the curriculum and some as an afterschool activity. Belmar said originally it was to be available to high school students, but the idea was so popular, the program was expanded to include interested students in elementary and middle school.
Antilles School is in the planning stages of setting up a Gifted and Talented Program in hopes of beginning it in the summer of 2014, Davis said.
Discussions are ongoing with two stateside institutions, Johns Hopkins University and Duke University, both of which sponsor special enrichment summer programs for top students. Antilles would like to work out a partnership with one or both of the universities supplying the materials and Antilles hosting the program. It would be open to the top 5 percent of high school students – “not just at Antilles, but islandwide,” Davis said.
Participants would be taking college-level enrichment programs in various subjects. Math and marine science seem to be the most popular currently, she said, but there may be others. The school will be looking for donors to defray the costs for participants.