More digital study material and class content, more and better trained teachers, more activities and more sex-ed are some of the things students told legislators during a committee hearing Friday that they need in the public schools.
The discussion was based on a report the Youth Agenda for Policy Action created at the Close Up Foundation’s USVI Islands Youth Policy Summit in December. Sixty one high school students from throughout the territory gathered at the Windward Passage Hotel to discuss issues affecting teens and the community, and to develop a youth policy action agenda at the summit, the fifth of its kind in the USVI. The students split into committees to tackle different topics and several students reported to the Legislature Friday on their committee’s concerns and proposals.
"Every student in the room had a horror story relating to either being unable to take a class because their was no teacher available, taking a class being taught by a teacher who was not certified to teach it, or being dealt unwarranted disrespect from their teacher," Ivanna Eudora Kean High School student Raven Phillips said.
She said the students thought it good that schools had recruited teachers from Haiti and the Philippines, but felt much more needs to be done. She called on the Legislature to create a teacher support fund to increase teacher salaries, pay for testing and for ongoing education for teachers.
In a similar vein, Ajani Gordon of St. Croix Educational Complex urged legislators to find funding for more electronic devices like iPads or computers.
"Investing into electronic devices can replace textbooks used in classrooms and will make a profit because the government wouldn’t need much money to purchase textbooks every year. This money can go towards repairs or new additions to school buildings and staff. Much of the textbooks are old and students don’t take much care of them," Gordon said.
Sen. Marvin Blyden asked Phillips what schools should do when there is no qualified teacher for a mandatory class.
"My school used to offer Plato, but we got rid of that program just this year," Phillips said. She said the program, which offers online educational materials, curriculum and testing, "should be available." It had been offered to students for classes who wanted to take a class but did not have space in their schedule, she said.
Blyden asked what schools were doing in relation to anti-gang education.
"Personally, I believe little to nothing is being done,"Charlotte Amalie High School student Isiah Smith said. Before and after school and during lunch, "there are groups that cluster and loiter in gangs in the school … and something should be done to keep them productive," he said.
The students also discussed road repair, improving public lighting to cut down on crime, increasing the availability of comprehensive sex education in the schools and an array of other legislative priorities they and their fellow students identified at the summit in December.
Later, the Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, Youth and Recreation took testimony from various officials and business operators on the visitor and resident experience at Coki Beach, Smith Bay and Magens Bay.
“The issue that I have is the lack of stewardship by our government,” Sen. Myron Jackson, the committee chair, said. He said he would hold another hearing in 30 days and wanted the government agencies to return "with a plan of action of how you plan to improve the quality of life and the experience for both visitors and residents alike.”