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Charlotte Amalie
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HomeCommunitySchoolsPeer Exchange Network Tackles Culture, Literacy in American Territories

Peer Exchange Network Tackles Culture, Literacy in American Territories

American Samoa educators -- Atalina Coffin (left) and Netini Sene -- work on developing common educational strategy for the U.S. Outlying Areas at V.I. PEN Conference May 10 at UVI campus, St. Croix.A small, dynamic group of educators from the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) huddled on Tuesday, May 10, in a Peer Exchange Network (PEN) at the Albert Sheen campus of the University of the Virgin Islands to brainstorm, and they shared ideas and information on integrating cultural aspects to achieve academic success.
It was the first day of the federally-funded Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy (SRCL) Project that focuses on the “Culturally Responsive Literacy Approaches to College and Career Readiness” for students in the American territories. The conference, dubbed V.I. PEN, was held in the V.I. for the first time.
Representatives from the SRCL grantees on the U.S. Mainland and the territories come together at least every four months in a PEN sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE). As a hosting grantee, the V.I. Department of Education (VIDOE) co-sponsored the V.I. PEN along with U.S. DOE. Representatives also came from Washington, D.C.
V. I. PEN Representative Denise Gomes leads a discussion on cultural differences at SRCL project conference held recently at UVI Albert Sheen campus.Participants from the V.I. promoted the uniqueness of their islands during their lively interactive Power Point presentations. St. Croix Superintendent of Schools Colleen Mae Williams, speaking on behalf of VIDOE, welcomed the educators from across the seas and told them, “Even though we are miles apart, we have so much in common, and I think that’s going to come out as we dialogue and talk for the next two days. The cultural aspect of this whole process is something that I think will enrich all of us because we are going to see how we are interconnected, and I think our culture at some point intertwines.”
Williams comments were reinforced by former high school teacher Denise Gomes, a VIDE program manager and chief organizer of V.I. PEN in the territory. Gomes’ presentation titled VIDOE Director of Cultural Education Valrica Bryson explains the link between storytelling/songs and literacy at V.I. PEN conference at UVI.  “Preparing Students in American Territories for the 21st Century Literacy” hit home when she discussed the diction and customs unique to the V.I. Gomes also shared a V.I. SRCL success story in progress where the V.I. school districts are working with the Head Start program to build the oral language development skills of the 4-year old transitioning into kindergarten.
Other VIDE presentations in V.I. PEN focused on special education, bilingual education, literacy building strategies and cultural education.
Valrica Bryson, VIDE director of cultural education, brought everyone to their feet to engage in storytelling during her interactive session.
The overseas participants also presented strategies that they are using at home to integrate culture into the curriculum to increase literacy achievement. Topics shared included the use of song, stories and technology for achievement. They also shared success stories.
The second day of the V.I. PEN workshop was an educational field day for the off-island participants. They visited the Juanita Gardine Elementary School and the nearby Head Start Center in Estate Richmond to see first-hand the results of professional development provided through the V. I. SRCL grant.
“I think the participants fully enjoyed the conference and benefited immensely from the topics presented,” Ms. Gomes said.

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