76 F
Cruz Bay
Sunday, February 5, 2023


Aug. 21, 2001 – If happy endings bore you, don't read on. Happy endings delight teacher Sarah Hancock, who a couple months ago didn't see one in sight in her quest for a classroom for her four deaf students who will enter high school this month.
Enter Rotary Club East, which learned of the students' plight from a Source story published in early June. By Saturday or Sunday, according to Rotarian Gary Xavier, the students will have a brand new room of their own at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. Well, half a room — but it's just big enough for their needs.
All it took, basically, was a wall. Well, a wall and a door and lumber and paint and volunteers.
"My niece, Kisias George, is one of the students," Xavier said. "And Sinclair Wilkinson, who is a Rotarian, is principal of IEKHS."
Wilkinson, well aware of the problem, had been working with Hancock this summer to try to find a room for the students. He told Xavier there was one they could use, but it was a large one that would need to be divided. That was all the encouragement Xavier needed.
The students — Kisias and Rennick Etienne, Jaliya Anderson and Willie Payne — graduated from Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School in June. Hancock had been trying from March to find a place for them to hold classes at Eudora Kean and had been frustrated in her attempts to get help from Education Department administrators.
In early June, Hancock told the Source, "The teachers are pushing for it, the parents are pushing for it, but there is no doubt in my mind that the superintendent and the special education director have washed their hands of it." See story "No room so far for deaf 9th graders".
"We have a close relationship with Eudora Kean," Rotary East president Ruth Miller said. "After learning about the problem from the Source story, we were trying to figure out what we could do to help. When Mr. Wilkinson offered the space, we knew what would work."
Hancock heard of the happy ending in the making on Saturday. "I was taken completely by surprise," she said, "I was thrilled."
Rotarian Corinne Van Rensselaer called Hancock and invited her to stop by the school and see the volunteers' handiwork on Saturday. "I was so excited," Hancock said. "I baked a batch of brownies and went on up." She was prepared to join in the effort, but there weren't enough tools to go around, she said, "so I just offered moral support."
In addition to Xavier, Miller and Van Rensselaer, the construction crew of Rotarians and friends consisted of Mervyn James, Leslie White, Justin Alexander, Kevin Rodriguez, Chris Dellsman, Joyce and Dave Waller, Bob Petersen, Denis Stockman, Jennifer Gerard and Galen Swingen. Led by Xavier, they set about making a lie out of that old adage "Divided we fall." They built the dividing wall and primed it last Saturday. This Saturday, they will finish painting and hope to remove an existing window and install a steel classroom door in its place.
"We couldn't get the door on the island, so it's coming from Puerto Rico," Xavier said. A businessman himself — he owns Gary's Marine Service at La Vida Marina — Xavier went to the business community for supplies. "MSI gave us all the lumber," he said, "and one of our members paid for the metal door."
Wilkinson was almost as pleased as Hancock. "He called me to come up today and look at it again," she said Tuesday, adding that the principal had pledged to get his own contractors to retile the the floor of the room, which is up the hill behind the main school building and next to the ROTC Building.
Hancock said she never did receive any concrete response from the Education Department about what would be done to accommodate her students, although she knew Wilkinson had been trying all summer to find a solution. In June, he had told the Source why space is at such a premium at Eudora Kean: "This school was built for 500 students, and we now have 900."
Hancock said Innovative Telephone officials have said the company will again donate the telephone equipment needed for the students to communicate, as it had done at BCB. With the TT/TTY phones, the students can type messages to communicate with other hearing-impaired students about school projects and communicate with people at the Independent Living Resource Center. ICC officials have said they will install the equipment as soon as they have assurance from the Education Department that it will pay the monthly service charge.
Kisias George learned of the Rotary project from her uncle. Hancock was in the process of sharing the good news with her other students. "I've only gotten one parent so far," she said. "I'm so happy to be able to tell them."
But Hancock still has her work cut out for her. "I have to move all my boxes from BCB," she said. "Somebody in the Bureau of Corrections is going to get the prisoners to help me, but they can't come on campus when the students are in school, so it'll have to be on Saturdays."
She said the special "resource room" for the students is essential. She and her assistant Youville George accompany the youngsters to their classes and interpret for them, but then "we have to gather back as a group to go over what we have learned, and do tutoring. We do language and reading together."
School is scheduled to resume Tuesday. If Hancock's books haven't arrived by then, at least the resource room will be ready the students, if all goes according to plan.
There are not many hearing-impaired high school students on St. Thomas, Hancock said, and her youngsters are hungry for contact with other deaf teen-agers. The group spent two weeks in Washington, D.C., at a sports camp for deaf youths at the start of the summer. The trip was partially sponsored by Rotary East.
"The students didn't care so much about what they learned" in the sports sense, Hancock said of that experience. "They just wanted to communicate with people like themselves."
Xavier said he is hoping that as least one of the students will join the Rotarians this weekend to help paint their room. And, he added, "We want to invite them to a Rotary meeting so everybody can meet them and we can let them know people care."

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.