The Virgin Islands Department of Education’s (VIDOE) Division of Virgin Islands Cultural Education is poised to influence the way students learn and what they learn with the first “A New Vision: Traditionalist and Preservationist Culture Bearers Impacting Students Learning” Conference that was recently held in the territory.
The conference was conducted in the St. Croix District on Aug. 29 and in the St. Thomas-St. John District on Sept. 2. About 60 Virgin Islands culture bearers attended workshops on both islands, especially those with skills and knowledge in husbandry, arts and crafts, music and dance, pottery, tea bushes and herbs, and other local industries.
According to Director of Cultural Education Valrica Bryson, the inaugural gathering was designed to bring people together who love V.I. culture with the goal of instilling and promoting that culture among local youth.
Bryson, a former music teacher, speaking during the St. Thomas conference, said, “I am so elated because I am getting to meet the culture bearers and what their visions are and knowing that their visions are similar to mine. My vision is to have them in the schools permanently, not just to do a workshop nor to talk (to students) on a daily basis, but to teach their skills to the students, and keep it going.”
Bryson said as the program gets going, culture bearers will be stationed at schools throughout the territory to engage students in hands-on, cultural learning activities.
“One year, they may be at Gomez (Elementary School) working with a group of students, and those students in turn may teach other students at the school,” she said. Each year, Bryson pointed out, culture bearers will focus on instilling their knowledge in students at different schools.
Bryson said she aims to incorporate culture appropriately into the teaching of mathematics, science, social studies, music, fine arts and, most importantly, into business lessons.
“One of our initiatives is bush tea to business,” she said. “The bush tea to business project in grades kindergarten to 12th will follow a curriculum on agriculture whereby at least two teachers at each school will be teaching children how to plant and about soil. I want everyone to know we want to create an impact on our students.”
Accompanying Bryson as facilitators at both conferences were Alscess Lewis-Brown, a professor at the University of the Virgin Islands and editor of the Caribbean Writer, and Denise Gomes, a program manager in the VIDOE’s State Office of Curriculum and Instruction. In her presentation, Lewis-Brown outlined the differences and similarities across generations, the way different generations communicate in the workplace, and the values and influences that cause them to communicate the way they do.
“Right now, there are about four generations in the workplace,” she said. “We have the traditionalists, people who retired and came back to the workplace. We have the baby boomers, the largest population, and the data is showing that there are more millennials than baby boomers nationally, and we have generation Z.”
According to her, traditionalists believe in honor and waiting their turn, and baby boomers are respectful of others and like to get involved in their society. Millennials are aggressive in articulating their needs and want instant feedback.
The younger generation (Z) is more diverse,” Brown said. “There are a lot of differences and because of those differences sometimes the way we operate, the way we communicate could lead to problems if we don’t understand where they (generation Z) are coming from.”
Prof. Brown, providing tips for successfully working and living together, said the different generations can learn from each other. “If you find you are dealing with a millennial – a technocrat – let them teach you, and if you don’t understand something, ask a question,” she advised. “Engage, get involve, open up your mind. Things may be shocking, but step back, think about it before you respond for effectiveness.”
Gomes used her skills in macramé to illustrate in her PowerPoint presentation how to integrate literacy into cultural education.
“We talk about deficiencies that our students have, both in language arts and mathematics, and so we are asking them (culture bearers) to work with us in a community approach to bombarding our students with options to develop their literacy skills,” she said.
Gomes gave culture bearers practical tools they could use as part of their classroom presentations to engage students in not just reading, but writing, speaking and listening.
Cultural Education employee Maria Martin presented a workshop to inform attendees of the process involved in contracting their services to the VIDOE.