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HomeNewsLocal newsReady, Set, Learn: Public School Students Return to the Classroom

Ready, Set, Learn: Public School Students Return to the Classroom

School buses line up at the front of Juanita Gardine Elementary School. (Photo by Diana Dias)

Ready, set, learn! Public school students returned to the classroom on Monday across the territory to teachers ready for the 2023-2024 school year. Students were visibly excited to begin the new school year as they greeted fellow classmates and were welcomed at the entrance by faculty at various schools.

Students return to school across the territory on Monday. (Photo by Diana Dias)

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. joined administrators in urging students to work hard at their studies. The governor set out early with the goal of visiting schools on St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix.

His first stop was the only public school on St. John, then on to a St. Thomas high school. On his way to the next stop, Bryan said he was as eager as some of the students to get the year started off right. “We’re just as excited to welcome students, faculty, teachers back,” he said.

Gov. Albert Bryan observes a new school day assembly on St. John. From left are St. Thomas/Water Island Administrator Avery Lewis, Bryan, VIDE Partner Relations Director Monique Creque, and Julius E. Sprauve School teacher Anna Fisher; foreground is Julius E. Sprauve School Principal Sharon Richardson. (Photo by Judi Shimel)

The 2023-2024 school year marks the start of the second full year of in-person instruction since COVID-19 health precautions closed schools. Some administrators said students are still struggling from learning loss resulting from that absence and the sudden introduction of virtual instruction.

At the Julius E. Sprauve School on St. John, parents and grandparents stood attentively while their students filled the seats. Principal Sharon Richardson said she was excited to see the eager faces seated before her, but she cautioned everyone to expect some ups and downs.

To close the instructional gap, she said, parents and all school personnel will have to play a greater role.

Nishma Lopez picks up her children on the first day of school at Juanita Gardine Elementary on St. Croix. (Photo by Diana Dias)

As one old saying suggests, showing up is half the fight. On St. John, grandfather Courtney Matthias waited outside the assembly at Sprauve School. “I’ve got five from kindergarten to eighth grade,” he said.

Inside the cafetorium, Richardson delivered a directive to students.

“This year we are going to work. We are going to roll up our sleeves because we have work to do. We need for you to be proficient,” Richardson said.

New Julius E. Sprauve School Principal Sharon Richardson greets students as they start a new school year on St. John. (Photo by Judi Shimel)

At the Charlotte Amalie High School, Principal April Petrus said evidence of learning loss can be tracked throughout their school years. Outside of her modular office, uniformed students milled up and down the boardwalk between modular classrooms built after the 2017 hurricane season.

Workers on-site at the iconic entrance to Charlotte Amalie High School on St. Thomas. The scheduled demolition of Buildings A, B, and C will begin while students start a new school year in modular classrooms built around the high school track. (Photo by Judi Shimel)

Another disruption that, when coupled with the 2020-2022 national health emergency, made a bad situation worse for public schools.

“We can start by taking a look at the data, the SmarterBalanced scores, the PSAT scores, even to the advanced placement scores. They tell a story,” Petrus said.

‘When you look back — for example with SmarterBalanced — the current (CAHS) juniors, we have their scores from when they took the test from third grade. And you can see straight across the board that they did not do well,” she said.

At one of the largest elementary schools on St. Thomas, administrators began the 2022 year expressing a need for an all-hands approach to improvement. Joseph Gomez Elementary School Principal Erma Skelton, at that time, urged monitors, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, janitors, and secretaries to work with and encourage their students. She also urged parents to play more active roles.

Sturdy students climb the stairs as the first day of class concludes at Joseph Gomez Elementary School on Monday on St. Thomas. (Photo by Judi Shimel)

The V.I. Education Department also encouraged fathers and other father figures who serve as role models to take a child to their first day of school. This is an initiative that serves to improve students’ behaviors, social-emotional competencies, and academic success by recognizing the important role that males play in children’s educational development.

At many schools in the district, fathers, grandfathers, older brothers and uncles escorted students to the schoolhouse doors. Fathers stood patiently in the Gomez School lobby by days’ end, waiting to buy gym T-shirts, pay fees, or set up school bus transportation.

Students at the Juanita Gardine Elementary School are dismissed. (Photo by Diana Dias)

Speaking about Monday’s start to the new school year, Skelton said she saw signs of support for her 443 students.

“The energy was good all around, and parent support was exceptional. I was especially impressed with the large number of males who brought students to school today. I am hoping we can experience a school year of major successes for our bright and shining stars,” said Skelton.

Yelithza strikes a pose at the Ricardo Richards Elementary School on St. Croix. (Photo by Diana Dias)

There are also signs of greater support on the way. Education Department spokeswoman Shayla Solomon on Monday said further details would come in the next few days.

“Joseph Gomez is one of the schools we’ll be focusing on in terms of our turnaround program,” said Solomon.

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