Featured, Local News

3 Part Series-Disparities in the USVI-Disruption in the Caribbean’s Educational System

By: Jada Roberts, J’Mari Clarke, Karon Reynolds, Kelsey Gilroy, S’niyah Roberts

On a typical first day, teachers will present their students with a syllabus outline, however in the Virgins Islands, and other Caribbean islands, teachers are prepared to adjust their academic schedule for hurricane and earthquake preparations. Nature is unpredictable.

Central High School, STX, photo credit: VI Consortium

Almost four years ago, the U.S. Virgin Islands were severely impacted by two Category 5 Hurricanes: Irma & Maria. Researchers and meteorologists painted a picture of how the hurricanes traveled over our island for hours.

However, Hurricane Computer Models cannot account for the beforehand and aftermath of the environmental destruction caused by high gusts of winds, crashing waves, and the loose debris traveling in the matter of hours.

Periodically, the Caribbean islands undergo natural disasters making it one of the most devastating and fearful life experiences for the residents.

photo credit: VI Consortium

September 6, 2017, was marked as a historic day for the territory since Hurricane Irma approached the U.S. Virgin Islands with sustained winds of 178 miles per hour. She passed northward of the island of St. Thomas with a physical speed of 50 mph.

Let’s just say, she took her time ravaging gracefully on her designated pathway.

Let’s just say, she took her time ravaging gracefully on her designated pathway. After hours and hours of powerful gust winds and heavy rain, Irma left behind a dramatic scene for all residents. The impact of this storm was catastrophic.

There was no power, damaged roadways, destroyed buildings, and scattered debris; everything was lost. The islands became  “ghost towns.”

The islands became  “ghost towns.”

Everyone believed that was the end of the destruction, however, Irma had other plans for the following weeks.

Irma invited her sister, Maria, precisely two weeks later on September 20, 2017, to replicate her remembrance on the sister island of St. Croix.

Irma invited her sister, Maria, precisely two weeks later on September 20, 2017, to replicate her legacy on the sister island of St. Croix. Hurricane Maria made landfall with peaked winds at 172 mph traveling roughly 25 miles southward. This storm’s devastation caused significant damage to roofs, homes, building structures, power, phone lines, and roadways. The overload of rainfall from Hurricane Maria resulted in extensive flooding and mudslides throughout the territory. These two storms combined left the Virgin Islands in turmoil.

Irma and Maria- NASA

After those two traumatic events, the islands began to unite to plan the right course of action. All commissioners, community officials, and first responders bravely came forward to assess the islands to ensure the public’s safety. Schools, roadways, and government offices, were a high priority for the storms’ assessments.

Both storms caused significant delays in the Virgin Islands Education System by affecting the youths by delaying their graduation date during the academic year. All schools were severely damaged and unrecognizable afterward, forcing most minority students with yet another setback.

However, this event did not stop the territory; it allowed us to adapt to our new circumstances and rebuild as one.

Almost three years later, we experience yet another challenge to overcome. However, this event was shared with the entire world. Nearly overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of traditional learning within a physical classroom.

Virtual learning may seem easy, but it is challenging when resources are limited and hands-on learning is removed.

Everyone has been affected by the current pandemic in some way. The pandemic impact and consequences are felt differently by students who want to further their education and achieve their goals. Virtual learning may seem easy, but it is challenging when resources are limited and hands-on learning is removed. These life-changing events reflect the resilience of the territory’s students, from two Category 5 hurricanes to the current pandemic devastation, in their fight to continue their education at all cost. We shall provide a voice to help share their survival stories.

We shall provide a voice to help share their survival stories.

St. Croix, V.I. — Leanna Carr is a current college student attending the University of the Virgin Islands (STX). However, at the time of Hurricane Maria, she was a senior in high school at CJM Homeschooling Services. “I had to put my learning on pause because I had no internet access” said Leanna. Many students faced this obstacle during Hurricane Maria. The challenge of completing schoolwork with little to no internet access is almost impossible.

The challenge of completing schoolwork with little to no internet access is almost impossible.

no internet. no power

Since she was a senior, she faced challenges such as acquiring her school’s transcripts, writing essays for colleges, and fully enjoying her last high school experience. Eventually, her school did reopen like many others (all schools did not reopen at the same exact time). After a month or two, there were Wi-Fi hotspots stationed on multiple locations on the island.

Leanna mentioned that, “I started to go to UVI in search of Wi-Fi and I was able to do my schoolwork there.” Those hotspots were a huge blessing for individuals who needed internet access. It took multiple months for locals to receive fully-working internet and even regain their power back on.

‘Hotspots’ were a huge blessing for individuals who needed internet access.

Leanna’s school year was pushed back to mid-summer 2018. Her school year finished later than other schools located on St. Croix. Despite all the obstacles, Leanna graduated as valedictorian of her class and learned new life lessons throughout her school year. Leanna stated, “Hurricane Maria affected me a lot, but I made it through with the help of family and friends.”

Homes were destroyed and families became homeless after Hurricane Maria. (Photo Credits: UVI Files)

Homes were destroyed and families became homeless after Hurricane Maria. (Photo Credits: UVI Files)

St. Thomas, V.I. –Mario Capriola was a freshman at the University of the Virgin Islands when both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was on St. Thomas when Hurricane Irma hit and then returned to his home on St. Croix due to the devastation. Mario started taking classes on the UVI-St. Croix campus because of how drastic the living conditions had affected the UVI-St. Thomas campus.

His home was powerless for four months so he had to complete his assignments on campus before heading home each day

He took classes at this campus for approximately two weeks and then Hurricane Maria hit and classes stopped for a month. His house was powerless for four months so he had to complete his assignments on campus before heading home each day. This made school very difficult for him and he felt like he “couldn’t catch a break.”

It took a while for both the internet and power to be available at his home and on campus. The drastic changes made everything around him feel like they were on pause.

After things finally settled back to normal, the coronavirus pandemic hit by the time he was a junior, and school became very difficult once again. There were new things to adapt to like, online classes, new living conditions, and a new mindset. Mario stated, “This all has taught me the importance of flexibility.” These hurricanes and the pandemic definitely have influenced the education of Mario and plenty of other students in the Virgin Islands, but it has made them stronger.

Mario stated, “This all has taught me the importance of flexibility”

The University of the Virgin Islands wasn’t fully prepared for the destruction awaiting. The atmosphere was hesitant, however, classes proceeded as usual up until 12 p.m.

John D. is a native Afro-Caribbean and currently a transfer sophomore at the UVI (STT). John D. remembers attending his 9:00 a.m. Psychics II class. He later remembered receiving his Linear Algebra itinerary sent out on UVI Blackboard for his afternoon class.

As he began to prepare for his upcoming class, he was alerted by UVI Announcements to relocate to the East dormitory to brace for Hurricane Irma slowly approaching.

East dorms were recommended for its strong exterior infrastructure and geographically located lower campus.

East dormitories, which usually housed one to two students per room throughout the semester, would now have four to six students in a dorm room. Males and females were separated and confined in their room with the excess students assigned with an inflatable air mattress. The students witnessed mass destruction from boards banging against the wall, rustling trees, wind howling to the moon, a leaky roof and flooded floors.

Students became leaders assigning roles to barricade the door entrance with sandbags and their own personal towels.

Students became leaders assigning roles to barricade the door entrance with sandbags and their own personal towels. The reality of life and death came to settle in for John D. that inanimate objects can always be replaced. John D. was awakened frantically by a large roof gutter collapsing outside.

...the atmosphere became foggy so reliance on the constant sound of “drip, drop” into a pail kept him sane…

Throughout the night, the atmosphere became foggy and he had to depend on his other four senses. He then became reliant on the constant sound of “drip, drop” into a pail which kept him sane from the unknown outside. When Hurricane Irma passed, everyone resurfaced to see what destruction she left behind. Trees were uprooted and became bare. Roofs were separated from its foundation. Glass windows were shattered everywhere. This aftermath brought the community of UVI, both faculty and students, to solidify a stronger bond overcoming a high-risking event.

UVI files-photo credit John Doe

Sept 8, 2017, The Hurricane Irma passed leaving trees bare and darkening the environment.

Vending machines were raided due to limiting resources the day after Hurricane Irma passed.

Three years later, the University of the Virgin Islands has not fully recovered however a worldwide pandemic awaits. Due to the pandemic, John D. returned home to his native island where he reunited with his parents and siblings. He was excited to graduate in May 2020. Although the initial thought of virtual learning was intriguing, his interest in this new method soon began to fade away.

He realizes how mental health is just as important as physical health. The end goal of graduation, walking across a stage and the switch of the tassel with friends, is yet another hopeless dream. Nevertheless, applications such as Zoom, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and Snapchat played a vital role in everyones friends’ group to have an open line of communication.

John D. said, “We made more group chats to have more conversations to gain some sense of what life was like before the pandemic.” Fortunately, his hard-work and dedication was rewarded with a diploma and a job opportunity at one of the prestigious universities on the mainland. Well that’s what he believed.

Since John D. was born in the Caribbean, his transition from UVI to work stateside requires VISA documentation determining whether he’s accepted or not. John’s intelligence was evident, however the status of his citizenship delayed him three months of starting his secondary collegiate education. “I was lucky and grateful to my employers for understanding my mail setback.

Another employer would have easily filled my position since I couldn’t start when I promised for reasons beyond me. My mail traveled more than I did at the time, traveling to places such as Mexico and the Bahamas,” he said. “My documents did eventually arrive and I was able to pack my life into one suitcase to head my dream job. Despite the long process and limited resources, I am ultimately proud of myself for never giving up on my education.”

UVI files-photo credit John Doe

He concluded, “overall, both the storms and this COVID-19 pandemic have taught me to make the best of bad situations and appreciate life itself.”

The Caribbean has been subjected to rebuild itself ever so often because of the profound presence of these natural disasters. While they may not come every year, the annual hurricane season raises an instinctual alert in those who have experienced them.

While they may not come every year, the annual hurricane season raises an instinctual alert in those who have experienced them.

Every storm has enabled the residents to learn what can be done for the next.

There are many who have lost and continue to lose their homes, vehicles, businesses, and family to these storms. Many people grew up on the island so the familiarity is ingrained in them. Outsiders would simply recommend starting anew someplace else, however, the idea of traveling afar and starting anew can be terrifying. At the heart of USVI tradition lies an incomparable allegiance to family, culture and heritage. A familiar saying, that reflects their reluctance to move away from family and the islands, is “All ah we.”

A familiar saying, that reflects their reluctance to move away from family and the islands, is “All ah we.” 

The U.S. Virgin Islands consists of a majority of minorities. The locals consider the islands to be a “cultural melting pot.” Many ethnic groups reside here, including Indians, Black, Arabs, Hispanic, Native Indians, Haitians, and much more. In essence, many of these groups experience discrimination and exclusion. Although USVI natives are accustomed to the prevailing naturaal disasters, many have no desire to move to the U.S. mainland.

Our geographical location is a blessing but also a curse.

Our geographical location is a blessing but also a curse. We experience what many may consider to be a “year-long summer.” The U.S. Virgin Islands’ economy is primarily dependent on the aspect of tourism/hospitality and rum distillery trade. Tourism accounts for the majority of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the territory’s employment rate.

Many businesses in the USVI are targeted toward catering to visitors who visit via cruise ship, plane, or boat. Tourist attraction locations such as Havensight, Waterfront, or Subbase have retail businesses as well as restaurants nearby to attract visitors to splurge. You find that many visitors gravitate toward visiting our beautiful beaches year-round due to our humid climate.

Many movie productions, TV shows, and celebrities have also promoted our islands which have attracted more people worldwide. For instance, Twilight, the producers shot a romance scene from The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn at Magens Bay Beach and ABC television show, The Bachelor in 2017 was shot in St. John and St. Thomas displayed the island’s fun activities and beautiful resorts.

Furthermore, our hotels tend to bring a profit as well. Hotels are the main source of housing for vacationing tourists; they provide exquisite views and a luxurious feel to each guest. At the same time hotels tend to promote fun activities for their guests to participate in such as kayaking, day excursion, hikes to landmark monuments, and many more. However, our warm waters and humid temperature makes our island a vulnerable vacation spot for hurricanes.

The tropics welcome tourism which allows our economy to thrive however that also makes us vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms.

…specifically the students, in primary, secondary, and higher learning institutions, were not able to return to an order of pre-disaster.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria severely changed everyone’s lives and we won’t forget them. The hurricane may have wreaked havoc in 2017, but specifically the students, in primary, secondary, and higher learning institutions, were not able to return to an order of pre-disaster.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria severely changed everyone’s lives and we won’t forget them

UVI files-photo credit John Doe

The lack of immediate response and relief that the V.I. receives takes an immense toll on the youth. They are being inevitably stripped of necessary course materials, and the more endearing memories, opportunities, and choices that were offered before. The pandemic has placed an even greater strain on the information that they should have so reverently received.

They [students] are being inevitably stripped of necessary course materials, and the more endearing memories, opportunities, and choices that were offered before.

Many students solely aim to pass, while others have lost the true essence of what it means to get an education. We commend them for doing the best they can with what they have been given.

However, there is more that can be done to forge a better path for them. It is imperative that we fix our eyes on the youth because they are the future generations that will take charge of these very islands in the years to come.

Due to our geographical disadvantage, we may never be fully supplied with the proper resources needed to revitalize our islands.

Due to our geographical disadvantage, we may never be fully supplied with the proper resources needed to revitalize our islands. Hurricanes Irma and Maria severely changed everyone’s lives, and we won’t forget them. The hurricane may have wreaked havoc in 2017, but specifically, the students in primary, secondary, and higher learning institutions were never able to return to an order of pre-disaster.

The lack of immediate response and relief that the V.I. receiving takes an immense toll on the youth. They are inevitably stripped of necessary course materials and the more endearing memories, opportunities, and choices that were offered before. The pandemic has placed an even more tremendous strain on the information they should have so reverently received. Many students solely aim to pass, while others have lost the true essence of what it means to get an education.

We commend them for doing the best they can with what they have been given. However, there is more that can be done to forge a better path for them. We must fix our eyes on childhood because they are the future generations that will take charge of these very islands in the years to come.

We must fix our eyes on childhood because they are the future generations that will take charge of these very islands in the years to come.

We have no control over the unpredictable storms that affect our islands, but we do have the power to influence how long the damages can last. Reba Dickson, a former teacher at John H. Woodson Junior High in St. Croix, experienced first-hand the devastating impact on the educational growth of her students. She states, “students in the USVI are forced to become stronger and more resilient if they want to overcome the challenges that mother Nature continues to deliver.”

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9 Comments

  1. Kerel Gerard says:

    This was a very great piece, and it highlighted the educational difficulties that the U.S. Virgin Islands not only face on a regular level. But after 2 natural disasters.

  2. Alejandro Saul says:

    Thank you for all the information you provide about the disparities, and also the hurricanes. You show us the real life examples that happened.

  3. Elijah Chapman says:

    I liked how this article informs about how hurricanes Irma and Mariah affected us, similar to how the current pandemic is affecting us.

  4. Ashly Ravariere says:

    The article is well put together and depicts the effects of the hurricane on the education the students received remarkably. The addition of quotes from students who went through the hurricanes and were affected strengthened the article. Great job.

  5. mabika alfonso says:

    Many of us did experience many difficulties especially as high school kids and college students we wanted to continue going to school without disruptions that will cause us to step back or even make tough decision but many of us aim to get pass the hard path and still be in able to pass no matter the hurricanes that took place and now that the virus hit we still continue to do our best.

  6. The unpredictable of nature in the Virgin Islands can put a constraint on our educational system. The constraints caused our young scholars to miss out on knowledge and opportunities that can further the Virgin Islands in the future.

  7. Sulaiman Donaie says:

    Brilliant representation of the major affects of Hurricanes on the U.S. Virgin Islands Territories. Even through preparation, the disruptive power of the hurricanes on the Caribbean is not something that can be easy to overcome.

  8. Nadege Barber says:

    Thank you for shedding light on the aftermath of the vicious hurricanes. I do hope this article finds those that want to help well, prevention plans and emergency options in these unfortunate cases are necessary!

  9. Marlene Maharaj says:

    I personally have experienced hurricanes Irma and Maria. It was a traumatic experience for many and they all have a story to share. Not even two weeks after having surgery i was faced with Irma/ Maria. This event had me on the edge. I was left to think of ways to run in the event we lost our room. I was far from full recovery and feared i wouldn’t be able to run if needed. All turned out well even though the aftermath was devastating. Covid-19 has forced us all to adapt to the new way of living. From online classes to social distancing. This life changing event has effect us all and the economy.

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