St. Croix- Members of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development, chaired by Senator Genevieve R. Whitaker, convened in a meeting at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Lawmakers received an update on the curriculum mandates, the teaching of agriculture in the classrooms, Act 8374 regarding a technical program for public high school students in pursuit of a vocational career, and the status of the Emergency Medical Services Program.
Senator Whitaker indicated that it is important for students to have a well-rounded educational program. She said that it is important that we shift the school curriculum to further benefit the students. Although officials from the Virgin Islands Department of Education are not present today, this committee expects to receive all the necessary documents. Senator Whitaker stated that we must make sure that stakeholders are doing the work.
St. Thomas-St. John Federation of Teachers President Leontyne Jones stated that although expanding educational programs is beneficial to youth development, major challenges consist of staff shortages, lack of resources, and the need to identify a funding source to execute the programs. For example, Jones noted that the existing nursing program offered to high schoolers is on the verge of shutting down due to the lack of returning nurses to assist with the program. Meanwhile, the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) President David Hall indicated that UVI had no input in the development of the curriculum for public schools. However, UVI hosts 4-H, an informal youth program that is under the umbrella of the UVI School of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service. Some of the agricultural projects include aquaponics, gardening, and farming.
Regarding the development of the Emergency Medical Services Program, the Virgin Islands Department of Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion indicated that the EMS curriculum was reviewed but, due to the pandemic, progress was stalled. Meanwhile, some aspects of the EMS curriculum consist of students earning an Emergency Medical Responder state certificate that’s valid for two years. Encarnacion mentioned that DOH will review the equipment and supplies required for the program.
Separately, senators voted to hold the following in committee: Bill No. 34-0238- An Act amending Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 5, section 41(c), relating to courses of study in public schools to require that the Virgin Islands and Caribbean history be taught specifically in Kindergarten through 12th grade and for other purposes. The bill also replaces drug prevention education within the same category with substance abuse education. Senator Whitaker is the sponsor of the bill. Collectively, lawmakers expressed support for integrating the Virgin Islands’ history into current courses instead of creating new courses.
Lastly, policymakers were updated on the ICF contracts and the status of workforce development, apprenticeship programs, and the implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Virgin Islands State Plan. ICF Project Director for Skills for Today Adele Soto indicated that in collaboration with the Virgin Islands Department of Labor, the Disaster Dislocated Worker Grant in response to COVID-19 has enrolled 42 eligible dislocated workers. To date, the Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) has achieved the completion of outreach materials to attract job seekers and employers to the program. Furthermore, Soto noted that ICF is in the process of identifying and securing funding for RAP. Presently, Skills for Today has 519 eligible individuals with 339 people training in construction and 180 work-based learning activities. The Virgin Islands Department of Labor Commissioner Gary Malloy noted that some of the challenges facing workforce development are low-income wages, retraining displaced workers, and preparing workers through seeking higher education and expanding job skills.
Senators attending the meeting: Genevieve R. Whitaker, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Kurt A. Vialet, Franklin D. Johnson, Samuel Carrión, Carla J. Joseph, Janelle K. Sarauw, Kenneth L. Gittens, and Milton E. Potter.