After Hurricanes, USVI Residents Choose Hope

After three devastating hurricanes struck the Caribbean, the Department of Education undertook a series of actions to support the U.S. Virgin Islands through their recovery process. As part of that effort, ED staff committed to travelling to the Islands to provide resources, assistance, and expertise.

In November, as the ED team began their descent into the Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, the large-scale devastation left by Hurricanes Irma, Jose, and Maria became alarmingly clear. Once lushly green, the landscape had turned muddy and brown. Roads were washed out entirely; buildings were roofless or pushed off their foundations; parts of the islands were left in total darkness. Businesses — the lifeblood of an economy so reliant on tourism — were shuttered.

The team, which included Iyauta Green (Risk Management Service), Joy Medley (Office of School Support and Rural Programs), and Mark Robinson (Risk Management Service), then began a five day trip to assess the damage that the storms had left behind.

They also spoke with administrators — including private school headmasters — teachers, students, and staff at the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDE) administration, including Commissioner Sharon McCollum. From them, ED staff learned about the many needs facing the Islands and their students.

The storms hadn’t just created immediate, physical interruptions. They’d also halted progress toward a larger priority for the USVI: to diversify the workforce. Dr. McCollum had long wanted to keep the local economy competitive, and was concerned about students leaving the island — and taking their skills and talents with them. Instead, post-hurricanes, nearly 10 percent of students had left the USVI to continue, or finish, their education.

And students still on the Islands were required to adapt to a “new normal.” Many school buildings were either closed or operating on split schedules. At Ulla Muller Elementary School on St. Thomas, children ate FEMA packets instead of hot lunches.

Read more about the ED team’s visits to the U.S. Virgin Islands at Medium…