This month, 17 Gifft Hill School eighth and ninth grade students set sail for an incredible educational experience aboard a 1925 wooden Schooner for four days. On this beautiful vessel, the students learned much more than just sailing. A fully encompassing, round the clock maritime immersion provided by the World Ocean School ensured that the students on board would take home a vast amount of knowledge of the sea, of themselves and of the sailing world around them.
Each year, Gifft Hill School (GHS) is committed to making available to their eighth grade students, on the cusp of adulthood, the experience that the World Ocean School and a brief snapshot of life on the Roseway provide. In March of 2020, the eighth grade class was on board the vessel as COVID-19 rapidly settled into the territory. While this group of adolescents were at sea, everything began closing. And when they returned to land, “the world as they knew it had changed,” Liz Kinsella, GHS Associate Head of School told me over the phone last week.
The eighth grade class of 2020 were met at the dock by parents, teachers and school administrators who held in their arms school books, instruments, laptops and notebooks…Everything the unknowing kids would need to set sail on a new type of voyage. Virtual Learning.
In 2021, due to the pandemic, the then eighth grade students were unable to participate in the World Ocean School’s program aboard the Roseway. As forementioned, the school is committed to providing EVERY student with this experience. So, on March 21, the ninth graders joined their eighth grade classmates as they set out to get their sea legs.
World Ocean School fulfills its mission by providing transformative, hands-on, interactive programming that provides students:
Transferable life skills and character development
Inspiration for academic and vocational advancement
Strong relationships with caring and responsible adults
A safe environment for learning
If you are familiar with GHS and the DNA of this progressive toddler through twelfth grade learning institution on St. John, I’m sure you’ll make some correlations with the above mission of the World Ocean School and the experiential learning model of the school. Experience and apply.
Aboard the Roseway, according to Kinsella, the eighth and ninth grade classes learned academics of the oceanic world in the form of literature about the sea, maritime history of the Caribbean, the historical and economical ties of the USVI and Puerto Rico, hands on experiments with marine sciences and, of course, sailing. But, much more importantly, upon this beautiful vessel, they learn their own strengths and weaknesses and they learn about team work and relying on your peers in this capstone adventure of an experiential educational experience.
In addition to the on board learning experiences, the students this year visited Vieques where they kayaked in the Bioluminescent Bay and Culebra where they hiked to Flamenco Beach and visited “The Tank,” a reminder of the US Navy’s occupation of Puerto Rico.
This monumental four day educational experience is just one of the many experiential opportunities that GHS is committed to providing to its students. Their signature EARTH program provides students from the age of two through graduation with a multi-layered education in agriculture. From worm gardens to aquaponics from composting to pollinator gardens; the students, throughout their years of education, learn how to develop a meaningful relationship with the land and learn what it takes to grow food here while developing a deeper appreciation for where their food comes from. The school even has a “Farm Bot” at the Upper Campus which combines coding with gardening, allowing kids who are excited about technology to join in the fun with programming the bot to plant seeds, water and weed the gardens.
From the garden comes the ingredients for the school’s culinary program, which offers students a multitude of specialty learning experiences in the culinary arts. Love people. Feed them healthy, tasty food.
These programs are supplemental to the generalized academics offered at GHS. But, they provide a more well-rounded educational experience. They provide students with the opportunity to thrive after graduation in fields that may provide a sustainable career here on St. John. From creating their own food to hospitality skills to on-the-water experience…The bases for a foundational career on island are founded.
But, curriculum offered by these “extracurricular” programs are not free. And neither is an education at GHS. The majority of the students at the school are supported by the school’s financial aid programs. And that educational funding is fueled by donations. If you would enjoy supporting these incredible educational programs, you can do so on the GHS website. And, keep following along. After the riveting conversation I had with Liz last week, I’ll be taking a closer look at some more of these amazing programs in the months to come! And, sharing them with all of you 🙂
And, I’ll leave you today with an up close look at the magnificent ship graced our harbors for several days this season. We were lucky enough to happen upon her several times while out sailing on Asante. Isn’t she beautiful? What an incredible experience for these kiddos…Fair winds to all who sailed aboard the Roseway this month. We hope you keep working on your sea legs and that we see you on the water frequently 🙂
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A glowing report on the vibrant and innovative St John School on Gifft Hill that continues to make us proud.