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Rafael E. Hodge, Virgin Islander, Joins National Board of Kappa Alpha Psi’s Mentoring Program

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Rafael E. Hodge, a promising high school junior and native of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, has been appointed to the national board of the esteemed Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.’s National Kappa League, according to a recent announcement. Currently studying at West Cabarrus High School in Concord, North Carolina, Hodge has been an active participant in the Charlotte Alumni Kappa League for two years.

Hodge’s academic journey began at All Saints Cathedral School in St. Thomas, progressing to Antilles School up to the eighth grade. In 2021, he moved to North Carolina, continuing his educational pursuits.

The announcement highlighted Hodge’s multifaceted involvement in school activities. He actively participates in the marching band, track and field, and student government, and is a member of the National Beta Club. His keen interest in architecture, construction, and engineering led him to the ACE Mentor Program of Charlotte, where he played a pivotal role in his team’s triumph in the Best Construction concept category during the 2022-23 program year. Additionally, Hodge is an engaged student in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, serving on its executive council (IBEX) and as a member of the Black Student Union.

Hodge expressed his enthusiasm for the Kappa League, valuing the sense of community it fosters and the leadership opportunities it presents. “Being part of the Kappa League national board is significant to me; it allows me to guide an organization that has been a fundamental part of my growth,” he shared.

Rafael is the son of Zenzi Hodge, a Virgin Islander and author of “The Never Snowy Christmas,” and the late Sergeant Aaron K. Hodge, Sr., a respected officer of the Virgin Islands Police Department.

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Education

U.S. Virgin Islands to Enhance Career Training with New Courses Pending Certification

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The U.S. Virgin Islands is poised to expand its Career and Technical Education (CTE) offerings, as the CTE board anticipates the certification of new curriculums in a variety of fields. Monique Faulkner, the state director of Career and Technical Education, announced at a recent board meeting that new programs in nursing, phlebotomy, medical massage therapy, medical assistance, and computer network engineering are on the horizon.

Faulkner emphasized the importance of formal certification for these programs, some of which have been informally implemented for years. Certification by the board will facilitate their integration into high school curriculums and alignment with university programs, thus streamlining educational pathways and reducing redundancy.

A particularly innovative aspect of the expansion is the adaptation of an agricultural curriculum from Mississippi, which is being customized to meet the unique needs of the Virgin Islands. Faulkner’s team plans to ‘Virgin Island-ize’ the curriculum, ensuring it is relevant to local students and industries.

The Department of Education’s internal committee is set to collaborate with CTE Board Committee Chair Anastasie Jackson on evaluating and refining the agricultural curriculum. Faulkner proposed a flexible curriculum model that includes specializations in areas vital to the local economy, such as agritourism, agribusiness, and aquaponics.

A key goal for Faulkner is to ensure students earn industry-recognized certifications that hold value both within the Virgin Islands and nationally, propelling them into meaningful careers in agriculture and beyond.

Collaboration with the University of the Virgin Islands, particularly leveraging its aquaponics expertise, is central to the initiative. This partnership aims to offer students dual credits and certifications, enhancing their educational and career prospects.

The board expressed strong support for Faulkner’s leadership in developing these essential CTE programs, despite challenges in retaining teaching staff for existing courses. This initiative represents a significant step forward in equipping Virgin Islands students with the skills and certifications needed for successful careers in emerging and traditional sectors.

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Addressing the Exodus of Career and Technical Education Instructors: A Growing Concern for the CTE Board

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The Board of Career and Technical Education is grappling with a significant challenge: a rapid decline in the number of instructors, leading to the potential loss of critical educational programs. Joane Murphy, the board’s chair, highlighted this pressing issue during a discussion with the Education Development Center (EDC), a notable global nonprofit dedicated to providing technical support and expertise to educational authorities. This conversation took place at a recent Thursday meeting, where EDC officials were present to understand the board’s concerns better, with an eye towards securing federal support for initiatives aimed at mitigating these challenges.

The scarcity of instructors is felt across various sectors, with the construction and healthcare fields experiencing particularly severe shortages, as noted by Ms. Murphy. This shortage not only threatens the continuity of these essential programs but also the future readiness of students entering these industries.

Genevieve Whitaker, a board member and former senator, underscored another significant hurdle: the lack of sufficient financial resources to support educators facing administrative barriers. Whitaker emphasized the board’s desire to provide more substantive support to teachers in need of additional classroom resources, a goal currently hampered by financial constraints.

Additional concerns were voiced by board member Suzanne Magras, who pointed out the increasing issue of school violence, alongside deficiencies in teacher certification, basic resources, and technology. Dr. Magras advocated for a focus on preparing both educators and students for the advancements in artificial intelligence, underlining the importance of readiness for future technological impacts.

The dialogue with EDC was deemed beneficial by Sandra Espada, an EDC representative, for identifying the specific needs of the territory. This understanding will guide the organization’s efforts to secure federal funding aimed at systemic improvements. Nicole Breslow, a project director at EDC, emphasized the goal of facilitating support at a systemic level, indicating a comprehensive approach to addressing the challenges faced by the CTE Board.

Future meetings with Department of Education officials and the Board of Education are planned by EDC representatives. These discussions aim to create a comprehensive overview of the territory’s career and technical education needs, fostering a collaborative approach to overcoming the obstacles highlighted during the board’s meeting.

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Education

Champions Crowned in USVI District Spelling Bees, Gearing Up for Territorial Challenge

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Rayan Felix and Evan Fahie have emerged as the luminaries of the District Spelling Bee competitions, hosted by the V.I. Department of Education this past Thursday. With 24 students from across the islands converging to showcase their spelling prowess, the event was a testament to the academic dedication and skill of the participants.

Evan Fahie, a bright student from Lockhart K-8 School, clinched the title in the St. Thomas-St. John District, while Rayan Felix, representing Free Will Baptist Christian School, secured victory in the St. Croix District. Their triumphs have set the stage for their next challenge at the Territorial Competition, scheduled for March 19, 2024, on St. Croix, where they, along with 10 other talented students, will compete for the prestigious title of USVI Territorial Champion.

The finalists from St. Croix include a roster of adept spellers: Chasidy Pickering from Pearl B. Larsen, Joseph Greaux of Eulalie Rivera, Jasem Rahhal from Good Hope Country Day School, J’adora Burke representing Ricardo Richards, and Layla Jacobs from St. Patrick’s Catholic School. Meanwhile, the St. Thomas-St. John District will be represented by Kaiden Lettsome-Dowe from Antilles, Eli Blash of Moravian, Amera Paul from Calvary Christian, alongside Kashyma Paul, Yvonne Bowsky, and Kwalane Flemming from Ulla Muller School.

Dionne Wells-Hedrington, the Education Commissioner, lauded the competitors, stating, “Our heartfelt congratulations go out to all the students who took part in this distinguished event. Your enthusiasm for learning and commitment to mastering the complexities of the English language are truly inspiring.”

The Department of Education also extended its gratitude to the schools, educators, coaches, and families for their unwavering support, as well as to the sponsors who helped make the event possible. Emphasizing the importance of the Spelling Bee, the D.O.E. recognized it as a vital platform for promoting literacy and effective communication skills, both of which are crucial in nurturing the leaders of tomorrow.

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