St. John Tradewinds News

“Passing the Torch” Program Keeps Culture Alive for School Children


Julius E. Sprauve School students display their coconut boats.


This year Virgin Islands National Park, Friends of the Park and the St. John Historical Society partnered to obtain an America’s Best Idea grant from the National Park Foundation. The “Passing the Torch” grant was meant to continue the work that is done each year at the annual Folk Life Festival. The festival highlights Virgin Island’s culture and is attended by hundreds of school children.

As of September, local culture bearers have been providing demonstrations at the Gifft Hill School and Sprauve School. The culture bearers are not only demonstrating traditional crafts but instructing the students in making the crafts as well. So far the students have made palm tree brooms, coconut boats, bush tea, Johnny cakes and musical instruments out of calabash hulls, palm leaves and sticks. More demonstrations and lessons are planned through December and may include doll and jewelry making.

Karen Jarvis, Program Manager at Friends of the Park, was with the children as they learned from culture bearers such as Justin “Just in Time” Todman. “The students and the teachers at both schools are really enjoyed interacting with the cultural demonstrators,” said Jarvis. “Their eyes were wide and they really enjoyed getting some hands on lessons in Virgin Islands History. Friends is very proud to see our mission of cultural preservation fulfilled in the faces of these children,” she added.

The students will soon be going on a bus tour guided by members of the St John Historical Society and will also soon be demonstrating some of their new skills to others at Annaberg and Cinnamon Bay Campground.

Friends is hoping the program lights a spark in some of the students and that we will have a new generation of cultural demonstrators to continue the rich legacy of Virgin Islands culture.

For more information on cultural and preservation programs in the park and you can support them, contact Karen Vahling at Friends of VI National Park at 779-4940 or