Sad and Stoic, Guy Benjamin School Sixth Graders Say Goodbye

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Sixth grade students of the Guy H. Benjamin Elementatry School Class of 2014 gather on Thursday, June 19, as the last promotional class at the soon-to-be-closed Coral Bay public school.

CORAL BAY – The last graduates of the Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School were honored at a promotional ceremony held on the school grounds June 19.

Eight sixth graders said their good-byes to the school that has borne the name of the late Coral Bay educator, historian and author since 1975. The rest of the school — students, faculty and staff, also said goodbye since the Department of Education announced June 9 that Benjamin School will not re-open  in the fall.

A promotional exercise should have been a happy occasion but for many it was tinged with sadness. Community leaders who led the fight to keep the school open and supported some of the school’s needs, commended the graduates and those who brought them to their special day.

“We in Coral Bay know this  school has done a wonderful job of  educating these students, and you students, you have done well in helping the school make AYP every year,” said Sharon  Coldren, head of the Coral Bay Community Council.

Annual Yearly Progress — or  AYP — is an academic standard required of all Virgin Islands Public School. It is measured in part by standardized test scores. And while some public schools have not reached the standard and others have reached it once or more, Benjamin School has achieved the standard seven years in a row.

Students, staff and faculty at Benjamin School did it, in spite of several challenges, including the loss of their principal, Brenda Dalmida, loss of the first grade teacher and class, and spotty funding from the central government for several months.

Speaker after speaker  at the June 19 graduation expressed a sense of loss. First honor student, Kahlaijah Powell, called the occasion bittersweet.

But Powell urged her classmates to remain focused as they and the rest of Benjamin School transferred to the Julius E. Sprauve School in Cruz Bay.

“Today is the day we are recognized for going to the seventh grade, but do we really know what that means?” Powell said. “Let’s make sure we get to the next stage by working hard and making sure we don’t get too distracted.”

Lillie Hayward, the Benjamin School Class of 2014 2nd Honor Student, shared the hopes she once had for the school and the people she thought she’d leave behind.

“I’d like to say how sad it is to see this school closing. I always thought we would leave and the fifth graders would take our place. However, our hearts will always be here,” Hayward said.

Acting Principal Dionne Wells asked, on behalf of Benjamin School teachers, if a wing of Sprauve School could be renamed in honor of Guy Benjamin.

“Mr. Benjamin was my neighbor and a family friend, and I think something should be named in his honor,” Wells said. “Benjamin School has accomplished great things and they should be recognized.”

Assistant Insular Superintendent Joseph Sibilly Jr., said he would carry the request back to the Department of Education.

Members of the graduating class include Kahlaijah Powell, Lillie Hayward, Liliana Farrell, Dylan Gumbs, Akhil Luke, Kathleen Casimir, Tecari Smith and Wendy Denis.