St. John Non-profit Kids First! Awards Largest Grant in Three Year History


(Left to Right) GHS development director Beth Jones, GHS lower school head Beth Knight, Camp Barracuda director Elana Dandeneau and Kids First! president Bruce Claflin.

Thanks to Kids First! several St. John children will enjoy summer camp this year without their parents having to worry about the cost.
The St. John non-profit organization dedicated to improving early childhood education and access to that education, recently donated $33,000 to Gifft Hill School for its Barracuda Summer Camp and Early Learning Program.

The grant will cover camp costs for needs-based students this summer who will then hopefully attend GHS’ Early Learning Program, with scholarships, in the fall, explained Kids First! president Bruce Claflin.

“The grant will serve two purposes; as financial aid for needs-based students to attend camp this summer and as financial aid for needs-based students to attend the GHS Early Childhood Program in the fall,” said Claflin. “There are still a lot of children on the island who would thrive given the opportunity of early childhood education.”

“The idea is to get kids into the camp and following up on the camp experience, the children and parents would then be more comfortable enrolling in the Early Childhood Program at GHS as well,” he added.

Camp Barracuda kicks off about a week after GHS classes wrap up and runs until about a week before school starts. Students as young as two-and-a-half and as old as teenagers enjoy weekly trips to Trunk Bay Beach with swim lessons from V.I. National Park Education Specialist Laurel Brannick, art projects and more during the camp.

With enrollment between about 15 and 30 children depending on the week, Camp Barracuda officials expect their numbers to boom this summer thanks to the Kids First! grant.

“If cost is not an issue, we’ll have kids who can enroll for more weeks at a time and we’ll have kids who weren’t enrolled at all,” said camp director Elana Dandeneau. “I think the grant will help us grow our numbers exponentially.”

Removing the cost obstacle from summer camp will enable more island children to get a head start on the most important years of education, explained Claflin.

“The most important time in a child’s development is from birth to age 8,” said the Kids First! president. “If during that time children are exposed to fun, stimulating, learning experiences, their chance of success in school and beyond increases greatly. GHS offers that type of learning environment for our younger children, but the cost of attending has often been too much for St. John families.”

“By providing this financial aid, more children can attend GHS programs while generating much needed revenue for the school,” said Claflin.

GHS lower school head Beth Knight was excited to accept the grant.

“I’m more than thrilled with the grant which will enable us to provide exceptional education for our youngest students,” said Knight.
GHS headmaster Judy Chamberlain was also thrilled with the news of the Kids First! grant last week.

“Early childhood is the most important period in a child’s life for  the development of intelligence, personality and social behavior,” said Chamberlain. “The foundation established between birth and age 8 is crucial, and the support of Kids First! and our Early Learning program enables GHS to provide more children access to our wonderful school community and resources.”

This latest grant brings the total amount donated by Kids First! to GHS to $113,000 over the three years of the group’s existence, Claflin added.

And thanks to an anonymous donor, who pledged to match the Kids First! grant as long as it was increased by 10 percent, that $33,000 has already doubled, explained the school’s development director Beth Jones.

“That is $66,000 more into our scholarship fund,” said Jones.

Parents or guardians interested in applying for financial aid should complete GHS enrollment documents, FACTS Grant and Aid application and Scholarship Application. For assistance, contact Angelita Bolques in the Lower Campus office at 776-6595.