An eager alumni from a St. Thomas public school and a team of co-workers from the Westin St. John Resort Villas are pitching in on preparations for a new school year. The offer of assistance to the Joseph Gomez Elementary School was warmly received by school officials.
Praise of help from the private sector was heard at the end of a recent news conference at the Government House. Deputy Superintendent Joseph Sibilly cited the Westin as one of the local businesses aiding efforts to make schools ready to receive students and staff on Sept. 5.
Westin Human Resources Director Sabrina King-Leonce said resort management and members of the Engineering department decided to commit to helping Gomez School on the urging of a staffer who attended the school.
Administrative Assistant Carvelle Rogers said she was distressed to find rusted playground equipment that she used to play on standing near other, newer items. “When I saw the same structure that was there when I was there 25 years ago, I said, ‘Oh, no,’” Rogers said.
“We visited the school. I saw there was a need at the playground. We decided it was a project we wanted to take on,” the HR director said. “We decided to help the playground. We all decided to help the playground.”
Work has already begun, Leonce said. Engineers — some with children attending Gomez — have been showing up to clear away patchy concrete around monkey bars, maze tunnels, slides, and swings. The first step involves preparing the ground for installation of interlocking rubber tiles, painting and removal of broken equipment.
The effort has found favor with the deputy superintendent. Sibilly made working with local businesses an important tool to carry out school readiness projects. Installing rubber safety flooring around playground equipment appears on a list of 10 projects Gomez needs going into the 2017-2018 school year.
When Education officials unveiled their project lists for the territory’s school some were marked for readiness by Sept. 5. Others were marked for completion after the year began.
Playground improvements at Gomez didn’t make either priority list.
Several years ago Education officials tried to get through the list of repairs and improvements between the end of one school year and the start of a new one. But dwindling resources and government deficits led to a new approach, one where immediate needs would be attempted in the summer and long term projects would be tackled year-round.
“Joe Sibilly, he’s been great. He’s been very flexible. He’s also working with WAPA to get some of the equipment we need,” Leonce said.
Fixing the playgrounds is the latest way the Westin has partnered with the St. Thomas school in Anna’s Retreat. When resort staffers found the copiers could not keep up with the production of student handouts, the Westin gave the school new color copiers. Now, Leonce said, they want to do more.