June 8, 2004 – Two V.I. public school teachers will be honored on Sunday for their teaching in the humanities. Both very obviously devoted to their students, and both involved for decades in education, they lead their students on very different journeys into the humanities.
The V.I. Humanities Council has bestowed the Heath Award for Excellence in the Teaching of the Humanities upon Glenn "Kwabena" Davis of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School and Anselm Richards of Central High School. The award recognizes teachers "who have exhibited outstanding ability and unfailing dedication to teaching the humanities."
Established in 2003, the Heath Award is given annually to one public school teacher from each district. The Humanities Council sought nominations from the public of deserving teachers for this year's recognition.
An awards luncheon will be held at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Palms Court Harborview Hotel. Each honoree will receive $1,000 and a commemorative certificate. For further information or tickets, call 776-4044.
Davis: "Culture Is Always Evolving."
Glenn Davis, born and raised on St. Thomas and a graduate of Charlotte Amalie High School and of the then-College of the Virgin Islands, has been involved with teaching children for at least 35 years.
Davis teaches the cultural heritage course at Kean High School from the perspective of appreciation for Virgin Islands and the broader Caribbean cultures — their similarities and dissimilarities and celebration of both sides. Such appreciation starts, he believes, with a journey within and through all aspects of V.I. culture. His course encompasses:
– Identifying wild and domestic plants. On the Kean campus until recently there were 70-plus varieties of plants; since Home Depot's contribution some weekends ago, there are now, Davis estimates, about 110 varieties. By the end of the semester, students must be able to identify 70 varieties, recognizing both medicinal and poisonous plants.
– Becoming tour guides (as a corollary to the plant identification) and leading other classes on "academic strolls" around campus.
– Learning about local fruits and making fruit drinks. The students learn to graft fruit trees; an expert who taught them late last semester will be back in September, so the students can each perform grafting and see several months' worth of growth.
– Cooking and food preparation: pepper sauce (vinegar-based), fry fish. Julian Frett comes in and teaches them to make dumb bread and johnnycake on a coalpot.
– Native music: quelbe, quadrille, bamboula, basic instruments. Next year, they'll form fungi bands. Edwin Davis comes in to teach quadrille.
– Dancing. The dance company thrives when younger students take the course and then take it again for a second and third year.
– Storytelling: techniques, the role stories play in culture, and how stories are used by storytellers. They learn comparison to Southern U.S., British and Irish folk stories, and are assigned to watch Public Television's "Book of Virtues" program. After this preparation, students tell stories to their peers and later go to elementary schools for several sessions; they receive a grade for these presentations.
– Composition: poetry and song. The students read their poems and sing their songs.
As a sort of final exam, students working in groups of four plan a cultural fair encompassing all the learning for the year.
Any high school student may take the course, but Davis prefers to have only three or four seniors. The class is never the same two years in a row, he notes, because culture is always evolving.
"Kwabena" has received many community awards and is a very popular calypsonian. He's on the board of the V.I. Council on the Arts, a charter member of the Committee to Revive Our Culture, and the founder/director of the Voices of Love, a lead choral group in the traditional Christmas morning Challenge of Carols on St. Thomas.
Richards: "No Limit to What They Will Do."
Anselm Richards has taught art for 28 years, preparing students for admission to prestigious college programs in the visual arts, preparing them for competitions. In addition to teaching at Central High, he also teaches informally and mentors private-school students. Among his approaches are the use of sketch pads, workshops and slides and a stellar field trip.
His students know the school premises are available to them until 8 p.m. every school night.
Whereas Davis guides his students to open their eyes on familiar paths in familiar territory, Richards takes between 5 and 17 "deserving" students each year to an eye-opening, senses-stunning place that few of them have visited before: New York City.
A culmination of his teaching, the trip is six days and five nights of intensive visual arts exposure: The students stay in a good hotel, eat at good restaurants — where they go appropriately dressed, visit three art universities including Parsons and Pratt, tour five or six art museums, and take in a Broadway musical that has a major visual-arts component — "Les Miserables" and "The Lion King" are examples.
And Richards always takes the students to Pearl Paint Art Supplies. Among the art museums they visit, he always includes the Museum of Contemporary Art in Queens, which is, he says, "on the fringe, the edge of art." He finds this visit sparks creativity in the students.
He prepares his travelers intensively with slides and books and discussions. He gets his reward at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan when other wandering visitors stop to listen as his students gather in front of a Renoir painting and discuss the differences they see from a work by Degas or a Monet.
Richards enjoyed another "perk" as a result of his students' behavior during one visit while they were dining at a fine restaurant, dressed up to go on to the Broadway show afterward. A black couple passed behind them, Richards relates, and he overheard the man say, "Now why can't our Virgin Islands children behave like this when they're out in public?"
The man's companion warned him he'd better be careful about what he said. Then she introduced him to Richards, saying "These children are from the Virgin Islands, and this is their teacher."
The field trip always occurs in March, and the students return inspired to produce entries for the annual Congressional High School Art Competition, which comes in May. His students have won first place in nine of the 14 years of competition. And in three of the nine years, 1990, 1992 and 2002, his students swept all the prizes — a feat he says no other U.S. school has achieved even once.
Nominated for the Heath Award by CHS Principal Kent Moorehead, Richards says he was inspired a decade ago by an 11-year-old Canadian boy who wrote an essay on children forced into child labor. The boy addressed the American Federation of Teachers convention and charged all teachers to stop thinking "the kids can't do it."
He sees the Humanities Council award as an honor for accomplishment over his entire career. Awards he has won, he emphasized, have come because of his students and their work.
– In 1992, he and winning students of the congressional competition were brought to Government House. Then-Gov. Alexander Farrelly asked the students what classes they took, what schools they attended and who their teachers were — and the answer was the same for all: Central High, Anselm Richards. Obviously, the governor said, the community should be honoring the teacher as well. He promptly nominated Richards for the Morris F. DeCastro Fellowship for Outstanding Government Service.
– Richards' students created and produced a Drug Free Schools comic book, winning out over all other junior and senior high schools in the territory. The students wrote five stories on how to avoid drugs, creating interesting characters in V.I. settings,
– Richards won the National Gallery of Art 50th anniversary Outstanding Teacher Summer Fellowship, which was awarded to one teacher in each state and territory.
– He has been listed in "Who's Who Among American Teachers" four times. The selection process for this publication is unique: Students who rank high on college deans' lists are polled nationwide for the most influential pre-college teacher they have had. Richards was thus chosen the four times.
From childhood, Richards has loved children. "I'm still a kid," he says. "Parenting is not for quitters."
If you show the students love and they "know you are supportive, that even when they make bad mistakes, you are still there for them," he says, "there's no limit to what they will do."
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