Feb. 13, 2009 — Literacy advocates were out in force Friday morning for the Virgin Islands Big Read 2009 kick-off event.
Local authors, librarians, teachers and legal minds, along with 300 students, gathered on the Reichhold Center's front lawn to discuss the official book selection for the event, "A Wizard of Earthsea" by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Every school on the island received copies of the book and was invited to the event. The Big Read is a nationwide initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading to the center of American culture.
Rachelle Shells, manager of language resources and student technology at UVI, explained how Le Guins book can help students learn that choices have consequences. "We need to think before we act on certain things. And that's the whole purpose of having Project Penalty Awareness here today," she said.
Project Penalty Awareness (PPA) is a crime prevention service provided by the U.S. Probation Office to create awareness in young people about what happens when they make wrong choices, according to attorney and PPA panel member Nelson Jones.
"The ages of the people committing crimes keeps getting lower and lower," Jones said. "They have to be made aware of the penalties and the consequences of their actions and you can't wait until they get into high school to start talking. You have to get them early," he said.
The panels' message tied into the theme of the book. "This is a nice fairy tale, but when you look into the book there are some serious consequences for Ged's actions," said Julie Smith Todman, also an attorney. "Sometimes you unleash your own beast within yourself. But then you can actually turn your life around, and that's the important thing," she said.
During the event, prizes were awarded to winners of the Fan Fiction contest. Students across the island had an opportunity to submit a prologue or alternate ending for the book between Oct. and Jan.
Among the most notable winners was sixth-grader Nichole Pichardo of Gladys A. Abraham Elementary School. Pichardo came to St. Thomas as an eight-year-old from Santo Domingo. She knew no English when she arrived, but by the time she was nine she was fluent enough to be mainstreamed into a regular English-speaking classroom, according to her former ESL resource teacher Cynthia Greaux.
"I wish more students had that same drive," Greaux said. "She helps me as a teacher to work harder."
Three judges read each entry. The first place winner received a laptop computer, second place a digital camera and the third place winner went home with a MP3 player.
Other events included tours of St. Thomas Public Library's bookmobile, arts and crafts and readings by local authors, including Phillis Gershator and Tregenza A. Roach.
The Big Read U.S. Virgin Islands is presented by the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts in partnership with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the Division of Libraries and Museums, the Department of Education and the Reichhold Center for the Arts, University of the Virgin Islands.
FAN FICTION CONTEST WINNERS
6th thru 8th grade category
1st Sheila Joseph, 7th grade – Bertha B. Boschulte Middle School
2nd Nicole Pichardo, 6th grade – Gladys A. Abraham Elementary School
3rd Andrea Burgess, 8th grade – Bertha B. Boschulte Middle School
9th thru 12th grade category
1st Hannah Joseph, 12th grade – Ivanna Eudora Kean High School
2nd Kala Moore, 11th grade -Charlotte Amalie High School
3rd Amber Clark, 11th grade – Charlotte Amalie High School
Honorable mention: Curtney Grell, 6th grade Herbert Loc
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