Students at St. Croix’s John Woodson Junior High School and nine other schools throughout the territory have been given a great new setting for studying science – the next piece of the puzzle has to come from them, they were told during a grand opening ceremony Wednesday.
"You have to provide the passion," Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis told them.
The science labs – 18 in 10 high school and junior high schools over the three islands – were paid for by almost $3 million in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The pristine labs include furniture, counter tops, and equipment that will allow students to study science in an "inquiry based" way, learning how science works by actually doing the experiments themselves.
Standing at the head of the room, Education Commissioner LaVerne Terry told the students arrayed in the rows of experiment tables that the new facility was theirs.
"This lab is what we want for all the students in the Virgin Islands – the best," she said.
Jane Meade, chairperson of Woodson’s Science Department, urged the students to take care of the lab, to treat the fittings and equipment with respect, so that students years from now will have the same experience and excitement discovering the world of science that they will have this year.
Science had been taught in regular classrooms, Meade said, and teachers and students did the best they could with what they had.
"Though we tried our best, the classroom environment cannot take the place of a fully equipped science lab," she said.
She also reminded them that their parents will be asked to pay a nominal lab fee to cover the cost of consumable materials, such as chemicals. Often teachers end up paying for such materials out of their own pockets, she said.
But the lieutenant governor told the students that their parents shouldn’t think of it as a fee.
"Tell them it’s not a fee," he said. "It’s an investment in your future."
Wayne Nichols, chief executive operator of LOC Scientific, the project’s main contractor, was present at Wednesday’s event and showed pride in the results. All of the material and equipment was made in the U.S.A., he pointed out.
LOC Scientific is an Atlanta-based company that helped the district through a yearlong planning and construction phase using locally hired plumbers, electricians, and other subcontractors at each site.
The effort was not lost on the students. Seventh graders Khadonye Woodrup, David Asencio, Hasheem Sergenton, and Tyrese Adams, all 12, said after the event that they "loved" the new lab.
Studying science last year in a classroom was okay, Woodrup said, but it was hard to do experiments.
"It was all cluttered and crowded," he said. "This is great."