Several years ago, in her days as director of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association, Beverly Nicholson-Doty staged special events in May for students to celebrate Tourism Month. This year, students at Ulla Muller Elementary School staged a special event for her.
The school’s campus was transformed Wednesday into a cultural destination, as students greeted Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty – now the VI Tourism commissioner – was greeted with the sights and sounds of the islands as she entered the gate.
There were greeters dressed in feathered headdress, flanked on either side by delegations of students dressed as tourists. The Panatics Steel Band struck up a medley of soca tunes as a mocko jumbie and the school’s mascot, Tommy Starfish, pranced.
Bamboula dancers, wearing white head ties and pantaloons twirled, while ribbon-toting Maypole dancers wove colorful ribbons together in a counterclockwise dance.
Creating the bungalow at Market Square took some imagination – a white tent with a handwritten sign marked the Muller Market. Samples of products found at the market were displayed there.
And in the far corner of the campus, a whimsical archway led to an underwater scene and a sign indicating the school’s marine park.
Doty said she was impressed.
“I am so humbled and honored today, to see our young people who have embraced tourism. But even more importantly is how they’ve infused our culture and our history in terms of what we can offer our visitors,” she said.
The commissioner added that even as she and her visiting staff took in the scene, Doty said ideas were flowing as to how to enliven the territory’s tourism product.
Muller School Principal Symra Brown said creating the on-campus tourist destination was the work of many volunteers, staff, parents and students.
“Every year we recognize Tourism Day. We recognize it’s a very important industry, it’s a premier industry. We call on our students to dress like tourists and understand what the industry is all about,” Brown said.
The principal also described the cultural activities taking place daily at Muller School that help students prepare to perform and to contribute to their community when the occasion arises. Lenise Mercer, one of the volunteers with the bamboula dancers, sat under a tree with a talking drum, an hourglass-shaped percussion instrument.
The group started three years ago, Mercer said, practicing at lunchtime along with a group of school age drummers. That constant practice, she said, makes it possible to perform on short notice.
One thing was for sure, there was at least one visitor who left Muller School, having enjoyed some Virgin Islands hospitality.
“I was having kind of a down week and this was a total turnaround,” Doty said.