09 May St. John Shade Project brings the “Gift of Shade” to Gifft Hill School
The sun was scorching the day we arrived at Gifft Hill School for the umbrella donation and installation. As we walked down the path to the play area, we were increasingly aware of the heat reflecting from every surface, and wondered how the school children fared during the months following the hurricane without any shade. We imagined their exhaustion after playing in the hot sun before returning to their classrooms.
From the inception of our project, we included the schools on our list of umbrella donations, as we knew shade was essential for providing the children and teachers with a greatly needed respite from the sun, but we were not expecting the overwhelming reception we received when we were greeted by the gracious teachers, administrators, and students. “We are so grateful you are here!”, was repeated by each smiling face that met us along the way. “Thank you for bringing shade to our school!”
Gifft Hill School was founded in 1978 under the name Pine Peace, with only four preschool students in attendance. In 1982, a building was constructed on the lower campus through the donations of generous community members. In 2004, Pine Peace merged with the existing middle school, forming Gifft Hill School. Today, approximately 170 kindergarten through 12th grade students attend school on the 14-acre campus.
Prior to our arrival on St. John, the Gifft Hill staff chose two large 10×13 rectangular umbrellas in a natural color as the perfect fit for their large playground. After installing the centerpost umbrellas, the children enthusiastically dove into the perfect “shade rectangles” created on the playground surface, sweetly laughing and playing with one another, celebrating their newly created shade.
“The caterpillars won’t drop on our heads anymore!” exclaimed one of the children. When asked what they would do when that happened, the children replied in unison, “WE SCREAM!” We had no idea our umbrellas would not only protect the school children from the sun, but also protect them from falling caterpillars!
Dr, Laurie, the Head of School, was impressed with the size, strength, and beauty of the giant umbrellas made in South Africa. In addition to providing a functional purpose, they greatly improved the space for the children and staff, making the area appear more special and complete.
In the days following the umbrella installation, we reached out to the school to ask if they wanted to share anything with our followers about their school. We received the following response, further demonstrating the depth of the gratitude from the people of St. John for the assistance they have received from so many supporters since the storms. We are honored to be a part of their restoration.
On behalf of GHS Admin, Staff and Students ~ “Thank you so much to everyone involved in St. John Shade Project, especially Jo Edmondson, for making our Lower Campus playground beautiful and providing additional shade to our young students who love playing outside with their friends. While this has been the most challenging year in GHS history, the outpouring of support from near and far has been amazing. We are so grateful to you for helping so many people on our island. The children of St. John need to be able to focus on their education and have a sense of normalcy as islands repair and rebuild. The kindness and generosity we have received has been inspiring and humbling, and we ask that you remember our students and our school as our road to recovery will be long.”
We greatly enjoyed our time at Gifft Hill School, getting to know the staff and children, and learning more about this special island school which is clearly loved by the entire community! The motto of the school, “Cultivating Strong Minds and Caring Hearts”, is defined by their “whole student” approach, encompassing three core principles: Academics – with an emphasis on college and career preparation, and self-reflective, critical thinking; Experiential Education – learning to farm and sell the items grown in their gardens, and utilizing the National Park and Caribbean Sea as their living laboratories; and Compassionate Community – with a focus on sustainability, island and global partnerships, and a diverse student body. Not only do the children benefit from these programs, but the island also reaps the reward with the “Gifft Hill School Gives Back” days, where the children learn to give back and “pay it forward” to the island and community. Throughout our day at the school, we had the pleasure of seeing these concepts demonstrated first hand by the students and staff. We greatly enjoy following the Gifft Hill Facebook page, which provides a wealth of information about the students and school activities!
A significant amount of work still needs to be completed at Gifft School and on St. John before they will be back to where they were before the two devastating storms. But one thing is clear – everyone seems to be taking the time to celebrate the special moments. In fact, our installation day celebration also happened to coincide with the school’s 40th anniversary! Later that evening, we were lucky to attend the anniversary party at Mongoose Junction, where hundreds of residents and tourists alike gathered to join in this special celebration.