Eight students from the all-boys Ron Brown Preparatory High School (RBHS) in Washington, D.C., recently traveled to St. Croix to work on the Eulalie Rivera Elementary School farm with St. Croix Department of Education Director of Agriculture Velda Hendricks as part of their high school's community service initiative.
On Wednesday and Thursday, May 23-24 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, the students reported to the farm in Estate Grove Place and performed tasks, such as mulching, fencing, germination and other farming duties. However, the group, who refers to itself as Young Kings, was familiarized with safety requirements first.
“Safety is number one," said Hendricks. You always make sure you lay your tools on the ground and not just pitch them anywhere. And you make sure you lay them down correctly.”
The Young Kings were divided into groups and got to work. Some filled the wheelbarrow with cover crops, some dumped the cover crops on row crops, placing, fixing, and filling the garden boxes, and others watered the crops. The young men took turns completing various tasks to get the full farmer’s experience.
“The big thing is a lot of them have not, have never done this before," said Katherine Avila, community service teacher and teacher coordinator at RBHS. "So, what I want them to learn is if mom, dad or uncle wants them to do something, shovel something, they actually know how to do it."
Within the first few hours of being on the farm, the young men could feel the effects of the work and took breaks as needed. Director Hendricks ensured drinking water was available for the group and also provided them with lunch she prepared herself.
Like students in the U. S. Virgin Islands, RBHS students must complete 100 hours of community service in order to graduate from high school.
Ms. Avila further explained, “We have community service seminars. In DC, they do community service projects, they went to the soup kitchen, and they went to do readings with little kids, things of that nature. Then, we said at the end of the year we need to do like a big trip so we can still do community service around the globe and not just in the city. That’s the reason why we’re here.”
The Young Kings fundraised for the trip and will be in the territory for 11 days. They spent two days working with the Department of Agriculture and will be working with other organizations, such as Catholic Charities. The group also attended the Agriculture Fair on May 26-28 as guests of Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett.
According to Kyza Callwood, staff assistant for Congresswoman Plaskett's St. Croix district office, the Young Kings initially had their eyes set on another Caribbean island affected by the 2017 hurricanes.
“The Young Kings originally planned travel to the Dominican Republic to provide free labor in the rebuilding efforts as they recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria," she explained. "However, after viewing news media reports and listening to Congresswoman Plaskett via television and social media during and after the devastation, [they] decided to change course and head to the United States Virgin Islands to provide much-needed assistance.”
Prior to their trip to St. Croix, the high school students had never before gardened. But thanks to Director Hendricks, they will know what to do in the school garden when they return to Washington, D.C. “We have 14 different, same little pits like those, but now that they know how to, they’re going to be able to at least start their own garden,” said Ms. Avila.
“When we go back, we’re planning to have some kind of report or presentation so they can actually share what they did in the Virgin Islands. That way the other students can be like, 'Wow, I want to do this too next year, I want to come back or I want to go to a different city and serve that’s not just DC'. So, they can serve people outside of the community.”
The Young Kings consists of Colby Powell, Reynard Alexander, Camren Coleman, Adrian Phillips, Zavion Morgan, Chase Rice, Maurquice Brown-Thomas, and Timothy Brandon. The students aspire to learn, understand, and apply what they learn to create solutions to problems in their school, community, and one day, the world.
Ron Brown Preparatory High School is the first single-gender public high school in the District of Columbia Public School system. Empowering males of color with the pillars of Scholarship, Character and Service is the foundation of RBHS.