March 7, 2002 – The award-winning V.I. Beacon Schools afterschool program has just carved a new niche, this time in cyberspace — with the launch this week of its own Internet web site.
Valerie George, program executive director, is delighted with the new venture but is still watching over it with a mother's careful eye.
"It's been brewing for a long time," she said. "I go to conferences or meetings, and people always ask 'What's your web site?' Now I have something to tell them … Now we have something to show them so people can see what we're doing."
George has put so much effort and energy into developing and promoting the territory's Beacon schools program over the last five-plus years that it's hard to imaging anyone who lives here not knowing what it's all about.
The Beacon Schools concept was brought to light locally in 1996, when Sen. Lorraine Berry invited representatives of New York's highly successful Beacon Schools program to participate in that year's Youth Symposium. The afterschool tutoring concept was adopted by local education officials, and a plan was drafted to develop a not-for-profit V.I. Beacon Schools program in 1997.
Schools designated as "beacons" in a community keep their doors open after classes and into the evening, offering a variety of educational, recreational and life-enhancing programs for youngsters as well as adults. In the V.I. Beacons, teachers and facilitators are recruited from the schools and the community as "activity sponsors." The Beacon program provides administrative, monetary and in-kind support.
As executive director, George hasn't missed a beat since the program's inception, whether she is organizing the annual celebrity golf tournament fundraiser, attending a performance by the Addelita Cancryn Marching Iguanas band, or overseeing the day-to-day administration of the ambitious program from behind her desk.
"We started the web site in December," George said. Staff program monitor Luanne Melchior, who has only been on the job since last fall, designed the site. "She set it up, and I would add information or correct the stuff," George said. Former University of the Virgin Islands business professor Solomon Sentongo-Kabuka provided technical assistance, she noted. "He was a great help."
The web site "is not finished," she quickly added. "It's still — now what's the computer phrase? — Developing, yes, we're still developing it."
It will be an ongoing effort, with information updated each month, she said. "We are going to have links — we have some now — to partnering programs, and we will be adding more links to organizations that have impacted Beacon through funding, technical assistance or partnership, nationally or locally."
The handsome, easily navigable site is done in shades of blue and lavender. The home page has a banner running across the top urging people to register for the 6th annual 2002 Beacon Golf Tournament, Aug. 9-11. The site includes the history of the "Beacon experience," tells how to join, lists the grants funding its operations and provides current news.
To see it for yourself, just go to Beacon Schools V.I..
George said the program has recently set up an endowment fund, the Beacon Community Learning Center Fund, which is administered by the Community Foundation of the V.I. "That way, people can contribute to the program directly, as well as at the golf tournament," she said.
Setting up the endowment program took $10,000, she said, half of it funded by the Beacon program itself and half with a grant from the ICC Prosser Foundation.
"We have grown unbelievably," George said. In 1997, one Beacon school was established on St. Croix, one on St. Thomas and one on St. John, and in their first year they attracted about 700 participants. In 2000, St. Croix and St. Thomas each added a second school, and today some 4,000 to 5,000 people are involved.
In 2000, V.I. Beacon Schools received the prestigious Metropolitan Life Foundation
Outstanding After-school Partnership Award. The program came under consideration for the award because George saw some information about it and impulsively decided to apply. It was the first such application she ever submitted.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here