STEMx is branching out again — this time into the Caribbean. The STEM network of the U.S. Virgin Islands, whose main islands are St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas, is joining STEMx. To find out more about the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDE) and its efforts to promote STEM, we contacted Shamika Williams-Henley, state STEM director:
Q: Give us some background on VIDE: What are its duties, and how many schools and students are within its jurisdiction?
A: The Virgin Islands Department of Education’s main duty is to provide quality education and learning experiences for the students of the territory. VIDE mainly oversees public education; however, there are some programs within the department that assist private and parochial schools.
We are composed of two districts: the St. Thomas-St. John District and the St. Croix District. We have approximately 13,800 students and 29 schools/activity centers.
Q: Tell us about the department’s efforts to promote STEM. How long has STEM been a priority, and are there specific STEM programs? How are you involved?
A: STEM became a priority for VIDE with its rise in popularity and importance on the national level. With the paradigm shift to STEAM (to include the arts), VIDE now focuses on STEAM education.
There are specific STEAM programs to include robotics and rocketry, and we also have smaller STEAM initiatives such as those focused on coral reefs, STEAM expos and fairs and green living initiatives. Future programs and initiatives will include collaborations with music education, cultural education and the humanities.
As the state director, I provide support and assistance to the districts to nurture their STEAM programs. I also develop and implement STEAM programs and initiatives for the students, schools and districts to participate in.
Q: Why did you decide to join the STEMx network? How do you think membership will bolster your efforts?
A: STEMx will provide the opportunity for VIDE to network and share best practices with other STEMx members. VIDE’s location makes it unique, and at times challenging, to bring meaningful experiences to the students and educators. I see STEMx as a great opportunity to discover a plethora of significant STEAM educational experiences.
Q: What are your biggest accomplishments so far in fostering STEM education in the islands?
A: I began my role as STEM director in January 2016. I implemented the SeaPerch underwater robotics program in both districts, and we took students to the National SeaPerch Challenge in May at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
Recently, I was awarded a grant to implement a coral reef initiative titled “Creating Local Stewards of the Reef through Targeted Marine Experience and Education.” This program is slated to kick off in January.
In September, I implemented the Engineering is Elementary program in all elementary schools in the territory.
Most important, the assistance that I provide to the districts to support their endeavors, such as identifying sources of funding, judging STEAM fairs and providing supplies for after-school robotics programs, I feel, can also be considered a great accomplishment.
Q: What are your plans for future STEM promotion?
A: Establishing strategic alliances with STEM partners throughout the territory, Caribbean and nationally.