This past May I was given the opportunity to travel to the beautiful Island of Saint Croix in the Virgin Islands. Saint Croix is apart of the Virgin Islands, which is a territory of the United States. The people I met and everything I learned is an experience that I will never forget. I’ve never learned so much as I did on this travel study. We learned about everything; from culture to wildlife, to the individuals we met, to ourselves.
Slavery played a huge role in the history of Saint Croix. Like the United States, many of the enslaved people were brought over from Africa. For over 2 centuries from the 1730’s to the 1960’s, enslaved Africans and freed African laborer’s powered plantations on the island.
There are many similarities in slavery between the United States and Saint Croix. There were some differences though. In the United States, enslaved Africans had the Underground Railroad and people willing to help them get to safety. Running away was extremely dangerous, but there was hope. There was nowhere to go on the island besides up.
Olasse Davis, a professor and native to Saint Croix, took us on a hike to Maroon Ridge. When enslaved Africans would run off, they would hide in caves along this ridge. When they were being found, or believed they were being found, they would jump into the water below. They didn’t believe they were committing suicide, instead their souls were going back to Africa. Sometimes, if you were captured, they would cut off your head and place them throughout the trail to try to frighten other run-aways. If they jumped, and survived the jump, they would attempt to swim to Puerto Rico, which is about 40 miles away. As more and more people would die, however, the water became infested with sharks and the trek became more risky.
One of my absolutely favorite days was spent outside walking around Christiansted. Ms. V, a schoolteacher on the island, took our group on a walk through the town and was incredibly knowledgeable on the history of Saint Croix. Ms. V, being so insightful, inspired me to want to do my own research on my own family history. We went to an area referred to as “Free Gut”. This was an area where the freed Africans lived. To be considered “free”, you had to be Christian and you had to be part of the military.
The homes were 30 feet by 30 feet. After some time they could upgrade to 30 feet by 70 feet but that is still very little space, especially for a family. This neighborhood is placed at the bottom of the hill, and the Whites lived above them on the top of the hill. At all times, the freed Africans had to have their cards with their identification that stated that they were free and had to be able to prove it.
While there, I chose to work at an Early Head Start program on the Island. As an education major and a 7-year nanny, it was amazing to see the difference in childcare.
They are very sanitary in the Early Head Start Program. When you enter a classroom you must put booties on, wash and sanitize your hands, all before entering the room. If you are changing a diaper, whipping a nose or mouth of a child, you must wear gloves and you must change the gloves with each new child. During naptime each day the teachers bleach each toy that was played with that morning so that germs are not being spread. Children have their own cot for naptime with a blanket that gets sanitized each evening as well. Because the center has a play-based curriculum they want the floor and all of the toys to stay as clean and sanitary as possible.
The play-based curriculum means the children have time to explore and learn things on their own. The children are provided with breakfast, lunch, and a snack each day. After breakfast the kids have time to roam around the classroom and play. In the 2-3 year old classroom there was a mini lesson connected with an art project completed after their playtime. The teachers based their lessons on what the student’s interests were. One of the days I was there, they were learning about creatures in the sea and a little boy liked Octopi, so the teachers taught a lesson about Octopi. I loved that the children had so much say in what happened in the classroom.
The children were so responsible. Each child is given their own chair and spot at the table and their own plate. They encourage the children to eat on their own and have proper posture. After every meal they have the children brush their teeth.
The teachers don’t say “no” to the children. If a child is doing something wrong they redirect them. For instance, if a child is throwing blocks, you grab the block and ask them if they want to make a tower with you. I find it easy to quickly yell “No”; however, the children here are instructed to continue to be children. If a child is crying they ask what is wrong, and they allow them to finish crying. Children cry, so let them cry.
I am so incredibly thankful for the time I spent on the island. I cannot believe how much I learned about St. Croix, culture, history, and myself in just 18 days. I hope one day be able to return because there is still so much I need to learn.