Join us in celebrating a fantastic year in partnership with the Virgin Islands (VI) Eco-Schools program which resulted in nearly 300 students from seven schools taking part in the Water Smart Schools USVI during the 2022-2023 school year. The goal of this program is to increase knowledge about, and access to, clean drinking water in schools and promote the use of refillable water bottles including knowledge about plastic waste, marine debris, and the negative health impacts of drinking from plastic bottles.
Drinking water is never taken for granted on a Caribbean Island; in the USVI access to clean, affordable drinking water can be a struggle. This is because the primary source of freshwater is from rainfall, captured in individually managed cisterns, which studies have shown are frequently contaminated and therefore require treatment. There is limited municipal water supply in city centers and it may be unsafe due to aging infrastructure, damaged by frequent hurricanes. For these reasons, water is typically purchased in single-use plastic bottles, which is expensive and results in mounds of plastic trash. Adding to the problem is the lack of universal household trash pick-up and the use of uncovered roadside dumpsters where overflowing trash is carried by the wind and rain downstream to the ocean, resulting in marine debris impacts to marine life.
These issues affect every sector of the community, including the economy, since businesses and the government have to compensate and deal with the consequences in order to operate. But for USVI children and families, these burdens are more concerning because approximately 30% of USVI children live in families with incomes below the poverty level and poverty has frequently been linked to disproportionate health risks, especially in children.
Water Smart Schools USVI is implemented by Eco-Schools USVI which is a Virgin Islands Conservation Society (VICS) program that currently works proactively with ten USVI schools to bring environmental literacy to students and the community under the structural guidance of an internationally recognized framework developed by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). By implementing programs that support environmental sustainability and community resilience, Eco-Schools bolsters and adds capacity to environmental literacy in schools and the community. Participating in the Eco-Schools program, students become systems thinkers, find their voice, engage in leadership opportunities, and acquire the skills that will allow them to take on higher-level jobs.
The program is overseen by a Project Advisory Committee (PAC) comprised of local diverse sector representatives that meets quarterly. The on-the-ground work is accomplished by one Eco-Schools Coordinator for the St. Croix School District and another for the St. Thomas/St. John School District. Project accomplishments during the 2022-2023 school year included:
- Water Heroes Workshops were conducted at 7+ schools across the territory serving nearly 300 students. This curriculum includes three activities that cover water quality testing, water filtration, and water conservation including the use of virtual reality and hands-on activity kits.
- Water filling stations for St. Croix were purchased and are ready for installation during July 2023 at four schools.
- Research and discovery yielded that St. Thomas schools already had filling stations but in many cases, student distrust of water quality remained the primary issue in preventing their use. With the support of VIMAS and the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) Environmental Analysis Lab, EcoSchools conducted water quality testing at all participating St. Thomas schools. All water testing results indicated good drinking water quality. Next, the creation of an infographic in partnership with VIMAS was developed to explain the results. These Infographics will be displayed on bulletin boards to promote the use of the water bottle filling stations next school year.
- Coastal field trips for St. Croix schools were conducted and included the USVI Marine Debris Curriculum.
- Water audits were completed at C-TECH, Pearl B. Larsen, and Eulie R. Rivera. Both CTEC and the St. Croix Educational Complex Schools have begun developing their poster boards and bulletins for the project’s milestones at their respective sites. They’ve also begun collecting data and content for the development of a newsletter which will be distributed through the entire USVI Department of Education.
- Weekly team meetings were held to further project goals and outcomes.
- Curricula and materials were finalized and the project will wrap up during 2024, with the hope that this program will continue and be expanded to all USVI Schools.
The Water Smart Schools USVI program was created as a collaborative project between:
- Virgin Islands Conservation Society (VICS),
- Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), and,
- Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service (VIMAS).
With funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and support from the USVI Department of Education, this program is accomplished through the wider application of three existing curricula, Water Heroes, developed by VIMAS, the Refill Bottles, Not Dumpsters Program created by DPNR, and the Marine Debris Curriculum created by UVI.