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Instructor JD Killoran, center, discussing the role of mangroves to St. Croix students during a field trip before the pandemic.

Even as the coronavirus put the kibosh on a typical in-person school year, the Eco-Schools USVI program managed to survive virtually, accommodating students eager to see their schools become greener and more resilient to climate change.

The Eco-Schools program, which has students conduct an environmental audit of their school and integrate strategies to make their schools more sustainable, was originally being done at seven local high schools before Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. closed schools in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The closure put the program on hiatus and disrupted an ongoing disaster risk reduction project, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Thanks to financial assistance from the National Wildlife Federation, however, Eco-Schools USVI was able to resume the project remotely during the fall semester.

Eco-Schools USVI Coordinator Pamela New said only four schools continued with the program when it resumed: Gifft Hill School on St. John, Ivanna Eudora Kean High School on St. Thomas, St. Croix Educational Complex and St. Croix Career and Technical Education Center.

New praised the teachers involved for dealing with the sometimes-overwhelming challenges of switching to distance learning, the lack of equipment and connectivity for many students and a whole new methodology of teaching via Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other platforms.

“I am in awe of our educators,” New said. “They recognized the value of the program, not only in terms of content, but also ‘walking the talk’ of resiliency and a commitment to green infrastructure and sustainability. Teachers are truly the unsung heroes of this pandemic.”

National Wildlife Federation Regional Education Director Marya Fowler said the conservation and advocacy organization is proud of teachers in the territory who worked “against all odds to help make their schools and communities become more resilient to climate change.”

“Despite many obstacles brought on by the pandemic, these teachers are forging ahead determined to provide innovative and authentic learning opportunities for their students,” she said in a statement.

Eco-Schools, a globally established environmental educational program, was brought to the Virgin Islands through a collaboration between the V.I. Conservation Society, the National Wildlife Federation and the Foundation for Environmental Education.

Once a school has successfully implemented a seven-step program, it may receive a bronze, silver or the top-level Green Flag award. Green Flag schools are designated as Eco-Schools, joining an international network of Eco-Schools in more than 68 countries, according to a statement from the V.I. Conservation Society.

Recently, the Gifft Hill School and Ivanna Eudora Kean High School were awarded a Bronze Level Award upon completing the risk reduction project.

Before the shutdown, community partners from the University of the Virgin Islands, Sen. Myron Jackson and the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency came to share their knowledge with students. Field trips like kayaking on St. Croix’s Salt River or visiting Coral World gave students the opportunity for project-based learning as they explored the importance of protecting the territory’s watersheds.

“Eco-Schools is a program that helps inspire youths to take care of the changing environments around us. It helps students to understand the importance of sustainability, so they spread awareness throughout their communities,” said Educational Complex student R’Deajah Milligan in the statement.

For more information about joining the Eco-Schools program, email New at vi.ecoschool@gmail.com.

— Contact A.J. Rao at 340-714-9104 or email ajrao@dailynews.vi.