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ST. CROIX — Governor Kenneth Mapp on Thursday hosted students from Elena Christian Junior High School (ECJH) Rocketry Club who recently made history by being selected over U.S. science clubs to visit the White House, meet President Barack Obama and display and demonstrate their latest project.
Mapp, amazed by the students’ contributions at such a young age, said he sees the territory’s future in them.
“You have made us all proud with your confidence and knowledge displayed at the White House last month,” the governor said. “I welcome you to Government House, this is your house, as I talk with you, I wonder which one of you will be a doctor, which one of you will be a scientist, a millionaire, a senator and which one of you will be a governor someday. When I listen to you, I can see the future of the Virgin Islands and I like what I see.”
The territory’s leader then made mention of his plan to rebuild and refurbish the islands’ ailing schools, including his alma mater, St. Croix Central High School, “so by the time you graduate, you will have a new, modern school with up-to-date technology,” he said.
Steve Bullock, a science teacher at ECJH and adviser of the Rocketry Club, who was also present at Government House on Thursday, said at a press briefing a day before the trip to Washington, D.C. that success didn’t come overnight.
“We just didn’t wake up one morning and somebody in the White House said, ‘Wow, the V.I. is a minority community, so let’s invite them,'” Bullock said. “What happened is that the Elena Christian High School has an ongoing rocketry program that has been in existence for about 15 years. And for the the last seven or eight years, we started competing in a competition that is called the Team America Rocketry Challenge that is held once a year in Virginia in the month of May.”
The club has participated six times in that challenge and has made it to the finals five times, this year being the latest. “And so that was a significant factor in determining who would go to the White House,” Bullock said.
Bullock revealed that every year the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) is asked by the White House to submit three nominees to visit based on the results of the challenge. Traditionally, the teams that placed first, second and third would be submitted to the White House. This year, however, the White House gathering was held in March, before the challenge, and TARC organizers were tasked with selecting three nominees based on the results of the competition held last year, according to Bullock.
Club students also shared their excitement at the press briefing about traveling to the White House and meeting the president.
“Going up to the White House and meeting the president is such a prestigious event and I’m so excited, so happy and elated to just go and showcase what we have done — years of work that we have done, and how we finally get to show the United States what such a minority can do,” said Stephanie Bullock, club captain. Bullock, who said she plans on embarking on a career in the field of aerospace science, had the opportunity to not only meet the president, but explain to him their rocketry project.
Maria Heywood, who has been a club member since last September, said she was “very excited.”
“I’m very impressed because most students would never be able to go to the White House, so it’s a very good experience for me,” she said.
At Government House, the students exhibited the rockets that were on display at the White House, and thereafter enjoyed lunch with the governor.
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