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The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands once again released to the public its 16th annual U.S.V.I. Kids Count Data Book containing the latest statistics pertaining to important issues affecting our children and youth and some of this information has already been printed by the media. Of great concern are the continuing extremely low literacy rates of our school-aged children and the growing number of children living in poverty, public high school dropouts, teen violent crime arrests, and detached youth. I have written about this before and will continue to do so to highlight our failures in improving the conditions of our children and youth here. Year after year, we read and hear about these poor statistics but they seem to be falling on deaf ears. As a result, we see the devastating repercussions, including a high crime rate, in our community. This article is a cry for action.
According the V.I. Kids Count Data Book:
The report further establishes that it is critical to identify those children who are having reading difficulties at this stage and assist them so that they stay in school and acquire the necessary skills for the job market.
As a judge in the Superior Court for more than 6 years, I observed that most of the criminal defendants/offenders in adult and juvenile cases were our young men, many of whom had poor literacy skills and/or had dropped out of school. A judge’s role is not to create educational programs, but to punish the wrong doer for the crime committed and/or assist with rehabilitation through requiring attendance at various programs and other efforts.
Based on all these statistics and the overwhelming research, it seems obvious that the cure for many of the ills of our children and youth is to teach them to read proficiently from an early age so that they are motivated to stay in school. As I have stated before, our government officials and our community must understand the key role that literacy plays in keeping a child in school and doing well, graduating from high school, and ultimately having a successful career, whether through college or vocational career/technical training, as well as lowering the crime rate.
Promoting literacy must be a priority. Much of our manpower, skills and expertise should be focused on developing plans to foster reading proficiency – not just with children but also with adults. To make this effort successful, there must be a partnership between government, organizations, and the people, especially parents. Government, including teachers, cannot do it alone. Along with the generous donations of books made throughout our community by non-profit organizations must be the actual reading of those books.
It is my cry that we act now. The futures of our children and youth are at stake.
Submitted by: Soraya Diase Coffelt on March 8.
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