Category: Education


The twenty-first century has seen a disturbingly regrettable trend of more and more parents of academically average children playing less and less active role in their children’s education during the school year here in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). Every year, even before students can get into their summer flow, the back-to-school hype literally invades their minds via radio, television, and now the internet and telephone advertising. Parents are enthusiastically busy getting their children registered into new schools, buying books, uniforms and paying other preparatory expenses. But where do these parents disappear to after day one of the new school year?

A successful education system, such as we allege to have in SVG depends on the collaboration of the student, teacher, school, home and community. Learning is indeed a partnership. But partners in this education process are becoming woefully negligent and even uncaring. Years ago, it was the norm to find that parents would make it their business to know their children’s teachers, to keep in continuous contact with the school and to reinforce education policies and school decisions at home.

But today, the environment and world of learning that schools offer students in the classroom is tantamount to a fleeting fairy-tale feeling of bliss while at the movies, because after the school bell rings, many children are returning to homes and communities with very contrasting views on schooling and life values.

It is a reality we cannot afford to ignore much longer.

Generally speaking, the education policies, from the Ministry of Education to the individual school regulations, have been doing their fair share of keeping students on task and actively involved in their learning. But there is very little structure and support for the students outside their classrooms. As it is now, far too many children, some as young as those in primary schools, are being just left on their own to literally become young independents. They are home alone after school, they have no set bed time hour, they go wherever they want, they do whatever they want, and on mornings they are told by their parents who go to work and leave them at home, to get themselves ready for school ad go to school.

Of course, many of them don’t habitually go to school, or they go to school regularly late.

So the question is: Why is this generation of parents neglecting their most vital parenting responsibilities as regards their children’s education during the school year? Well, perhaps the following real-life incident might shed light on the causes.

When summer was ending in 2014 I was making my way through the market when some parents began talking about the reopening of school. “Let school hurry up open,” the first parent said. “Yes,” was the quick reply of a second parent. “I can’t keep any food in the fridge for this whole month of August.” A third parent then said, “My electricity bill went sky high because the children home watching TV every day.” Then a fourth parent said: “The other day I go home and meet the water hose turned on. The water run whole day because the child at home and been playing with the hose.”

The above comments suggest to me that the primary function of school for the average parent is to give them a relief from the “burden” of looking after their own children on a daily basis. Something is causing a paradigm shift in local parenting. This is evident from incidents when a parent is highly upset that she has to report to her child’s school because he or she was suspended. Long ago the anger would have been focused on the reason the child was suspended in the first place. Now it is aimed at the school for disrupting the parent’s “vacation” from life without the child around.

This parenting shift is also real when a parent can also declare in front of their child that they don’t love or care about that child; that their money, attention and love is going to the brother or sister at another school. That’s an actual development.

The time has come for parental courses, tutorials, help-a-thons or the like, to be made available for many parents. Many of them are proving unable–or unwilling–to cope with their basic responsibilities of parenting their school-going children.

No child asked to be born, so when that child is born it is the duty of the parent to start living a sacrificial life for the child; however, what is happening is that many parents wish to continue living as though they have no children. That is a recipe for the failure of the child.

Yes, parents may have to work, but they should not just accept that they leave home before the child wake up, or that they come home late at nights hours after the child reached home from school. Parents, you have an equal responsibility to make sure some mature adult is there before and after school.

Children are also  leaving home and returning from school with no adult to inspect or monitor the contents of their bags or pockets. The moral straying in this area is infinite. From not taking books to school to bringing back books, cell phone, drugs or money that does not belong to them, are all possible results because children are unsupervised at home or left unchecked.

When a child can buy their own uniform, stitch in the pants, or wear multiple pieces to school–something is wrong with the way parenting is done. When a child’s report from December is still uncollected in June–something is wrong with the way parenting is done.

Has the time come for parents of school-going children to sign a legal parenting contract which spells out specific things that they must do after registering their child, or getting the new bag, books and uniform for September?

Could it be that the twenty-first century parents are having children as a consequence of sexual activity, rather than having intercourse because they genuinely want to have children?

The answers to  those questions are critically important if schooling has to once again become the noble and proven way of giving indigent children an escape from poverty.

In too many instances, school is being reduced to a mere baby-sitting hub where children only give priority to the after-school lime with their fellow students from across the island when they gather in the capital city and stand at the bus stop for hours each and every evening.

Education is still a valuable asset, and schooling is still a fundamental necessity but we are fooling ourselves if we only make back-to-school an emotional hype of making a social statement and then abandon the children to sink in the academic seas of actual reading, studying and doing home-work. We should really not celebrate back to school without prioritizing going back to parenting.

 

 

 

 

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{The above video shows how one Vincentian news reader reacted when one of the earthquakes struck as the newscast was being recorded.}

 

 

Six earthquakes were reported in the (Eastern) Caribbean on Thursday.

According to a statement from the UWI Seismic Research Centre, the earthquakes occurred North East of Barbados at 07:01am, 7:52am, 11:16am, 11:29am, 11:36am and 12:23pm local time.

“The events were located between latitudes of 13.83°N to 13.99°N and longitudes of 58.51°W to 58.70°W. The Magnitudes ranged from 3.4 to 6.4 and depths from 61km to 111km. These earthquakes were reported felt throughout in Barbados, St. Vincent, Grenada, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana.”

No damage or injuries were reported to the Seismic Research Centre.

Seismologist Dr. Joan Latchman said the faults in the earth are now ready to release the strained energy, causing earthquakes to occur more frequently.

She urged citizens to be prepared for earthquakes of greater Magnitudes as she said people tend to forget that the region is seismically alive.

“We have not seen our largest earthquake for more than a hundred years and we keep saying that we need to be prepared. We need to be prepared at all levels – from the individual to the community, to the region, to the national, to the Eastern Caribbean.”

via Caribbean region struck by 6 earthquakes.

 

Below is my opinion based on the above news release

Actually, during the latter part of last year (2014) over 2o different tremors or earthquakes were recorded in the Eastern Caribbean. The data always show the epicenter to be somewhere NE of Barbados or St Lucia, or within an approximate range of the Windward Islands. It is my opinion that the pressure within the earth’s tectonic plate, just NE of the Eastern Caribbean is reaching a pressure pot release point. Also troubling is the presence of many sleeping volcanoes within the Windward Islands as well.

Here in St Vincent & the Grenadines we last felt a relatively intense earthquake back on Thursday November 29, 2007, at approximately 3 PM. As God’s favour would have had it, although things were thoroughly shaken, there was no human injuries or loss of life. That particular quake registered 7.3 on the Richter scale.

As we are particularly vulnerable to earth movements, we must do the wisely astute thing and put in place community and village-level earthquakes and/or volcanic event responses so as to minimize panic and ensure the greatest possible safety of our ordinary citizens should the Eastern Caribbean suffer an unwanted catastrophic earthquake. Let’s make sure every citizen group knows what to do before, during and after such an event.

 

 

 

Our teachers are dying.

This past school year has recorded an unprecedented number of deaths among teachers in the teaching fraternity here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It is quite shocking and frightening actually when I think of this unusually historic occurrence as regards the deaths of so many of my colleagues, some of whom I knew personally, all within the space of several short months. I pray that this trend ends with the ending of the school year.

When I awoke this morning in the lazy comfort of the summer holidays, I checked my phone and saw yet another obituary notification from the St Vincent & the Grenadines Teachers Union that another teacher had died. I quickly looked at the picture and was immediately stunned. The latest deceased teacher was Ray LaBorde. I thought it sadly ironic that news of Ray LaBorde’s death broke on the very morning the annual two weeks summer Teachers Workshop was starting. Ray had helped organize many of these very same workshops in the past.

I knew Ray LaBorde not just as a professional but foremost as a local young man who grew up in the same community I did and who actually taught at the primary school I went to. He didn’t teach me when I was a pupil at the Evesham Methodist School but I believe he was assigned to the teaching staff just about the time I left after passing the Common Entrance examination in the late 1980s.

Ray was more than a teacher of academics and classroom lessons. He was even more a teacher of life’s integral lessons in his home village of Evesham. In fact, one of my last recollections of Ray LaBorde’s activism was a short time before his sudden illness last year when he was a leading organizer in a march and rally designed to help residents take a stand against the deadly gun violence and gang activities which had shown its ugly head in Evesham. The very last time I would see Ray LaBorde alive was at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital earlier this year.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.

Another teacher who died this past school year–a couple weeks ago in fact–was Dorette John, a teacher of the Belair Government school, a primary school in the same village where she lived. Fundraising activities were still being planned and executed to assist Dorette John when she died. No doubt, she left us all in shock as was evident from the turnout at her funeral several weeks ago now.

For years Eustace “Slums” Maloney taught children to acquire and appreciate their musical talent in addition to their traditional academic skills. Hailing from the Marriaqua constituency, Eustace “Slums” Maloney taught at schools such as Evesham Methodist School, where undoubtedly he and Ray LaBorde would have worked together over the years.

The sudden deaths of our Vincentian teachers within the past school year has also been particularly unsettling because we got news of the deaths of active school principals as well.

The most recent principal who died was principal of the Dorsetshire Hill Government School, Olive Allen. Now anyone who knows the Dosetshire Hill Government School knows it is a close knit school community. Although its population has been relatively small over the years, families in the Dorsetshire Hill community have persevered, supported and loved Ms Allen and her staff as their own. According to a well placed source close to the school family, even when the Ministry of Education had covertly tried to close or relocate the school population to join another primary school, the parents quickly got wind of this and made it clear to the officials that they would have none of it and so the officials were forced to perish that thought.

The Dorsetshire Hill Government School has also found a place in the heart of Vincentians because it had been adopted by the sole local TV station and so received tangible help and national publicity to assist in its operations. The school is located just adjacent from the SVG TV studios. Even when some teenagers had carried out a bold daylight robbery, depriving a teacher of the school of her vehicle and monies, the TV station made no delay in carrying the incident in its prime time news cast that very night.

The robbers were caught not too long after that.

Ms. Natana McLean is another Vincentian teacher we lost this school year. This young lady taught at the JP Eustace Memorial Secondary School, locally known as the Emmanuel High School in Kingstown. She really died in the prime of her life, possibly carrying many unfulfilled dreams and aspirations with her to eternity.

The teacher I am about to reflect on now was someone I knew very well. Rodney Moore AKA Rodney Sayers. Rodney Sayers began his teaching career at the Petersville Primary School in Kingstown Park. Later he taught at the Stubbs Government School and the Fair Hall Government School. He went to the same secondary school as I did. Even as teenagers I could tell Rodney Sayers was someone who would never allow boredom to invade any social gathering. Rodney Sayers kept us laughing. But he also had a great academic mind, especially in the area of mathematics and numeracy.

I got to know Rodney Sayers even better when both of us attended the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers College back in 2001. We were in the same group and shared many wonderful occasions learning pedagogical, social, spiritual and psychological matters pertaining to life and to our profession. I remember returning to the college after a holiday weekend and it was Rodney Sayers who turned to me and said, “Ashford you know Nicholas Pompey drowned yesterday?”

Nicholas Pompey had also attended secondary school with Rodney Sayers and myself. Nicholas Pompey had led his church’s youth group to the Rawacou picnic site the holiday Monday where he and several other young people drowned. Today, I still think of Rawacou as the drowning capital of St Vincent.

My final reflection on Rodney Sayers happened several months after we had left college. After work one evening Rodney Sayers came by as lively as ever. “Ashford, you know Teachers College results come out!” I knew he had meant well but given the nature of the news, I wished he had called me aside and whispered it to me; nonetheless, all my colleagues had heard and were now eagerly demanding that I go and collect my results immediately. Rodney Sayers and I were successful at the teachers college. I last saw Rodney Sayers at one of our local supermarkets about a month before he died. We were both shopping and chatted briefly. Never in the world did I realize that that was the last time we were talking on this side of life.

Another teacher who died this past school year was a principal from one of the schools on the leeward side of mainland St Vincent. Grocina Walters-Richards was the person in charge of the Troumaca Government School. I never knew her in person but her biological brother and I are good friends and we were actually teaching at the same school when his sister died.

The final teacher being mentioned is Ezekiel “Scatter” Butcher. “Scatter” was really a living legend. He actually taught Rodney Sayers and myself when we were in secondary school. Interestingly, “Scatter” and Rodney had very similar jovial temperaments and, coincidentally enough, they both died exactly one month apart from each other.

Read an earlier post where I paid sterling tribute to Ezekiel “Scatter” Butcher.

I believe this post is warranted. However, there are still quite a few Vincentian teachers alive today who are confirmed seriously ill. They are suffering in particular  with cancer and kidney disease. Given the number of teacher deaths this past school year, it is probably a good idea for a national analysis of teacher lifestyles as far as they relate to healthy living or the lack thereof. Could it also be that our Vincentian teachers are unknowingly exposed to some hazardously life-threatening environmental conditions in their respective workplace? Each of us as teachers as  well must begin to value our health, learn how to manage stress factors and to eat natural foods. Let’s support, pray, empathize and help our teachers avoid another deadly school year for Vincentian teachers.

wefmnews

Thursday August 14, 2014 — WEFM — Four schools in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have recorded percentage pass rates of 80% or more in this year’s CSEC exams.

 

These schools are Girls’ High School (96.96%); St. Joseph Convent Kingstown (93.68%); St. Vincent Grammar School (93.03%) and Thomas Saunders Secondary (85.27%).

 

Ten Schools obtained creditable pass rates between 60 and 80%.

 

These are St. Martin’s Secondary School (78.20%); St. Joseph Convent Marriaqua (78.16%); Adelphi Secondary School (75.88%); Mountain View Adventist Academy (73.66%); Union Island Secondary School (70.62%); West St. George Secondary (67.27%); Intermediate High School (65.93%); Central Leeward Secondary (64.56%); North Union Secondary (63.99%) and Bishop’s College Kingstown (63.14%).

 

The school which recorded the most significant improvement is the St. Martin’s Secondary whose pass rate increased from 54.95% in 2013 to 78.20% in 2014, an increase of 23.25%.

 

 

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The vast majority of Vincentians alive today remember the events leading up to the Grand Beach Accord that paved the way for general elections in 2001, ending an historic reign as government for the New Democratic Party (N.D.P.) which began in 1984.

Whether or not you are a person intrigued by politics, or you are an independent observer you have to give Jack his jacket and admit that the NDP’s seventeen year run as a governing party ushered in a new era in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).

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Newly sworn in Prime Minister James Mitchell in 1984

It was during this time in our history that the transition occurred which brought our country in step with the majority of other developing nations in the region and around the globe.

Led by its founder, James Mitchell, the NDP took the office of government a mere five years after we achieved political independence from Britain. In fact, it was the St Vincent Labour Party (SVLP) led by incumbent Prime Minister Robert Milton Cato, that the New Democratic Party overwhelmingly deprived of another term in office.

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From Prime Minister to Opposition Leader: Milton Cato makes his way to Parliament after his defeat in the 1984 elections

It stands to reason, therefore, that the then Milton Cato government must have been deficient in the provision of certain key political and economic indicators for the citizens of SVG. James Mitchell, back then a relatively youthful man with a vision for national development, courageously took the oath of Prime Minister for this young multi-island state.

The NDP’s tenure will certainly be remembered for the many widespread capital projects and infrastructural changes which they pioneered. Every nook and cranny on the mainland and in the Grenadines benefited from one of the many hundreds of rural concrete roads which they cut and/or paved.

In 1984 the NDP won 9 of the 13 parliamentary seats up for grabs. When the electorate went back to the polls in 1989, Vincentians gave the James Mitchell government an overall grade of A+. All  fifteen constituencies went to the New Democratic Party. The NDP had split two constituencies on the grounds that the geographical area was too wide for the respective individual representatives to adequately represent in parliament and for timely executed projects.

Take a look at the candidates who contested the July 25, 1984, general elections on the NDP ticket, as they appeared back in 1984.

 

IMG_20140804_133115    IMG_20140804_133121   IMG_20140804_133130

IMG_20140804_133154      IMG_20140804_133252   IMG_20140804_133327

IMG_20140804_133346         IMG_20140804_133402     IMG_20140804_133434

IMG_20140804_133444           IMG_20140804_133501       IMG_20140804_135557

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Images courtesy the Vincentian newspaper at SVG National Archives

St Martin's Secondary School

St Martin’s Secondary School

With the death and burial recently of one of my high school teachers, Ezekiel “Scatter” Butcher, I started to purposefully reflect on my times at St Martin’s Secondary School in Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines. It was the best a boy could get in terms of a quality education at a conducive and learner friendly environment.

I entered St Martin’s in September 1987 and I can honestly say that the next five years were among the very best years of my entire life. They were really golden years. This is a sentiment being echoed by many of my classmates and schoolmates who were privileged to be enrolled at the institution in that golden era.  Prior to 1987 I had never known or heard about St Martin’s; however, it was after I was only one of two boys from Evesham Methodist School lucky enough to pass the 1987 Common Entrance exam that my teachers told me about St Martin’s.

I was immediately excited and thrilled about the prospects of attending a “town school” because it would mean that I would be riding vans every day. Vehicles and rides were scarce luxuries in the Evesham of 1987. I can still vividly remember jumping up and down when I got the confirmation slip from the Ministry of Education that said I would be going to St Martin’s Secondary School.

One of the first challenges was having to be in “town” on my own. So far, the only place I went to on my own was the village next door. So my brother and mother accompanied me to the school on registration day. That event happened in the library. It was my first time meeting the Christian Brothers—Br. Alfred Marshall was the principal and conducted the exercise himself. Up to that point I had only seen “white people” on TV and so it dawned on me that my world was really expanding.

That summer we were invited to attend Math classes being taught by Mr Bradley Brooker. I shall always remember walking out the gate after the first session and realizing I was lost because I had not memorized the immediate street. Panic gripped me but then a voice said to me just follow the other students and see where they go. That idea got me back on the right track.

I would never lose my way again.

The rest of the summer was a new adventure everyday. As I began meeting the other boys I realized that I was meeting children from all over St Vincent and the Grenadines. We shared our respective memories of our various primary schools at every chance we got.

Then the 1987 school year began. During the summer there was just a handful of us new students—about twenty or so—but on the first day of school I felt totally lost at the awesome sight of literally hundreds of boys in blue and white. It was like I walked into an ants nest of blue and white. I had no idea what to do, where to go, who to talk to. So guess what I did?

I followed the students who were in front of me when I entered the gate. So I stayed in that bright blue and white traffic. I kept climbing the steps. On the second flight of stairs, a friend I made at the summer lessons, Clinty Joseph, was on his way down. He said to me, “Is you I coming to look for you know. Come see where our class is.”

If there ever was a Godsend, that was Clinty right there!

He told me to check on the door to see which of the two form ones I was in. Back then the class lists were placed on the doors. I scanned the first list and found my name. Clinty could not be happier because he, too, was on that list.

Even though I had been at summer school, the classrooms looked quite different. They were cleaner and shone just as brightly as the uniforms and book bags of the new students occupying them. As the years went by I would later learn and see that it was Mr Butcher who used his summer to lead a school painting taskforce every year.

One of the first things that struck me about my new class was that it was so roomy and clean. It had louvers on both sides and so very well ventilated. I smiled to myself. I already loved my new school. When I later heard a man speaking over a speaker I was astonished. The school had a PA system. I automatically gave the school two thumbs up and all five stars!

St Martin’s Secondary School (SMSS) was a family. I saw that in operation every day. There was a real sense of caring and sharing. Looking back, nobody seemed vexed with you or having “bad mind” as the youths say of themselves these days. There were 38 students in my Form 1 Set 2 and I honestly can say there were no “haters” in that large group.

St Martin’s taught me a lot about friendships from day 1. I had met Marlon Roberts who lived in Questelles and had attended the Petersville Primary School. I tried sneaking up behind him one break time to cover his eyes with my hands. It was a game we played. But somehow Marlon must have known I was there because he turned around just as I was about to clamp my hands over his eyes.

What happened next I would never forget. The plan backfired in that my finger got in his eye and he was immediately upset. He said: “Alyo man always a do stupidness you know!”

I felt so guilty and embarrassed that I ran away and tried my best to avoid him from then on. Then a day or two afterwards it was Marlon who sneaked up on me and actually apologized to me. That showed me who a real friend was. It was the first time in my life another person was apologizing to me.

Marlon did one other thing that year to make me understand friends are really people who care about your best interests. It happened when our Algebra teacher, Mr Best, had given us the option of attending either algebra or camera lessons after school. I went in the camera group, which had upper form students.

After a while Marlon came over to me and he said, “Ashford, you can always learn to use a camera you know, but you can’t always learn how to do algebra.”

That struck me to the core.

Never before had anyone analysed my actions and given me advice for my benefit. Additionally, because it came from somebody my own age, I was totally impressed and realized I had a real friend. Without saying a word, I left the camera group and joined my friend in the algebra lessons.

In those days we used to have what we call a “Special Schedule” on Fridays. Classes lasted only 35 minutes. There was no break; however, lunch was from 10:40 to 11:15. School used to over at 1:25 PM every Friday.

Our Form Master, Mr Kelly, used to stay back with us and do fun activities. Often, we would join with the students from Form 1 Set 1 and their Form Master. That is how I learned to make and fly a kite.

Other notable experiences that first year included getting licks for doing home work in class. Mr Sarkar was the Dean of discipline. Homework was to be done at home. The first time Mr Sarkar came to teach us Geography, he wrote four Ss on the board. The first S meant “stand up”. The second S meant “shut up”; the third S meant “Sarkar”,  and the fourth S was for “Sir”.

It was not that he just wrote and told us about these Ss. He bellowed them to us new terrified students. I could have sworn I was in the military! I won’t be surprised if some boys with bladder problems did wet their pants that morning.

But Mr Sarkar also wrote four other letters on the board. H.A.R.P. That would prove to be his motto for teaching. The letters stood for Honesty, Ambition, Respect and Pride.

We enjoyed Geography class after that unforgettable introduction.

St Martin’s Secondary School gave us local boys a chance to meet people from around the world. Mr Kelly, for example, was a young American who was volunteering a year teaching us English. There were different volunteers each year. We also met other boys who were in St Vincent but citizens from overseas—from Caribbean islands to America and Canada.

As we did our work we soon realized that our teachers wanted us to also have fun. There were times when all we did was just tell jokes and old talk.

And we did not just learn about the academic syllabus. I remember the first time I experienced a sex education lesson was from Mr Butcher in his form four Social Studies class. Up until then I didn’t think teachers ever talked about sex or relationships in class with students. But it helped us. It was a real life lesson.

In a Form 3 Religion class, Br Robert made us all sit up with mouths open and eyes popping out of our heads. He began his lesson: “What does somebody really mean when they say fuck you?”

No body slept in that class.

St Martin’s Secondary School made a name for itself in sports as well. Apart from the usual inter-House and Inter-School athletics events, we were a force to be reckoned with on the football and cricket field as well. In 1smss football news story990 the St Martin’s football team won the finals of the secondary schools football competition after beating the Bethel High School. I still can see students like Curtis Greaves (now principal of the Emmanuel High School in Mesopotamia) stamping the wooden stands at the Victoria Park so passionately that I really was expecting the stands to collapse.

In 1991, the St Martin’s football team was back in the finals of the secondary schools football tournament. We faced off against the Barrouallie Secondary School. The match went into overtime and the boys had to have penalty shootouts. Christmas came early at St Martin’s that year because we won the game and were football champions for two years in a row! We all left the Victoria Park pretty hoarse that day.

That same year, in 1991, Mr Brooker led the St Martin’s cricket team to the finals of the secondary schools cricket competition. NBC Radio, back then known as 705 Radio, broadcasted the match live. I remember clearly, sportscaster Mike Findlay asking student Grant Connell (yes, he is the lawyer of today) who he believes will win the match. And Grant simply told him that St Martin’s already has it wrapped up. Mike was just impressed by the smarts of the St Martin’s student.

St Martin’s secondary School did win the 1991 secondary schools cricket championship. So in that year we were both football and cricket champions of all the secondary schools in St Vincent and the Grenadines!

But it didn’t end there. In 1992, guess who was back in the finals of the secondary schools football competition? Yes, St Martin’s. And guess which school we came up against? None other than the St Vincent Boys Grammar School. Now this was poised to be an interesting and historic match indeed. You see, there was always this unspoken competition between the Grammar School and St Martin’s to see which of these two all-boys schools was really number one. Because the match was played at the end of the calendar year, my group had already graduated from St Martin’s. In fact we were now in 6th Form (what is now called Community College).

The sole Sixth Form on the island was attached to the Grammar School. Nonetheless my classmates, St Clair “Herbie” Stapleton, Ronnie Daniel, Harold Lewis, Sheldon Venner, and I, all came to support St Martin’s that afternoon. Now our Sixth Form teacher came and sat among us in the section with St Martin’s students. As if that was not odd enough, she had the Grammar School flag. I just felt she was “in enemy territory”. She made the mistake of waving the flag when Grammar School had made a goal and all I saw was the Grammar School flag flying in mid air to the ground at the front of the stand. Almost immediately someone ran and tossed it into a green garbage bin nearby.

The entire stand erupted in an uproar that would have drowned out any Carnival Monday jam.

By the end of the game St Martin’s Secondary School had created history by winning the secondary schools football championship for three years in a row! And we did it by beating the St Vincent Grammar School. Coach Gary Thomas had really worked very hard. Players such as Rohan Keizer, Dominique Stowe, Terry Anderson, Jimi Jack and Maxion Richardson, among others on the team, really were top football players in the country, even though they were teenagers.

smss football champs

This is the football team that won the 3rd title

Now, just before we had graduated in June of 1992, our graduating class also did something that I don’t believe any other graduating class has done. We re-enacted the finals of the football championship between the the champs, St Martin’s, and the opponents in the finals, the Barrouallie Secondary School in a floodlight football match at Victoria Park. The moon was out in all its glory. We had students picking up ticket monies. We had students in charge of Bar be que. We had students manning the bar. It was an unforgettable night. Oh yes, I was responsible for getting the event advertised and so Chester Connell, a past student of St Martin’s who was a top radio announcer at 705 Radio at the time, did the ad for us.

There are so very many other precious memories from St Martin’s. It struck me during times when school was closed that other students who were not from my class would actually say hello to me whenever and wherever we met. That comforted me so much. I knew I was not just a student in a school. I was a brother in a large family.

Up to this day those of us who grew up at the school in that era, refer to each other as “Brother”.

And we saw it even as the news spread of the death of Mr Butcher. Old boys came to the funeral dressed in their St Martin’s uniform. I was one of them.  Seeing all the other people associated with the golden era of St Martin’s made tears come to my eyes.

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Mr Butcher’s body leaving the Anglican Church in Kingstown

We were mightily blessed to have been at St Martin’s in those times. A lot has changed over the years. The Christian Brothers are no longer in St Vincent. That wonderful cadre of men and women that comprised the teaching staff has long since disbanded to various other endeavours in life.

I know many of us past students wish that our St Martin’s was still engulfed in that magical atmosphere of love, hope and excellent academic pursuits and results.  We may not be able to wave a magic wand and reverse the hand of time but what we can do is let the spirit of SMSS live in all of us.

St Martin’s role was to prepare us for life. That is what Mr Butcher was eagerly doing over all those years of his life. So it is up to us to live out the life lessons we learned within it’s happy walls. It was encouraging this year that the child who came first in the CPEA—the exam that replaced the Common Entrance exam, is the son of a past student of St Martin’s Secondary School.

Let us all use whatever talents we have and make our mark. We can still change the world. I believe in doing so, the present crop of students and teachers at St Martin’s will see the rich legacy of the school powerfully at work and that will keep inspiring them to up their game as well.

Mr. Butcher

Our teacher Ezekiel “Scatter” Butcher at school

I end this lengthy but necessary post with the very words Ezekiel “Scatter” Butcher wrote in my graduation souvenir book when I graduated in 1992:

“Go placidly amidst the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence. All the best. May your inspiration come from the Lord at all times.”

For generations in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Common Entrance Examination was the sole determinant of which primary school children would get a secondary education. In its hay day, only the successful candidates who passed the Common Entrance Examination (CEE) were chosen to attend a secondary school. As there were very few secondary schools, competition was stiff and many primary school children were left without a place in the secondary school system when the new school year began.

The top students in the CEE were automatically selected for the top schools on the island. The top school for boys was the St Vincent and the Grenadines Boys Grammar School. It’s female equivalent was the St Vincent and the Grenadines Girls High School. Both of these schools were—and still are—located in the capital city and adjacent to each other.

The CEE was therefore a life changing event for many children, especially for those who lived in the country side. Once they passed well and were selected for a “town school”, it was a whole new life about to begin. For example, in my own case, my first trip into town on my own was only as a result of passing the CEE well enough to be placed at a secondary school in the town.

I can still vividly recall upon leaving the school premises after school one day during the first week of classes, feeling horrified because I wasn’t seeing the landmarks I had memorized. Luckily, panic gave way to calm as something inside told me to just follow the other students for a while. It turned out the landmarks which I had mentally encoded were on another street farther away from the school.

Forgive my enthusiastic running ahead of myself there. Let me resume the reflection on the topic at hand. Age played a significant role in deciding who would write the Common Entrance Examination. Most of my classmates in Junior 5 (Common Entrance Class, as we called it back then) had two and even three chances to write this exam. Me? I had only one.

So I told myself that I was going to either Form 1 or Senior 1. It was some kind of 1 for me. Now Senior 1 was the next primary school class after Junior 5, occupied by those who either failed the Common Entrance Exam or who were ineligible to write the Common Entrance Exam in the first place.

Besides one’s age, academic ability played a huge role in determining who would end up in the “Common Entrance Class”. As I was usually placing first in my primary school class (and I still have a report from my Junior 4 class to prove it) I was automatically selected to go to the Junior 5A which was the group who would be prepared to write the exam.

And even in this large Common Entrance Class (there were over twenty of us), the teacher split the class into a smaller group 1 and a comparatively larger group 2. Group one was seen as the group with the higher likelihood of passing the CEE.  Although students from both groups would eventually write the exam, only six of us in all passed: two boys and four girls.

My best friend and I were the two lucky boys that year. I can still remember that some days before the exam, he must have seen my worried looks, he said to me,”Ashford, don’t worry, If I pass you are going to pass, too.”

That really cheered me up because I knew he was just as bright as I was. (I was always fortunate in school to experience peer power rather than peer pressure).

In my time in primary school the Common Entrance Exam was sat on the first Friday in May. In my year the date was Friday May 1, 1987. As I lived in the rural Marriaqua valley and attended the Evesham Methodist School, I had to journey to the nearby village of Cane End to write the Common Entrance Exam.

And that was another life changer that the CEE facilitated. It was the first time in my life I would be sitting in a classroom with other students from other schools. You can imagine how utterly foreign I felt, never accustomed to being around strangers and suddenly having  to write the most important exam of my life in a room with strange classmates and equally strange teachers and invigilators.

I wonder if that made some students over the years freeze with fear and failed the exam?

Anyway, I left home bright and early that morning and walked with my older brother through the London short cut over to Carriere, a neighbouring village, through another shortcut called “Bottom Road” and then on to Cane End.

As early as I was, some of my classmates were already there, and that helped a great deal in calming my fears. That day proved to be a very fun day where socializing was concerned. Not that I made any new friends, but that day I discovered those long hot dog sausages that tasted like heaven to me. I remember buying at least three different ones.

That made me fall in love with that school (it was the Marriaqua Secondary School, now called  The St Joseph Convent Marriaqua). I told myself I did want to come to this school and eat hot dogs—if I passed the CEE.

My CEE number was 276. We had four exam papers that day. The first exam began at 9:00 AM and the final exam ended at 2:30 PM.

I think the exam papers were English, Maths, General Paper and Science.

One other thing I must mention about the actual exam day. I had developed the habit of bowing my head and praying before writing an exam (a practice I still follow today). At first, several of my foreign classmates joked and made fun of my silent prayer.

But after a moment I realized the room was very quiet. Thinking that maybe a teacher had entered the room, I opened my eyes, and found much to my surprise that many of the other children had their heads bowed in silent prayer as well.

For some reason that day, the girls from my primary school class ran on ahead of us when we were ready to go home. So I had only the company of my male classmates. It made me sad at first but then I forgot about it as we started to raid and pick mangoes like joke from the many mango trees that we met on our way home. We had taken a longer route home, going through Mesopotamia (also called Mespo), La Croix and then back to Evesham, passing our primary school on the way).

The 1987 Common Entrance Examination results were released on Friday June 19th. I know because up to this day I have a copy of the results which were printed in the sole local newspaper at the time.

I remember on that Friday morning while walking to school a female school mate of mine ran out of her home in a place we called “Tanchin” and said breathlessly to me: “Ashford, you pass! You pass Common Entrance!”

Well that took away all my nerves and fears. She also told me of two other persons from my school who had passed. I never found out how that girl knew I passed but I can only assume that there was an adult in her home who worked with the newspaper or with the ministry of education.

So by the time the teacher got to school with the results, I was no longer afraid about whether or not I had passed. However, that day proved the last day of my primary education because my mother decided it was not productive for me to go back to school after that.

But I can still see in my mind’s eye some of my classmates literally crying because they had failed the exam. I wept inside for them too, because to fail Common Entrance in those days was to fail at getting a secondary school education.

It has been many years since I wrote the Common Entrance Examination. Now this year, 2013, has been the last year the Common Entrance Examination was used. Since the year 2005 every primary school child who wrote the exam was being placed in a secondary school.

It made those of us who had to toil so strenuously feel a bit cheated; however, it is life and it seems many of the present day children do not appreciate this “free ride” to a secondary education. So many of them are unable to read well and still don’t care about how they perform, even though they know they come from poor families.

In our time, we tried hard to make something of ourselves in secondary school because it was clear to us that we had been given an opportunity which many others of our own age never got. But today’s crop of primary school leavers seems content with just  cursing F-words, playing with their electronically expensive gadgets and trying to find somebody to have sex with. My, how times and values have changed!

Finally, in June this year, I was saddened when Iheard the obituary of the man who was my head teacher at the Evesham Methodist School. His name was Bernard Williams. I still have his signature on my report card I mentioned earlier.

Last year he actually visited the church I attend (he was a Gideon and had come to promote the distribution of Bibles), and we had a very memorable talk—going back down memory lane. One of the last things he taught us was a simple poem. He just came into the class, wrote it on the blackboard and then left as suddenly and as quietly as he had entered.

The poem read:

“There are four things that come not back—a sped arrow, a spoken word, a past life and a neglected opportunity—H.E. Longfellow”.

I have never forgotten that poem.

But when I heard his obituary I was also pleasantly surprised that it also said “…better known as ‘Master Willie’ ”.

That was his nickname that we were all terrified to call him. But somehow I believed he smiled from heaven because he realized he was more than that nickname.

Interestingly, one of my primary school classmates who now lives in New York, came across my blog a few days after his death. I told my lost-and-found primary school buddy about our head teacher’s death and we quietly reflected on those good old days.

Oh yes, from next year the Common Entrance Examination is to be replaced by an examination called Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment, the CPEA.

SVG Netball Champs 2012

St Vincent and the Grenadines defeated last year’s champions to become the 2012 Regional Netball Champions. The nail-biting finals happened in Grenada last Thursday.

Of course it is always an ecstatic feeling to hear of my country performing well in regional and international competitive events. There is still much work to do in promoting an awareness of the geographical location, cultural identity and economic potential of my small multi-island territory of St Vincent and the Grenadines nested in the Eastern Caribbean.

 

Watch this video to learn more about St Vincent and the Grenadines

 

So obviously I extend vociferous congratulations to this young squad of netballers who have etched another indelible mark into the history books. Over the years St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has often produced exceptional ladies at the top of their netball performance.

The local netball association has to be commended as well. I would suggest a redoubling of efforts in teaching the young children this game which has traditionally brought recognition to us as Vincentians. I remember that netball was just as visible on the playing field as soccer or cricket when I was in primary school.

Such must be the continued thrust: the school curriculum, directly or indirectly, must expose with much excitement the rewards and pleasures of playing netball. Not only must netball be given priority at the primary level of schooling but probably even more importantly netball must be stridently pushed also at the secondary school level. Sports is a great open door for many at risk juveniles and otherwise under-performing youths.

This game has the potential to give many a Vincentian girl the motivation and self discipline they need to claim a purpose for their lives. By playing netball they can be influenced to set personal goals which would delay unplanned pregnancies and set a proper foundation for their future.

This 2012 regional victory by our young netball squad is a time for us in St Vincent and the Grenadines to reshape the national focus on the role of netball in the lives of our younger generation.

save the future

“School shootings are in the news again. An Ohio teenager opened fire on five classmates, killing three students and injuring two others (see raw video from scene at Chardon High School). In Seattle, the 9-year-old boy who brought a gun to school and seriously injured a classmate when it accidentally discharged in his backpack was released on bail, after he appeared in court wearing an orange jumpsuit, in tears.

Children are injured and murdered every day, but school violence carries a symbolic potency because we like to think of schools as safe havens from the harshness of adult life. It’s horrifying to think that the institutions to which we entrust our children for hours every day could be a place of injury or even death.

(MORE: A Parent’s Perspective on the Ohio Shootings: All About Gun Safety in the Home)

But our focus on the word school — and even on whether the shooter was bullied by classmates, as it appears was the case in Ohio — obscures a key issue. The shooters didn’t get their guns at school. The guns weren’t fashioned in wood shop. The guns came from home, and they were obtained by adults.

Politicians and taxpayers like to hold teachers accountable for their students’ failures. Most of the public’s dissatisfaction with education seems to circle back to what’s wrong with teachers, and the assumption that drives our endless rounds of flagellation and reform is the belief that a child’s fate rests largely in the hands of the teacher in whose care he or she spends approximately 1,000 hours per year.

Yet the remaining 7,760 hours are on someone else’s watch: the parents. That’s right, children spend on average only about 11% of their childhood lives in school.

But we rarely talk honestly about what can happen during the other eight-ninths of their waking and even sleeping hours. Children arrive at school poorly nourished and too fatigued to work. They spend too much time on television and too little on exercise. They are poorly socialized in ways that inhibit learning and kindness. They also bring unsecured weapons to school and use them on innocent people, including, sometimes, themselves.

(MORE: Eighth-Grader Killed by Police: What Went Wrong)

There’s an eerie void in our discussions of school violence. Where are the adults? Where is the same cry for accountability in parents when things go wrong at home that we have for teachers when things go wrong at school? We aren’t suggesting that one human being can be responsible for every misstep a child makes. Nor are we suggesting that parents shouldn’t be allowed to make their own, often serious mistakes without fear of being criminalized.

But children are being injured and killed through the shameful negligence of the adults who are responsible for them. Roughly one-third of households with children report owning at least one gun. Forty-three percent of these homes report keeping firearms in an unlocked place, while only 39% of these homes keep the guns locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition, as recommended by the American Academy of Paediatrics and many gun-safety advocates.”

To read this article in its entirety, click on the link below. It is an article you should read as you empower your critical thinking skills.

School Shootings: Do We Blame Parents When Kids Have Guns? | TIME Ideas | TIME.com

Make this moment the “one moment in time” when you choose to overcome your own personal struggles

The world is reeling from news that singer Whitney Houston is dead. the circumstances of her sudden death are all too familiar to other celebrities who have died over the years.

While there is probably a price to be paid for world fame, resorting to some form of drug addiction has become a fatal plague for movie stars, singers and other global icons.

Whitney, a lady unusually gifted with singing talent, struggled with cocaine addiction through the latter part of her life. So many people right now are mostly saddened by this: her career might be remembered only in light of her personal struggles.

But is it fair to magnify the personal struggles of celebrities as though they should not have any struggles at all?

I say no.

The death of celebrities is never welcomed news; people would wish celebrities could live on earth forever. But the death of Whitney Houston is a timely reminder that life on earth IS just a temporary journey.

I wish to point out that each and every human being will and have to face some form of personal struggle. It is part of the human life contract.

It is my belief that God, as Creator and owner of the earth and man, has empowered man at his birth to be an overcomer. God has confidence in each person alive that he or she can face and master whatever opposition is faced.

In order to help you put life into perspective let me share something interesting I just double checked as I weighed in on Whitney Houston’s death.

The last recorded messages from Jesus Christ to people on earth, in Revelation, shows that for each of the seven churches He addressed, He specifically ended with a challenge for His audience to overcome.

I think that is important because Jesus knows life on earth will not—cannot—last forever. But He also knows what will become of each person after death.

Since no corrupt thing can enter heaven, each person is responsible to use his or her days to get his or her soul cleaned up from the many pollutants, viruses or addictions on earth. These addictions and problems were around before you were born and they would be here after your death.

What makes life worthwhile from the human stand point is the ability to overcome one’s personal addictions, proclivities and areas of weaknesses.

A final point I wish to raise also comes from the Bible, this time Peter who asked his audience to “prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled”.

The advice to be self controlled is given multiple times by the Christian writers in the New Testament. I believe it is for a good reason. Nothing is achieved in any life without the person first making up his or her mind to do something about it.

I want to say to all persons reading my words that it is up to you to master and then conqueror your addictions, weaknesses or adversaries. It is the reason you wake up each morning. The thing is, like Whitney Houston and other celebrities, a morning comes when we will not even know it is our last morning on earth.

As you think of Whitney Houston being dead, and as you ponder on your own life, remember that you are a legend in your own way—the whole world need not know you by name or picture. you have what it takes to overcome your difficulties. But you have to take control of your mind first and foremost.

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