By Mellica McPherson
It was a walk down memory lane and a glimpse of greater things to come as the management, staff, and students of the St George’s Secondary School celebrated the institution’s tenth anniversary at a special ceremony on 25 January.
Acting Principal Mrs. Faith-Anne Adams announced that the start was an act of faith, and she declared that faith has brought the school thus far: “The first year was not without obstacles. We began our first Trinity term in April 2005 with no principal and we never skipped a beat. We persevered in faith. By May we were blessed with Dr. Myrna Belgrave. By then there were 25 students and in June Mrs. Odalys Gonzalez joined us,” she said.
It was noted by the Acting Principal that the St George’s Secondary School which is known for its academic excellence started from humble beginnings: “I recall in early 2005 a gathering in a dirty garage in Palestina filled with an air of certainty that one day classrooms would replace car grease and whiteboards would replace graffiti and grime. Surely enough in September 2006 we moved to our beautiful campus in Palestina,” she stated.
In lauding how far the school has come, Mr. Adams declared: “Since then we have made our mark. 119 students have graduated from St. George’s Secondary School, the majority of them obtained grade one passes at the School Leaving Examinations and among them is the individual who obtained the highest GPA in the history of the School Leaving Examinations. Most of our graduates have pursued tertiary education. All of them are making a productive contribution to their community.”
PTA President and Chairperson of the program Karia Christopher noted that the school decided to celebrate its tenth anniversary, because the milestone shows perseverance.
Chairman of the St George’s School Board, Mr. Gerard StC. Farara, QC, announced that the anniversary is a signal achievement — a significant milestone — in the relatively short history of the school in its quest towards achieving excellence in education, which has been its mantra from the inception.
“Over the past nine plus years we have achieved much at this institution. We have weathered many storms, including the continued fall-out from the worldwide recession and its impact on enrolment and our sustainability. We have overcome many obstacles, some financial, some imposed upon us, some of our own creation, some unexpected and for which we were ill prepared as a school community. This journey has been a learning process one in which our faith and tenacity are being regularly tested,” the Chairman announced.
History of the School
Queen’s Counsel Farara explained that the school’s journey to the ten year mark is an interesting and challenging one, filled with many hurdles.
The idea of expanding from a primary to a secondary school had been mooted and talked about in meetings of the Vestry and of the PTA for some 25 years. However, in 2002 following his address to the graduating class of the Primary School the matter was discussed and decision taken to the Vestry to put in place an Expansion Committee. The Committee was tasked with looking into the feasibility of having a secondary school under aegis of the church.
The committee commenced its work in earnest on 26 June 2002. It was replaced by a school board in August 2004. Later on 16 December, 2004 the school became an incorporated company limited by guarantee headed by a board of management, thereby making the management and operation of the school separate from church.
On 19 March 2004, the School Board contracted to purchase a three acre site at Palestina Estate from Cable & Wireless for $1.35 million. However, it was not until 20 January 2005 that the School had secured and obtained financing in the sum of $1,998,000 from First Bank to complete the purchase of that property, which has become the permanent campus for the secondary school.
The school began on 28 August 2004 with 19 students, two teachers and a principal in a building on the campus of the primary school in Road Town. In May 2005, Dr. Myrna Belgrave took over after the departure of the first Principal Mr. Malcolm Davis. She served the school for some six years. By 2008 the school had 130 students, its largest number to date. Today it has just over 100 students enrolled. During the last nine plus years the school has successfully graduated five cohorts of students.
Mr. Farara announced that the purchasing of the Palestina property was made possible through the kind donations of members of the community. “We received generous donations of varying sums for the permanent campus for the secondary school. We received donations from many persons and well-wishers.”
He said that these sums ranged from the smallest sum of $7000 from the Rotary Club of Tortola, $7,500 from Sage Holdings Limited, $11,000 from Ocean Conversion, $12,000 from Scotiabank, $15,000 from Mrs. Maria Dawson, $25,000 from CCT Boatphone, $50,000 from Mr. Raymond Hung (of the Beef Island Project), $100,000 from an anonymous donor who continues to be the largest financial supporter of the school providing full and partial scholarships to those children whose parents are unable to afford the school fees, and even as much as $200,000 from Mr. Koo of Hong Kong.
According to the Chairman, others either gave at very discounted prices with extremely generous and lax payment terms on various construction materials, electrical and plumbing fixtures and tiles. Companies such as Clarence Thomas Limited and Drake’s Traders were particularly supportive during the construction and finishing stages of the school premises.
Many others reportedly provided financial support especially when the school found itself in difficulty or there was some special project which needed to be funded. These include people like Mr. Alvin Pickering, the family of the late Joseph Reynold O’Neal, Mr. Omar Hodge, Mr. Percy Rhoden, Mr. Lyrill Browne, Hon. Ralph R. O’Neal, Mr. Lesmore Smith, Hon. Mark Vanterpool, Dr. the D. Orlando Smith, the late Cyril B. Romney, the family of Mr. ECW Georges, Mrs. Iris DeCastro and many others.
During the construction phase, the St George’s Secondary school received tremendous assistance from Mr. Heskith Newton of Newton Construction, the building contractor; and from Mr. David Butcher, the project’s engineer. The project’s architect, Mr Ashton McCall Jr, who, in particular, designed the auditorium to connect the two main buildings thereby providing much needed space for offices, lavatories and of course an auditorium for school assemblies, plus other events was also recognized.
During the ceremony great praises were bestowed on Father Branche for his contributions over the years. Mr. Farara said: “Canon Branche — his contribution to the establishment of the school to its continued existence and success is immeasurable and unwavering. This will certainly be part of his lasting legacy in and contribution to the BVI. For this we must all be most grateful and show our full appreciation.”
Third District Representative, Hon. Julian Fraser told the audience: “To have made it this far, a tenth anniversary is huge. At age ten St George’s Secondary has made its mark on our educational landscape.” Hon. Fraser told the school body that he sees them first as his physical neighbour and secondly as a part of his District.
The representative also announced that he is aware of some the schools ‘shortcomings’ such as lack of amenities they need. He said that he knows the school lacks a gymnasium and stated they should be able get one within the next ten years. Hon. Fraser said the school has been a breath of fresh air in his community and he thanked them for choosing his community.
Premier Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith noted that his education started at another St George’s School in Road Town years ago; and he said that the school’s milestone means that churches are still doing their part to build a better BVI. The Premier told the students that they are the key to where the school goes next. He said that he looks forward to the school’s partnership with government to provide better education for all students of BVI.