Thursday, August 3, 2017

The State of the School

This blog post is different than most, and may not be of interest to everyone. However, some of my friends involved in the field of education might enjoy this.

During my first year, our school did not have any sixth graders, so we didn't have a graduation ceremony. This year, we did have a 6th grade class, so I got to experience my first primary school graduation ceremony in Dominica. A big part of the program was a speech given by the Principal, reviewing the school year—sort of a “State of the Union” speech about the school for the large audience of parents, family members, and others. She agreed to share her speech with me as long as I removed some specific reference to student names (plus I made a few other very minor changes to make it more readable by Americans).

This speech provides some insights into the education system down here. There is a huge emphasis on the Grade 6 National Assessment, and when the results are announced, it is covered by all the media outlets. A radio was brought to school that day so that we could listen for the results.

While none of our students won scholarships based on their test results, we did get some good news based on this and other testing. Our school is no longer “on probation” (resulting in an asterisk beside the school name, which she references towards the end of her speech) for low test scores! That was considered a major victory, as she describes below.

Thus, I provide this speech as a good review of my last year working at my school. It was the best job I've ever had! As an added bonus, I'm throwing in a picture of my new hairstyle (at least for awhile). Now the back of my head really is my best side!


"The heights that great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight
But they while their companion slept
Were toiling upward in the night."
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Indeed, this has been the mode of the journey for us as a school in the 2016-2017 school year, and before that! We have toiled and we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we will reach the heights for which we yearn!

The Thibaud Primary School started the 2016-2017 school year on September 1. Staff engaged in a two-day planning session during which we looked at (1.) “The Qualities of a Good Teacher,” and (2.) “Teacher Behaviour,” among other things.

There was, as usual, that famous pattern of change of staff—a situation that seems to be part of the school life at Thibaud Primary. Staffing was as follows:

Jacintha Marcellin (Principal)
Miss Nicaela Thomas
Miss Christina Poponne

The term started with two teachers and a principal. Miss O'Brien did not report. Forming part of the teaching team, however, were Miss Tara Joseph, a Teacher’s College trainee, and Mr. David Kurtz, who was on his second year as Peace Corps volunteer.

Students reported for classes on September 5, 2017 with 27 boys and 7 girls. Miss Nicaela Thomas was assigned to Grade 5 and 6 and Miss Poponne to Grade 4 and 5. Miss Poponne, however, held Grade 1 and K until a replacement for Miss O’Brien arrived. The Principal decided to work with Grade 3 while Miss Joseph assisted with Grade 4 and 5.

On Monday September 12, 2016, Miss Jewel Honore joined the staff as a substitute for Miss O’Brien and was assigned to K and 1 while Miss Poponne took up Grades 4 and 5. On the 23rd of September, 2016, Mr. Darnil Pierre-Louis joined the Thibaud Primary School as an additional member of staff. My request for an added teacher had received a positive response! Doctor Jeffery Blaize, Acting Chief Education Officer, must be thanked for his support and consideration. Thibaud Primary School could better share the work load having four teachers instead of three. Mr. Pierre-Louis was assigned to Grade 3.

Workshops, sporting activities and in particular ill-health among staff continued to affect classroom instruction and school management as was in previous years. None-the-less, every effort was made to provide pupils with quality instruction and quality time!


In Term 1, our school participated in the National Youth Rally as well as the Northern Youth Rally planned by the Portsmouth Town Council. Students presented themselves well. Students also participated in the Independence Athletics Meet. Students were able to secure first and second places. Our school also observed Creole Day with the usual Creole Lunch and Creole activities.

Community Day of Service was a First Term Highlight! School embarked upon some landscaping and yard beautification. The major project of the day, however, was the mounting of lunch benches that were sponsored by the National Cooperative Credit Union—NCCU. Forming part of the work crew was a team of 15 American college students from the Sea-mester program which had stopped in Portsmouth for the day. These students worked tete-a-tete with school, mounting the tables, scrubbing the pavements and painting tyres! The American students were treated with a buffet style lunch of breadfruit and salt fish, vegetable salad, and fruits while coconut jelly was an added treat. It was amazing to see the college boys attempt to break coconuts.

Also on Community Day of Service, Thibaud Primary was also favoured with the presence of the United States Ambassador and two other officials. One of our girls dressed in our national wear had the privilege of presenting the Ambassador with a gift, and sharing a photo-taking moment with her! It was a memorable occasion indeed!

Permit me to highlight the efforts of Miss Nicaela Thomas and Miss Tara Joseph, as well as Cindy Letang and Mr. Paul for their tremendous contribution towards the success of the day. The ladies, in particular, worked tirelessly in the kitchen. Of course none of these would most likely have happened had it not been for the influence of Mr. David Kurtz, our friend and Peace Corps Volunteer.

In November we received reading books and other teaching and learning resources from Hands-across-the Sea and from friends of Mr. Kurtz. Through Mr. Kurtz’s effort our school has been made richer and more self-reliant!

Also in November we held our first ever Book Fair. This was spearheaded by David. Parental support was lacking. However, a few parents (the usual) came to visit the fair. Thank You for your support. Forming a special part of the Book Fair were Mrs. Catherine Francois, our PTA President, and Mrs. Deborah Fabien who came to read to the pupils.

School reopened for Second Term on January 7, 2017. Dr. Jeffery Blaize, Acting Chief Education Officer and Miss Bernette of the Ministry of Education, facilitated a workshop on “Roles and Responsibilities of Teachers and Principals.” It was timely, informative, and meaningful. Miss Bernette expressed deep pleasure for being at Thibaud Primary and described our school as quote “It’s homey here!” unquote.

School officially opened for students on Monday, January 9, 2017. Staff remained unchanged. School plunged into teaching and learning immediately. On January 12, 2017, we were once again visited by the U.S Ambassador. She actually spent about 15 minutes reading aloud to the students. She presented us with four reading books.

In February our boys participated in the North-Eastern District Football Festival, looking great in their new football uniforms. Thibaud Primary made it to the semi-finals and losing only to Calibishie in the finals. Later in the school year, five of our footballers were selected to form part of the District Team. The North-Eastern District won the tournament. Mr. Sango had this to say: “Your boys made me proud!”

During the month of March, another team of American students with the Sea-mester sailing program came to visit us. Much could not be done due to rain, but it was a well-spent day. Some of the students assisted in writing sight words on the school wall while others spent time with the students.

On March 13, school observed Commonwealth Day. Every class presented on a selected Commonwealth country. It was a meaningful and learning exercise.

On March 15, school participated in French Spelling Bee and placed 2nd among eight schools, losing by one word. We owe this performance to who presented herself excellently. Our four Grade 6 students were privileged to go on a sailing trip along the Cabrits-Toucari coastline. From all reports it was a memorable experience. Students were given the opportunity to learn marine science, get a feel of sailing, and have fun. Thanks again to Mr. Kurtz and his American friends, the Howards.

School also observed Math Week. The week was a bit low keyed but students were engaged in Math games on the last day of the Math Week. It was a fun, as well as learning exercise.

Term 3 opened as before with teachers experiencing ill-health. The days seem to fly! None-the-less, as a staff we worked hard to do what was necessary to help our students experience success. School engaged in several activities such as district netball and cricket festivals, and joined the local health team in an Immunization March. There were field trips and other in-school activities. The term was a packed and demanding one.

It was a year of the usual assessments and competitions. During the months of October students of Grade 3 did the Grade 2 National Assessments while Grade 5 did the Grade 4 National Assessments. Students were tested in Mathematics, Reading, Writing and Speaking. A few students of Grade 5 performed at the A level in Reading and Writing but the Grade 3 results remain a major concern! There is a great deal of work to do. Students must learn to read and write at the A level.

On May 25 and 26 four of our students sat the G6NA. (This will be highlighted later.)

Students of K and 1 did the CBM – that is Curriculum Base Measurement. It is an assessment that tests students in areas of Mathematics and Reading measuring how quickly and accurately they count, say letter sounds, recognize letters of the alphabet, and read simple passages. We will know how our students performed in the new school year.

School engaged in several activities such as 4H Festival under the leadership of Miss Honore. We placed 1st in the 4H / Agriculture Quiz and 2nd in the Public Speaking Competition. It was an ego- boosting performance.

The Thibaud Primary School continues to maintain a school feeding programme. There is a House system in operation and an active 4H Club. With the help of Mr. Bernard Bontiff we were able to harvest lettuce which was used in our school kitchen.

Results of the G6NA were not what we had expected and worked towards. We waited eagerly for the results but when the results came we were truly disappointed, not necessarily in our students or ourselves as teachers but in the fact that our hard work seemed not enough!

In 2014, our theme was “Preparing for the Harvest,” in 2015, “Making Every Obstacle a Launching Pad for Success.” In 2016, “Staying Focused: Looking Straight Ahead.” Today we celebrate the 2016-2017 school year and look forward to the 2017-2018 school year under the theme, “Realizing Dreams and Aspiration Despite Difficulties.” We did not get the Bursaries or Scholarships for which we yearned and towards which we worked so hard, but we have achieved something of which we should be proud. From 2011 and maybe before that and up to 2015, the Thibaud Primary Schools has had one or two asterisks place after the ‘l’. We hated to see it for it was another way of saying ‘Poorly Done!’ For five years in a row we saw these *. Today they are not there. This was one of our aspirations!

The * is placed by schools with 30% of students receiving 85% or less. Our average score was 97%. It should have been much better still but we are proud that we have removed the asterisks. Our students got scores in Science and Social Studies that helped us rise above the national average. Hats off to them!

Today as a school we do not bow our head in shame, nor walk with shoulders stooped. We may have felt disappointed but we are not deflated. We are not discouraged. We have work to do and next year is going to be better than before.

As the apostle Paul stated in Philippians 3, verse 13-14 “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead I press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Indeed it is a waste of time and energy to cry over what should have been. There is work to do! Let us as a school continue pressing towards success no matter how difficult the journey!

The teachers alone cannot make it happen. The Thibaud Primary School needs your support. If you listened to the Press Conference when results were released you must have heard the Chief. Parental support is very important to student success. The students need homes to which they can go for help, parents who take time to work with them or seek help for them. Primary grade students cannot make it on their own! Today I want to challenge you (parents and villagers) to change your approach to your child’s education and change your attitude toward the Thibaud Primary School. Be positive! Be supportive!

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