25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
Our Beloved R.C. Primary School
I can talk about my primary school in the forties and which I attended in the 1950’s. I am told that it might have been a two-story building, but the one I knew was a single floor.
First of all my, primary school was located right in front of the police station and the central park towards the beach. I would want to think that that beach area in front of central park must have been about 200 feet wide, and the primary school stood lengthwise right in the middle of that space. It was all sand that was ankle-deep when you walked on it. There was not a piece of grass or weeds; one would think that nothing grew on it.
The primary school building was some four feet high, standing on stilts or posts. The land was so unleveled that at the southern end it was about seven feet high and about three feet at the northern end towards Daddy’s Club, now big Daddy’s.
It was a wooden building with large wooden windows and an asbestos roof. The stairs on the southern end led into standard six and two stairs at the back led into the lower standards. When the bell was rung, the older children made two lines at one of the main entrances and the smaller kids at the back stairs.
There were no partitions separating the classes, so there were no classrooms. Large standing blackboards with boards on both sides were used to separate the classes. Standards four, five and six were in one classroom with one teacher, usually the principal. Then there was another space for standard two and three, and so on. There were about one hundred children and about four or five teachers. Some of the teachers had high school backgrounds and the rest were called pupil teachers, meaning that after graduating from the same primary school, they started practice teaching.
At the northern end of the long building, perhaps about 90 feet long, there was a huge stage. I recall it being used occasionally for meetings, or when the school put on some show for the parents. One time I recall a magician came to San Pedro and performed on that stage. Our choir led by Erdulfo Nuñez, also held rehearsals on that state. It had a huge curtain that was rolled up and down on a long pole, and it had a large painting on it.
In the yard, also towards the north, there were two huge wooden vats that were filled from the asbestos roof of the school. It provided drinking water for the school and for the entire village of some 400 inhabitants. The vat was opened at certain times, and then locked, but was left open during the day for the school children.
Next to the huge vats going towards the sea, there were two large latrines, one for the boys and one for the girls. I recall that they had deep pits and that they smelled awful, but all the children had to use these as long as they were in school. From time to time the boys washed the latrines, and from time to time the parents were summoned by the principal to come and repair them.
The vats, the latrines, and the school were all painted white with green trimmings. I thought that they were the neatest buildings or structures in the village, except for Blake House, which belonged to Papa Blake - the rich man who owned most of the island.
At the southern end of the building there was a huge patio or yard, so large that we used to play softball there and only the best could hit a homerun by hitting the ball into the sea. In front of the building was the beach and we delighted when at the end of the term, the teachers had us take our desks at the beach side and we cleaned them by scraping them with knives or broken bottles and then washed them in the sea. I thought that was neat.
Another thing that I thought was neat was when our teacher Marthita Forman used to take us downstairs for reading. This was usually done when it was hot inside or when the entire class read and it was noisy. I also thought it was neat when we lined up for recess to receive one cup of milk.
Singing and Feeding Program
In the good old days of our beautiful little fishing village of San Pedro there was a school class period (or ‘subject’) called "singing". Also in the GOOD OLE DAYS, and I mean in the really good old days, there was a feeding program in our elementary school. Here is how it went.
Singing in Class
Every Thursday afternoon during the last period at the San Pedro Roman Catholic School, students enjoyed Singing Period. The teacher would write the lyrics of a song on the blackboard and the students copied it in their song exercise books. The teacher then proceeded to teach the new song and the students gradually pitched in as they became familiar with it. Once it was mastered (this took two or three weeks), the students then sang it in unison, at times in two voices to learn harmony.
Once in a while, the singing class was used for individual presentation for grading purposes. Each student went to the front of the class and sang his/her heart out to delight the class, but most importantly, the teacher. There were tons of songs and each student sang his favorite. Here are some that I remember: My Bonnie, The Animal's Farm, Charlie Started Laughing, Oh Susana, No Man is an Island, Twinkle Little Star, Island in the Sun ( a Jamaican song), plus all the patriotic songs and the Christmas ones. To be honest some children sang with much gusto while others hung their heads shyly but they made the effort to sing for fear of a lashing or fear of a poor grade. The singing period was certainly one activity all old timers remember of their good old days.
School Feeding Program
Now let us look at the feeding program in our primary school. This took place for the morning recess break. The Canadian agency called Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) used to supply our school with barrels of powdered milk and barrels of wheat flour. The flower was rationed to parents and they had the task and responsibility of making flour tortillas or Johnny cakes and take them to the school for distribution during recess. In similar fashion our teachers prepared several buckets of milk using the powdered milk and every recess each child received a cup of milk and one hot flour tortilla. Some parents would slice the tortilla and added some delicious butter to the delight of the children. Boy oh boy, I tell you, those were some real GOOD OLD DAYS in our tiny village school in San Pedro.