B efore 1971 when San Pedro High School was founded, the life of teenagers was very different from what it is today. Boys and girls attended the elementary school compulsorily until they were 14 years old and then they could legally leave school.
At the age of 14 it was a boy's most ardent desire to leave school forever and enter into adulthood. He became a fisherman. By that age he had already learned the basic skills of handling a canoe, a paddle, a sailing boat, a mask and fin, a fishing line, a cast net, a seine net, and a hookstick. Now at 14 he was very anxious to make his first 15 day trip on board a fishing boat to Glover's Reef or Turneffe as a novice fisherman. If he brought good catch at the end of the day, the amount a veteran fisherman brought, then that meant he would get full pay; otherwise he would receive half of the regular payment. A fisherman's pay is never fixed; it depends on the total pounds of lobster tails. Twenty five ears ago an average trip of a boat yielded 1500 pounds or about 300 pounds per fisherman. That earned him about $180 per trip, which is equivalent to about $2400 today.
On his first trip, the novice fisherman would learn to make flour tortillas, fry fish, cook rice, process and pack lobster tails, do his personal needs on the side of the boat, sleep in. the open air and abstain from a fresh water shower for 15 days.
The return trip. meant that the boy was a man and could go to the bar and get his first high, on liquor, of course, because there was no drugs back then. Heineken sold for 50 cents and a bottle of booze only cost four dollars. At this time also the 14 year old would be coaxed by his older and more experienced colleagues to go to Belize City to purchase ice for the next trip and there have his first sexual experience with a girl of ill repute. Gonorrhea was a common disease with teenagers in those days.
Also now out of school these young kids were expected to start dancing, start courting and dating, and start saving to buy their own boats. It was a young man's goal and ambition to own his own boat. More than that it was expected that by age 18 or so he would start building his own house. This was in preparation for marriage because 18 was an average age for marriage and young men were expected to have their own houses. Where else could they go when there were no apartments for rent and living with the in-laws was absolutely not encouraged nor desired.
So in the days when there was no high school, boys matured between the ages of 14 to 18 by which time they were ready to enter into marriage; must have been a good maturing process because divorces were unheard of 25 years ago. The teenagers were made for the sea and San Pedro boasted back then 200 fishermen and a prosperous fishing cooperative. The high school and tourism sort of changed that picture.