Tuesday 14th September, 2004


University School feeling good at 50

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By Kerry Peters

Turning 50 isn’t bad—not if you’re tack-sharp on the academic side, you get plenty exercise and technology is your friend.

The University School on Baker Street, St Augustine has been able to bring it all together to create beautiful minds over the years.

They’re celebrating now and principal Marsha Joseph is beaming with pride.

“You know we just had three children place in the top 100 in the country and our students have always done well.”

In her 35 years at the school, the last 13 as principal, she has seen a growing list of distinguished alumni; an enviable record for teaching excellence and more recently, a deal with Microsoft that could make the school a technology powerhouse.

The US$40,000 grant will put new computers and projectors in classrooms and the library and when it’s all done, teaching and learning at the University School may never be the same again.

Considering it all began when a few wives formed a play group for their children while their husbands lectured to droopy-eyed students at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (later UWI), it’s a tremendous achievement.

As the children grew, we’re told, their mothers’ ambitions grew with them and, in 1954, out of sheer need, the play group morphed into the University School.

Today, the school houses about 250 children in refurbished but original buildings and Joseph has set her sights higher.

“It would be ideal to have a new building and that is our plan. Of course, it would take money to do it.”

Old buildings et al, the school doesn’t seem like 50.

It sits with the northern range to its back in a neighbourhood lined with beautiful, old houses with well-manicured lawns.

There is a large hall at the front where children congregate for assembly and morning prayer.

Childlike inventions adorn the small classrooms and during breaks, the children do what children do.

When the bell announces that school is over for the day, the noise can be deafening.

“Miss, a boy hit me in my stomach!” one lad complained to her as she took a visitor around the school.

“Well you’re gonna have to stay away from that boy then!” she advised.

Joseph said the timetable was deliberately tailored to churn out well-rounded charges.

The curriculum includes music, art, science, religious knowledge, library, poetry, sports and field trips.

“We want our children to be able to relate to their environment and their society,” she said.

For her, famed local swimming coach Anil Roberts is proof that the strategy works.

She mentioned Kemmy and Subhina George, both alumni and national swimmers, confirming that swimming is a religion there.

Prof Selwyn Ryan’s son Kwame Ryan went to the school and is now an orchestra conductor, she boasted.

And former Director of Public Prosecutions Mark Mohammed, now a judge, is another reputable old boy.

Joseph was reading from an unseen but exhaustive list as she went through the school’s achievements:

“We won the national schools’ scrabble competition in the first year, and we made it to the math olympiad and….”

For each victory, she paid glowing tribute to her staff, 13 in all, saying they shared a bond which made coming to work exciting.

“We’re family here; just today we were all extremely concerned for one of our teachers whose entire family lives in Grenada (which was devastated by Hurricane Ivan). We were calling all night last night and not getting through because she was on the phone.”

That afternoon many were still at their desks, finishing their work. Some were young, others much older, but all of them as warm and vibrant as Joseph herself.

Her energy is genuine and when she’s not at school she serves as an assistant priest at the Holy Saviour Anglican Church in Curepe.

Joseph is looking forward to the 50th Anniversary launch on September 18 at UWI’s Sport and Physical Education Centre.

The event, she promised, will feature musical and cultural performances by her students and will also highlight the achievements of past students. UWI’s principal Dr Bhoe Tewarie is scheduled to deliver the feature address.

She said a gala dinner, fun day and concert are all in the works for December and early next year.

The 58-year-old is excited about her school’s big year and she, better than anyone, knows how great it feels to turn 50.





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