Move over Kardashians! Here comes SJC!

convent-girlsThis is not mama’s St Joseph’s Convent! Or yours, unless you enrolled fairly recently. Long considered a beacon of discipline, a bastion of rigidity, and the unassailable Grande Dame of moral high ground, the revered institution has unexpectedly thrown its habit into the ring to contribute to the wildly popular craze generally referred to as Reality TV.

Making the rounds on social media is video featuring the school as part of the new BBC show “Extreme School,”  where unruly students are shipped off to decidedly strict foreign schools. In this St Joseph Convent episode the two hellions in need of attitudinal readjustment are Maisie and Alice, age 13 and 12, from Newcastle.

Their proclivities include perpetual tardiness, selective turning-in of assignments—and an all to obvious predilection for heavy make-up. Their boot camp: the SJC of Sister Claire’s heyday. (Ask your mama about her!)

According to the host of Extreme School, the Newcastle ladies have five days to adhere to the strict uniform code, show respect to the nuns, improve their behaviour, and pass a final challenge before successfully completing their “education.”  So, can the Sisters of Cluny bring turn the rebels without a cause into genteel ladies?

Enter Sister Rufina Donat. Tough talking, she is the school’s principal who has been charged with keeping the Maisie and Alice in line. She espouses the virtues of good manners and proper posture, which, as any true Convent Girl knows, is the very rock upon which SJC was built. When Maisie decides to throw caution to the wind by applying a bit of foundation that she imagines will somehow go undetected, it’s hard for the informed observer not to think: “This isn’t going to end well.”

But the girls from Newcastle assimilate surprisingly fast. Before long they had learned the art of conversation, sampled local cuisine (from the tuck shop maybe?), and assisted with toddlers at a nearby pre-school. Alice even gets the opportunity to realize her lofty ambition of becoming a factory worker when she is deposited for a day on a banana plantation. Then again,   after hearing a young plantation worker named
Trisha regretting her own indifference to education, Alice may be reassessing her career choice.

The final challenge saw the girls faced with the task of directing a poetry recital of a William Wordsworth piece featuring students from Marchand Combined. Maisie and Alice become visibly nervous when told that the performance will be held
with the student body, faculty, and dignitaries in attendance, including arguably one of the school’s most prominent alums, her Excellency the Governor General Dame Pearlette Louisy. But things go well enough to merit a stamp of approval from Dame Pearlette herself.

The video has been receiving mixed reviews from former students on social media sites. Some saw it as great publicity for St Lucia and the SJC. Others were disappointed with the school’s new direction.

“These girls will walk away from this experience without having learned much. Convent is not what it used to be,” lamented Rona from the Class of ’98.

“Not so,” contends Anjanie from the ’11 Class. “I feel quite proud and pleased to know St Joseph’s Convent is considered one of the most disciplined schools in the world.”

For the myriad of young ladies who have walked the school’s hallowed walls, the episode was a cool trip down memory lane. Who didn’t relate when  initially Maisie and Alice found the school scary and intimidating?

Did you not check your own posture when the girls were lectured on sitting like ladies—knees impenetrably together? Was the poetry performance not reminiscent of the annual, much dreaded elocution competitions? Didn’t the cameos rock your memory banks? Was that Ms. McFarlane . . . Ms. Blanchard . . . Mademoiselle Cooper?

And of course didn’t you empathize and sympathize with the girls as they withered
under the steady gaze of the true Queen Sister Claire at dinner? (The former principal is now in charge of the StJoseph’s Convent pre-school).

St Joseph’s Convent may have crossed over into new-age media, but in some ways the adventure may have proved yet again that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Long live your white and blue!



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