As a child growing up, even throughout my secondary school life as a student of the Vieux Fort Comprehensive Secondary School, whenever an issue of negative consequence was briefly mentioned, without even anticipating the entire story, the unfortunate chorus that rang out of both adults’ and students’ mouths from the south-eastern part of the island was: “It must be from Vieux Fort Compre or George Charles…” In times past, my alma mater had had its share of students tarnishing its reputation, but we the proud students were always quick to reiterate our schools’ many successes in academics and sports as a means of countering negative remarks.
After infamous violent occurrences like the attack of a student on past school principal and ex political candidate Dr. Morella Joseph in the late 90s and others, it was not totally unjust to be chastised by the public in this manner. But my question is, what have the students of the George Charles Secondary School done to be carrying this burden? Even according to the authorities, the school is suffering from neglect, their playground a place where a sign should be posted “proceed at your own risk.”
Having a school named after a man of such stature as the late George Charles, would give one the impression that it is one of the premier schools on the island. But then again, the fact that it was only after years of living in near poverty, after contributing to the trade union movement and the political growth of the island, that Charles himself was recognized, should we be surprised?
For years now parents, teachers and students have been of the opinion that the George Charles Secondary has been neglected, even forgotten. The school is located in the south of Castries and caters to students from within Castries to as far as Dennery. “The students we get here are not high academic achievers, they are more into sports, singing, dancing, the arts but we do not have the facilities or even the teachers to accommodate them in those areas,” explained past principal, Lera Pascal in a previous interview with the STAR three years ago.
I visited the school last week, perchance to see if much had changed in the last few years. I was welcomed by the Vice-Principal, Mrs. Fiona Mayer, who gave me a tour of the school, and then I got to understand the true plight of the students.
The school, which has been in operation for the past 23 years, was never afforded a recreational court by the Ministry of Education now headed by Robert Lewis, who is also responsible for the constituency where the school is located. The small court currently utilized by the students, was built by a group of concerned parents who came together, emphasizing the school’s motto which is “Parents, Teachers, Students, Striving for Excellence.” That court was built in 1999, nine years after the opening of the school, and now resembles an old forsaken concrete foundation, beaten up over the years by the elements. The concrete playing area is dilapidated and covered with moss with patches of grass growing on it as well.
“We would like to see a refurbishment of the court, to ensure that the students can have better access in terms of participating in all sporting events. They do not having the facilities to actually train for netball, basketball and all the other sports,” expressed Mayer.
Also on entering the school, I saw a lot of backfilled land just below the entrance. Mrs. Mayer pointed out that the lot of land was actually their effort at trying to build a playing field for the students. In all honesty, one would envision the area as a private piece of land prepared for development, as it is literally a muddy clay site with a few patches of grass.
Mrs. Mayer related that she had invested thousands of her own money into the playing field project.
“If the Ministry wants to fix the George Charles ‘field’ then I wouldn’t mind that. I wouldn’t mind highlighting the fact that so much has happened already, and that they would support the students in finishing it off. The issue for us is that because it is a waterlogged area, very soon we (will) have the entire area covered with grass again, and all of the monies invested so far would have gone to waste,” expressed Mayer.
We also asked Mrs. Mayer about the incident which occurred in January 2014, were a male student passed away after participating in the school’s marathon.
“Actually, he passed away at the Victoria Hospital. He was taken to the hospital after collapsing and he passed away three hours later. We’ve not received an official autopsy report but from the mother, she’s told us that it had to do with heart failure,” Mayer explained. She told us that, neither the boy’s parents nor the school were ever aware of the boy having any health issues.
“Every school has their challenges. Its about us trying to work together to overcome those challenges and we’re not doing as well as we should be, and there is a lot of room for improvement but I do not believe that that can be done by one person.”
Mayer is cautious not to apportion blame. “It should really be a collaborative and collective effort which I’m hoping that most people will play their part,” she concluded.
But in the meantime hope alone and having a determined principal in the person of Walston Alfred will not save George Charles. A better education plan, emphasis on non-academic areas like IT, sports, theatre, culinary arts and agriculture might be the answer. The problem is, no one is listening to the teachers, students and parents so the school remains an insignificant testament to the man after whom it is named.