Thursday, 26 November 2015

Moments That Move

Moments That Move

Grade 9 Block was a holiday home
done in the Mediterranean Revival style
It is on the national register of historic places.
….so I recently had the privilege of a paying a short visit to a prestigious private girls’ school in Florida. The school is situated on a repurposed holiday mansion and estate. If there is a school for princesses, this is it. Walking on the grounds feels like a Disney World designed palace. The city is grumbling at the moment as the school is building a modern auditorium, and this has changed the view of the property as seen from the road. 

The school is sponsored by a religious society that supports such private schools all over the world. There are two of these schools in the Caribbean (Cuba and Puerto Rico), and there is one in Guyana.

The school entry examination and interviews are rigourous, so it is expected that the enrolled students will be able to succeed in their studies, and this in turn bolsters the school's Ivy League acceptance rate at the end of Grade 12. These girls get frequent reinforcements that they will, one day, be among the leaders in their chosen fields.

Musical Theatre technique
Aside from the basic subjects that a good secondary school should offer, the curriculum here has three sessions of sport per week, plus dancing. The girls are taught watersports, court sports, and field sports. They are not being trained to become professional athletes, but as rowing and sailing are offered, they could represent their countries in the Olympics, one day.
Across the two years when girls naturally experience the onset of puberty, the school offers privacy to transition into adolescence on a separate campus from the rest of the teen population. On their own campus, the Grade 7 and Grade 8 girls are taught the basic skills of womanhood, and given time to learn about, to respect and to love their natural bodies.

It was a pleasure to see girls walking confidently and purposefully, their short skirts, PE shorts and makeup-free faces revealing toned and healthy bodies.
Way up! Up we deh!
I read notice boards, because this is how you can find out about the agendas and issues inside of an organisation. On one board was a schedule with the days that each registered school group/club is responsible to ensure that The Loggia (a Mediterranean style indoor/outdoor cafe where they eat lunch) is left clean and neat. The note said the students are not expected to clean-up after other children, but they are to ensure that the area was left immaculate after the sanitation crew tidied the area.

I was indeed impressed by what I saw, then there was a small opening which took me back to a great moment of my own school days in Jamaica.
My host explained that the teachers at this school make potentially dull subjects, like history, come alive, and make it meaningful. That comment caused time to collapse, and in full colour and sound, I had returned to a moment that I had not thought about more than two times in the course of more than 33 years.
View from the library, 
St Hugh's High School, Jamaica
The subject was The Age of Enlightenment, and our Grade 9, history teacher, Mrs Coulton had devised a special activity. She divided our class into two groups, one had the task of dramatizing the critical events of the American War of Independence, and another was to undertake the same for the French Revolution. 
The drama teacher was involved as I remember rehearsing in our small drama room called The Barn during regular school hours.

I was cast in the American War of Independence. Sandra Grant, a science brain, assumed the role of producer, director and playwright. The activity activated her leadership desires and energies. She wrote the script, was lead fund raiser for the costumes and props, she designed the costumes, scheduled and directed the rehearsals, and got our team mentally ready for the big day. I wish I could remember who played the role of Paul Revere, but someone, maybe holding a horse head, ran across The Barn shouting her lines: “The British are coming, the British are coming!”
St Hugh's dancers, November 2015
I was a rank and file Redcoat  who was thrilled to be issued with a plyboard shotgun, but I cannot remember my fate. Was I a casualty of cannon fire, lanced by a bayonet, or did I manage to retreat safely to Boston Harbour? Sandra, of course, cast herself as General George Washington. The exercise went splendidly, and I remember it with pride, and with a lot of joy. Perhaps experiences like this have helped me to be comfortable working with purposeful, smart women who offer leadership.  

I recalled a short version of that bit of classroom history to my host who honestly asked me if my school was an international affiliate of this school that I was visiting. 

Well, St Hugh's was also founded by a religious order, and both schools have blue and gold as their colours.  Could it be that my school was also a school for princesses? My host's babyfather says that his daughter's school is really a feminist organisation disguised as a religious school; perhaps it is so.

To the question of affiliation, I replied, “No, St Hugh’s High School is a part of the Jamaican education system and we had really good teachers who were interested in us.”   

Sailing practice lagoon
of the US school. 
We could have this in Jamaica 
if we wanted it.
I am happy that my host's daughter is going to school in this beautiful environment, that nurtures self-confidence, and that values refinement. There are only 20 students in a class, so she is getting support in every aspect of her education. As one of few middle class, dark-skinned black girls in a school with mostly white girls from wealthy families, I observe that her low voice is not because of shyness or insecurity - she is quite clear when she expresses herself - her personality traits happen to include calmness and determination. This girl is doing well in her subjects, she participates in extra activities, and she is comfy in her own skin, among her ponytail swinging friends.
I wish her, and her classmates every success. 

With such support, there is a good chance that these girls will have high expectations of themselves, and they will be selective about their associations and their choices, in Tomorrow Land.


The Florida school libarary
• Two professional, full-time librarians and one archivist.
• On-site and remote access to subject e-databases including: the school's Online Library Catalog; BrainPOP; CIAO; EBSCO Research Databases; Encyclopedia Britannica; Granger’s World of Poetry; Lexis-Nexis Scholastic Edition; NewsBank; Oxford English Dictionary; Oxford Language Dictionaries Online; Oxford Reference Library; Alexander Street Press: Dance in Video, North American Theatre Online, Asian American Drama, Black Drama, North American Indian Drama, North American Women’s Drama, Twentieth Century North American Drama, American History in Video, World History in Video, Latino Literature; ARTStor; JSTOR, Maps 101; Maps as History; Grove Music; Humanities e-Books; Project Muse, Questia; Teaching Books; Visual Thesaurus; Gale Virtual Reference Library; Scientific American digital edition.
• 21,000 books and audio-visual resources.
• Over 60 periodicals and magazines - many in both print and digital format.
• Print and digital newspaper subscriptions including the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald Miami, USA Today, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, New York Review of Books. Access to hundreds of historical newspapers searchable online through the NewsBank database.
High School Library 
Located in the state of the art Library and Science and Technology Building serves as the High School library with quiet rooms for the students and faculty. Students, faculty and staff are surrounded by reading alcoves, hand-stenciled ceilings and the latest technology.
Intermediate School Library
The beautiful paneled room is an elegant and warm place to enjoy reading books and magazines.
Montessori and Primary School Library
Bay window overlooking the pool, provides a cozy atmosphere for our Montessori and Primary students to read and study.