by Kimberley Cummins
If you ask Dr. Norma Niles what was the reason for the success at the Barbados Seventh- Day Adventist Secondary School, hastily she would credit the dedicated staff.
This was the answer the former principal gave Barbados TODAY as she praised them for helping to produce some of the most academically inclined and successful students in the island.
Dr. Niles, along with other former principals and teachers as well as past and present students were at the time gathered at the Dalkeith, St. Michael school to celebrate its 60th anniversary.
She told us that when she first taught at the school in the late 1970’s, although it was close to 30 years old, there was a public misconception that the teachers were unqualified. She noted however, that this was far from the truth.
When she took over as principal in 1983, she said, more than 80 per cent of her teaching staff possessed degrees and a large majority of them were professionally trained. By the time she retired 20 years later, three of the staff members held PhD’s, four Masters and the majority of the others had Bachelors degrees.
“So that was a false impression. It wasn’t that you had to push or drive them, they actually wanted to improve themselves academically. They saw themselves as needing to upgrade themselves in order to be of better service to their students as they taught them. I never had to call somebody and say ‘ get a degree’, I think the atmosphere propelled them to do that and the attitude was one of wanting to be of service to the institution and be able to give of their best.
“So they would, without a lot of push, improve their standings. Some would get their first degrees and year after year go and get professional training just to say ‘We are improving ourselves, we are bettering ourselves for our profession’ and they still do it,” said Niles.
Beaming and reminiscing about her time at the institution, the veteran educator said that teachers at the school were always anxious to play their part in the development to the students.
To illustrate her point, she told a story about one teacher who was so eager to get to school that she arrived wearing a blouse and petticoat- no skirt. Teachers had to inform her of the mishap and with as much haste she returned home then back to the school to continue her duties.
Since the early days at the school society has changed and as a result – though minimally- impacted on the school’s atmosphere. However, she stressed that with the continued commitment of the staff and church the school persisted with the development of the youngsters.
“Of course there are challenges that the current principal would have that I probably didn’t have because children are living in a society and they are affected by it. The students generally speaking continue to wear the uniform well, they are polite and respectful.
“One of the things that I am very proud of is that the students who have left the school are so proud of their institution and they have done the institution proud too. I meet so many of them from time to time and they are always stopping to tell me what they’ve done and who has graduated from where and who now has their Masters and who has their PHd. I think the number of them who went on from here to tertiary education, percentage wise, is much higher than any other place.
“This school means a lot to me. I have been with the institution for 24 and a half years so the school is a part of me now. I am pleased to have had a part in that. The school has done very well and we are pleased. I think there is some kind of mindset that they acquire in going through this institution,” she added.
As much as Dr. Niles acknowledged the hard work of the teachers she noted that because of the backing of God and the SDA, educational development took on a different meaning when compared to many other secondary schools.
“When we talk about education we don’t talk about academics alone, we talk about the spiritual, the mental, the physical, the social and of the academic. This school believes in pray, Biblically we are taught that pray is important and significant in our lives. If we are thinking about developing the students, prayer has to be an important part in it. We ourselves cannot do anything, we have to be dependent on God and that is how we reach out to him – through prayer.
“This is exactly why we can’t leave prayer out of the spiritual programme of the institution. The type of discipline, their lifestyle all of this in our educational system it is not purely academic. I think it is part of our church teaching that you have got to be the best you could be, that God has higher plans than we even know. So you seek to determine what it is he wants you to do, what’s the purpose and we advise and we seek to find out what it is, then be determined to get there.” [email protected]