Turning Negatives into Positives

Seeing their happy faces and hearing their cheerful chatter, you wouldn’t think the dozen children in the tidy schoolyard in Crown Point were left school-less and abandoned by their school principal just days before.

On March 1, 2017, the principal of Campbell’s Preparatory School, a private primary school in Bon Accord, Tobago, unexpectedly notified the school’s parents, students and teachers via a WhatsApp message of her indefinite departure from Tobago. The principal, Ms. Priscilla Campbell, had already left the country, removed essential items from the school, and made no provisions for the students or staff – forcing most into significant hardship. Parents lost thousands in tuition money, teachers were unpaid as their salary cheques bounced, and students had no school to which to return the next day.

“Just like that, with no warning, 42 students were left with nothing in terms of a school,” said Alison DeFreitas, a parent of a student at Campbell’s. “We had to scramble to recover our children’s books from the school building, wonder where we would find places for our children in the middle of the term, and braced to outlay more money for new tuition, uniforms, and books. It is a terrible situation we were forced into.”

When the news hit about the school closure and Ms. Campbell’s actions, many people expressed concern about the young students and asked what happened to them. A few children filtered into schools that had space available, a small number went to private tutors, and some formed the first student body a new Academy – one created from the adversity.

A dozen parents quickly rallied together to secure the Campbell School’s teachers and organise a place for their children to continue their education with their beloved educators. After days of intense work and sacrifice of these parents, classes re-started for their children on Monday, March 6 at the new academy.

“When the shock subsided some of us realized we needed another option for our children’s education,” said DeFreitas, also one of the founding parents of the new academy. “We also recognised that we had incredible teachers who we, and our kids, love and respect. The long hours and dedication of this parent group and teachers to get our new building student-ready in just a few days was astounding. All work was done voluntarily in addition to everyone’s normal everyday jobs. But to see the kids happy on that Monday morning was worth every drop of sweat.”

The school building, a former daycare/preschool, was spruced up and equipped with items provided by the parents and a few sympathetic local companies. Teachers provide the curriculum and their own expertise. Parents volunteer their time in the office to support the teachers and students.

“The school is a great collaboration with the teachers and parents,” said Rain Schneider, a founding parent. “The students really are the focus of everything we do, which fosters a wonderful learning environment in which the children are thriving.”

The president of the school’s Steering Committee, Laura Cotton, indicated that they have already received interest from parents looking to register their children for upcoming terms and that they are encouraged by the response.

“We have started the process to formally register the school as Tobago International Academy,” said Cotton. “The mission is to continue to develop an educational experience with small student-to-teacher ratios for all grade levels, holistic learning opportunities and modern teaching tools. It’s exciting to be able to design a school that we want and that our children love, rather than to make ourselves fit into an institution.”

When asked about the road ahead and concerns about tuition cost Cotton said, “We had a lot of details to work out in the beginning but are happy to be able to offer the same tuition fees as we used to pay at Campbell’s. There still is a lot of work to do and we aren’t naïve to the challenges but our children are worth it. We appreciate of the understanding provided thus far by the Division of Education and look forward to growing Tobago International Academy into a stalwart academy for our island’s students.”

Tobago International Academy is located at Store Bay Feeder Road in Crown Point. The parents and teachers may be reached at tobagointernationalacademy@gmail.com.


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