NESTLED between old cocoa estates and teak fields which once flourished, Santa Maria RC School in Moruga continues to churn out future nation builders.
Barely known nationwide, and with a population of 54 students, this 63-year-old school in Santa Maria Village has endured and withstood many challenges.
Like resilient people, it has made the best of its situations.
At home at Penal Rock Road since September 1956, the school’s condition became deplorable in the past few years. Bat droppings, faulty and outdated electrical outlets, cramped spaces and overall dilapidated infrastructure, but staff never stopped classes.
But after the 6.9 magnitude earthquake rocked TT last year on August 21, the building was damaged and officials deemed it a health and safety hazard. For weeks there were no classes until the MP, Dr Lovell Francis, offered to house staff and students at his constituency office in the community of Bois Jean Jean in October, 2018. The Education Ministry provides transportation free of charge to the students.
Principal Geneieve Francis said the school always tried to exemplify its motto, "The will does it."
Repeatedly thanking the MP for his gesture, Francis added: "Conditions are not the best but we make the best of what is available. The school is supposed to be completed before the end of the year. We are grateful for everything that we have."
The original building has been used for years as a Catholic church on Saturdays as the nearest one is the St Vincent Ferrer RC at Gran Chemin. The school was also used as a community centre.
"There is no community centre, and there is no service/mass conducted in the village. Once we get back our school, those things will be reinstated."
The soft-spoken principal added, "We are also on a literacy drive. We want to eradicate illiteracy because we realise there is a high level of illiteracy in the village. We appealed to Kiss (Baking Company) and we are the only school in Moruga with a Kiss homework centre."
The school’s vision for the community does not end here.
The steelpan was introduced to the school about eight years ago, and students have come to love playing the instrument and want their relatives to learn it too.
Francis said, "We need to have our creative arts centre to continue our pan tutoring because we want to open it to our community as well. It is our vision to have a community band."
Sharing some of the school’s achievements, the principal recalled that in February, students participated in competitions by the Moruga/Tableland Carnival Improvement Committee. They were placed first and second in most of the categories. It included being placed first place in the Traditional Mas and Pretty Mas (King) categories.
Students have portrayed sailors and danced the maypole at the National Carnival Commission events in Port of Spain.
As the students practise playing the steelpan under the wooden structure at Bois Jean Jean, she noted that in March the school visited the Cocoa Museum at Rock River. There they performed a maypole dance, much to the delight of the Spanish ambassador to TT and other officials.
Speaking on behalf of the school, she added in April 16 students participated in the Scotiabank Under 11 Kiddy Cricket Tournament at St Julien’s grounds at Princes Town.
Once again, the students emerged victorious for the South Eastern Educational District. The school commended former teacher John Leotaud for coaching the team. They are the winners for the past two years.
In May, Massy Energy donated storybooks as part of the school’s literacy drive. The principal said in that same month, students among them Keieal Morales, Caleb Ramnarine and Ryan Lalla placed third in the netball boy’s shootout in the educational district.
"We are the winners in the Moruga zone in netball shooting boys. Last year we won for both boys and girls."
When asked to see some of the school’s trophies, she explained that because of insufficient space, it is housed at the Moruga Secondary School at Basse Terre Village. Sadly, owing to bat droppings, many of their trophies were damaged.
"We need showcases for them. When we return to our school, we want to take them back with us. The students worked so hard. We aim to achieve a holistic child, so we have football, cricket, pan, you name it."
Teachers have placed colourful, hand-decorated and inspirational messages inside the wall of the school. Also on the walls are various accolades including a certificate of merit from SanFest for blessing the audience with sweet parang.
In Chirisse Ranoo’s standard five class, a sign on the door referred to students as "superstars."
The school has its own spelling bee and storytelling competitions as well as recitations.
As this reporter was speaking to staff, a parent Cheryl Woods-Triea remarked, "We have a great principal and a great staff overall."
Other parents who were at the school nodded in agreement and gave the thumbs up.
The principal added, the school has five refurbished laptops and is hoping to furnish its computer lab on its return to its original location.
"We need computers for the lab and furniture too. We will be moving in with whatever furniture we have. A library is something we hope to have also. Right now, we have only a book club."
Among the past principals were Theodore McLean, Jeewan Jagroop, Mary John and Patrick Warner.
On Wednesday (November 27) the MP, via his Facebook account, posted several pictures of the unfinished school with a post titled Getting it Done.
He also wrote, "On the final stretch with Santa Maria RC. Cheers peeps."
Residents told Newsday that apart from the various parish priests, lay ministers such as the late Maggie “Teacher Maggie” Sookdeo and Cornelius "Brother Boy" Morales kept the community abreast with the latest of the Catholic teachings at the school. Sookdeo, a former principal at Rock River RC, died at 72 on April 3, 2016.
Anyone who is willing to donate items to the school can contact reporter, Laurel V Williams, at 607-4929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.