Oldest school begins anniversary celebration todayPOSTED: 02/28/11 12:16 PM
St. Maarten – The Oranje School, which is St. Maarten’s oldest school, will begin a year of celebrations today to mark its 160th year of existence. The property the school sits on was purchased on Friday April 25, 1851 by then Lt. Governor Johannes Didericus Crol for 3, 350 guilders.
The present school buildings, which are built on a cemetery, started going up in 1919 under the tenure of Acting Lt. Governor G.J. Thymstra. The building was dedicated in 1921 and two years later Lt. Governor Richard Beujon presided at the start of work for the east wing of the school. The next expansion came in 1964 under the Director, Mr. Van den Heuvel. It was meant to accommodate the students of the Secondary Advanced Elementary Education (MULO). More small additions were made through the years but in 1995/1996 there was a total renovation after the passage of hurricane Luis. Construction continues even now as the school prepares to become the first with a technology center.
The constant at the school in its 160 years is change and Kay Linda Phillips, who is currently the principal has seen a fair amount of that since she joined the school in 1977 as a Grade 1 teacher. In 1986 she became Acting Principal and was confirmed in the post in 1991.
“One of our biggest changes was going over to Foundation Based Education in 2002. We’ve also added a lot of technology. In fact we were the first school to have a computer lab and one of our next big projects is a technology center that allows for 21st century teaching with an interactive white board. We will also be the first with that,” Phillips said.
Over the years Oranje School and Philipsburg, like symbiot and host, have grown together. The school added more classrooms and the capital added more buildings and people. Philips said that growth outside the school walls is “getting to be distracting” and though they’ve adapted she still thinks being a school in the middle of the city is not ideal. Part of that is the fact that tourists very often want a tour and that can prove distracting for the students and staffers.
“We try to be as accommodating as possible but sometimes we just have to share information in conversation over the fence. Most of the people who stop are teachers or principals and they are curious about the uniforms because it’s not something they are familiar with and they are also curious about our school hours, which start and finish earlier than what they are accustomed to,” Philips said.
The schools challenges have also changed over time. Phillips said one of the biggest right now is the level of respect and motivation displayed by the students and the drop in parental involvement. The way teachers educate their students has also had to change.
“We have definitely had to change. We know we cannot teach in the old way. We have also been stressing that we also need more parental involvement. I think they are not as involved because we have younger parents and more single parents. The government’s request to companies to give their employees time to visit the school is a good thing and as a school we are also more flexible and we allow the parents to come in on their off days so we can meet them and share information with them about their child’s progress,” the school principal said.
She added, “We also need a facelift. I would definitely like to see at least a paint up. Also if we are to live up to Foundation Based Education we need larger classrooms. We’ve also tried for a computer lab and library but we’re too small. We also need a gym.”
Despite the challenges Phillips is proud to be principal as the school begins to mark its anniversary. That pride will be conveyed at a thanksgiving service at the Methodist Church on Front Street this morning beginning at 8:30 a.m. Managing Director of the Windward Islands Bank Jan Beaujon, an alumnus of the school, is also expected to speak. Some of the other famous alumni are Governor drs Eugene Holiday, former Managing Director of GEBE Julius Lambert and the company’s current Managing Director William Brooks.
Also in planning for the anniversary year are a teacher’s talent show, a drama festival with two plays by the students and an award ceremony that will include awards to some of the school’s alumni.