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Girls’ High School prepares to mark milestone

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I start by complimenting the alumni, staff and students of the Girls’ High School for the energy and enthusiasm they have put into marking this major milestone in the life of their school – the commemoration and celebration of one hundred years. I do so, especially, after having been part of and seen the very lukewarm and reluctant efforts two years ago to mark a similar milestone for the St.Vincent Grammar School.{{more}} Today we often comment on the different approaches and attitudes to education by boys and girls, but we have seen this manifested even in the responses to marking that major milestone in the life of the two schools. Today the Girls’ High School maintains its place as the leading secondary school in the island. Even for doing this, there are criticisms in some quarters. What has to be realised is that the accomplishments and the standards set by the School are to a large extent based on the hard work of alumni and staff and their efforts to maintain and ensure that the students live up to the core values that were set over the years. There has always been pride on their part and a desire to provide the best for the School. In 1925, the students of the High School held a series of concerts. The funds raised were used to start a school library and the mistresses and girls set themselves the task of maintaining that library. The point I am making is that there has always been pride and commitment on the part of students, staff and alumni to do what is best for the school. On the other hand, with the exception of a few, the Grammar School alumni have divorced themselves from their school. There are many accomplished alumni who speak about the former elitism of the school and use this as an excuse for pulling themselves away, as if a secondary school started in 1908 could be anything but elite. But we are into a different era. Can anyone today accuse those schools of being elitist?

I take pride in having attended and taught at the Grammar School and having been involved in all aspects of the school as Cricket and Football Captain, Head Boy and House Master. In the same way I have a special feeling about the Girls’ High School, having taken my A’Level History and English classes there under Mrs Norma Keizer and the British Teacher Ms. Heddle. I also taught for a term at that school after my return from studies abroad. That relationship continued when my daughters attended the school and my wife taught there for a number of years.

This weekend, the alumni and students begin their programme of activities leading up to the achievement of that milestone. One of the highlights is a lecture by Dr. Peggy Antrobus, an outstanding alumni, daughter of Bernard ‘Chess’ Gibbs who was Chief Secretary in the 1940s, and wife of Dr. Ken Antrobus, that would kick off a lecture series and serve as a build up to the activities planned for next year. The year of celebrations is 1911, the year accepted as the starting point for the Girls’ High School. There appears, however, to be a bit of historical confusion about the date, something not uncommon to SVG ( remember January 22). R.M Anderson in the fifth edition of the Saint Vincent Handbook (1938) writes: “The Girls’ High School was the name given to the private school kept by Miss M.L Ince when it was taken over by the Government in October 1914. Miss Ince herself was appointed the first Headmistress and Miss M. B Ince, Assistant Mistress…” But the Times newspaper of Thursday, May 18, 1911, reported on the opening of the Girls High School ‘on Monday of last week.’ The paper noted that the Administrator “saw the necessity for a higher educational institution for girls and had thus put a small vote on the estimate for that purpose.”According to the news item, ‘Miss Ince’s School is to be known in the future as the St.Vincent High School for Girls’. Clearly we have to accept the Times’s version since the Times could not have reported on an activity that took place three years later. There is also one other source that lists 1914 as the year, but it was likely that that the information initially came from Anderson.

The closure of the co-ed Grammar School in 1905 and the opening of a Grammar School for boys left the girls without a school. Miss Mary Ince’s School took up the slack but was taken over by government and turned into what became known as the Girls High School. I have never come across any information about Miss Ince. Perhaps that information is available somewhere, but she is someone we need to know about. Anderson does indicate that she was appointed the first headmistress and Miss B.Ince (obviously a relative) was made Assistant Mistress. They appeared, according to Anderson, to have continued until 1917 when Mary resigned and the Assistant Ince was granted a year’s leave. The Misses C.C Went and M.E Went of Barbados were appointed to act and with the resignation of the other Ince in 1918, the Wents were appointed to the positions. When the Grammar School was moved from its quarters on Back Street in 1913 to the premises formerly occupied by the Agricultural School, the Girls High School then went into the area that had been occupied by the Grammar School. The School moved into its present premises at the Judge’s Lodge in 1935 when a new building was erected and connected to the Lodge. That was the year, too, according to Anderson when the Houses Grimble, Staff and Headmistress were introduced.

At a time when students and young people generally are said to be caught up in the social ills of society, the students of the Girls’ High School seem to have been holding their heads high. This is not to say that there are not students who have fallen through the cracks, but the School continues to command respect both for its sense of discipline and its academic achievements. It was good to have heard Headmistress Andrea Bowman speaking out against the placement of a bar/restaurant in the immediate vicinity of the School. At a time when students are caught up with the happenings at some areas of ill repute, it is good that Mrs. Bowman and other Principals of schools in the area have been prepared to speak out. Their concern, I believe, is primarily for their students, for with all the challenges that young people face, one cannot take anything for granted. I extend best wishes to the School as it launches its programme of activities to mark the birth of an institution that has been a symbol of excellence over the years.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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