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BC’S BARBADOS: Dodds Secondary

B.C. Pires

BC’S BARBADOS: Dodds Secondary

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Forty-two years ago, on the first Monday of September, like the Form One children of Barbados today, I walked through the gates of St Mary’s College, the Trinidad equivalent of Combermere. After my private primary school, where racial proportions were the reverse of the national norm, I clearly remember the surprise of discovering that dark-skinned boys outnumbered fair-skinned ten-to-one – but that was only the second most memorable thing about my new school.
The real eye-opener came when I dropped my sandwich on the steps leading to my classroom and it fell to the playground below. By the time I’d put down my books and raced downstairs, there was a much bigger, and evidently much hungrier, boy calmly eating my sandwich while grinning at me. He didn’t even say thanks – the dog – and there was nothing in my experience that could help me to understand, far less deal with, the situation.
Luckily, it was a half-day, not the full day my mother had literally catered for, and I didn’t go hungry at lunch; but, somewhere in Trinidad today, there’s a St Mary’s boy who openly stole and ate a weaker boy’s sandwich; I’d like to think he’s in prison but he’s more likely in Parliament; or the police service; or retail.
It’s the wildest adventure most of us will ever take in life, bearing in mind the experience you bring to it, when you go from primary to secondary school; especially if you’ve had the supposed advantage of being sheltered. In all of adult life, only one other institution offers a similarly, potentially terrifying novelty.
It’s not the world of work. Compared to your first day in big school, a new job is a walk in the park, divorce is a piece of cake, invasive surgery a jam doughnut. Even travel to a new country is far more exciting than frightening. Bereavement in adulthood is more difficult, perhaps – but you have a whole industry of support and counselling to help you through it. In form one, all you have is a book some goody-two-shoes grown-up wrote that doesn’t tell you about how you get your sandwich back or what to do after the one person you know in the whole school walks off and leaves you standing alone, like the cheese in the nursery rhyme or the female in the Barbados Labour Party.
Only one other institution could be as scary for grown-ups as big school is for kids today. It’s not primary or tertiary school, not a masters degree programme, not even army boot camp. Those who do “A” levels may vote in parliamentary elections before they leave the school they enter for the first time this morning; but it is a child who enters school today.
There is only one other institution you might enter in which you emerge as different. I’m most decidedly not saying the two institutions are at all comparable but, if you really want a shot at empathy, imagine yourself going into Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds this morning; and see what it sounds like to your child when you tell him cheerily: “Oh, this is the best day of your life!”