‘We are a force to be reckoned with’
Sundial School is celebrating its 50th year moulding some of St. Maarten’s brightest minds. But even as the institution is counting its blessings, it remains cognisant that much more needs to be done to enhance the level of education it offers to keep up to date with developing demands in the job market and society as a whole.
As the institution looks towards its future, it wants to not just continue on its path of shaping the future generations of St. Maarten, it also hopes to possibly relocate to a more appropriate venue, as the current facility is bursting at its seams, and examine the possibilities of adding more sectors that it believes are needed in the community.
Principal Mireille Regales said the school is “doing great” in the Hospitality, Care and Wellness sectors: “We believe this is not enough. Having another sector, (such as) Information Communications Technology (ICT) Repair, Home Nursing or Light Fixture Design, will give our students the opportunity to find jobs before and after their tertiary education. Most of our students remain on island to continue their tertiary education, so it is imperative that we keep up with what this island may need now and for the future.”
Sundial School’s history dates back to 1966, when the reverend Sister Borgia established a school (current Sr. Magda location) to cater to girls who had completed primary education and had no other options available to them. The intention was to teach the female students basic skills and trades such as sewing and cooking. The school did not have an official name when it was first established. It was sometimes referred to as “Huishoudschool” (Home Economics school) until years later when it was relocated and christened Sundial School.
While male students in those days could have pursued their secondary education in Curacao if their parents could afford it, there were no opportunities for female students. The year 1986 was the first time male students were admitted to the school. In 1968, the school moved into an empty space in an old printery belonging to the late Jose Lake Sr., also in Cul de Sac. In the early days, the school was staffed by the late Jan Slippens, Juffrouw Jane, Sister Marie Laurence, Sister Elfrida, Sister Damiana and Angela Drijvers-van Heyningen, who later became the school principal.
The school encountered numerous teething challenges. There were no stoves or pots and as a result, cooking classes were not possible. As time passed by, the institution acquired some appliances; however, another major issue was access to water. While a small water reservoir was located in an agricultural compound nearby, where St. Maarten Academy now stands, it was empty most of the time. Students therefore had to form a chain from the school to a nearby house close to the entrance of St. Peters to fill their water buckets, passing them on to each other to get water for the school.
For practical housekeeping classes, students were bussed to the then Little Bay Beach Hotel, where they received training. Sewing classes were given by Elfrida and later Drivers-van Heyningen (from 1995). Although the school did not have gym facilities, gym classes were administered on a field, where Prins Willem Alexander School now stands.
When a new location for the school was being constructed on Walter Nisbeth Road, a contest was held amongst students to come up with a name for the school. While none of the entries were found to be suitable enough, Elsje Bosch-Wilson and Juffrouw Jane came up with the name Sundial. The name was found to be appropriate because a sundial, a shell of tremendous beauty, points to the sun, which is the source of life on earth. The school saw its students as being a source of life.
The current Sundial School location was officially opened on November 11, 1973. Several persons have held the position of principal over the years including Marcella Hazel (from 1981); Drijvers-van Heyningen (1995) and current principal Mireille Regales.
Interesting to note is that the school had been a catholic school until 1976, when Pastoor Nieuwen Huis MAVO and John Phillips MAVO were merged. Over the years, the school went through several changes to its educational structure, until 2001 when VSBO was introduced and still remains an educational choice today. The changes over the years were accompanied by additions and changes to the school’s academic offerings, which were later expanded to include hotel/restaurant, fashion/apparel, commercial, needlecraft, office procedures and bookkeeping courses.
In April 1991, the school’s restaurant opened to the public as “Les Eleves Restaurant,” which was later changed to “The Source Restaurant.” On February 14, 1992, “Les Eleves Fashion Center” was officially opened at the entrance of the school. School uniforms were produced at the Center, which was financed by Cede Antiyas. This Center no longer exists. On August 1, 1993 a basic healthcare course began.
After overcoming many challenges over the past five decades, Sundial School is a fairly well-equipped institution today. It has a care team unit, language labs and modern practical rooms. It focuses primarily on two sectors: Care and Wellness and Hospitality. After completing Form 2, students can choose to do a Technical or Administrative Sector, which is administered at sister school Milton Peters College (MPC), which is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary. A digital student tracking system is also in place which allows students and parents to monitor the educational progress of their children. This also requires that parents and students have an email address in order to get updates.
“We are currently upgrading the technology and the manner in which we teach at the school. Active learning is our main focus. All the classrooms are equipped with beamers, digital boards, smart TVs, etc., whatever it takes to reach out and enhance the learning pathway and experience of our vocational students. We have come to the realisation that this is the way to go in order to create holistic students and in turn, make learning fun and enjoyable,” Regales said. “The generation we are dealing with is more technologically savvy and we need to get into their world in order to teach them the educational goals they need. As a school, we have learnt not to shy away from technology but to rather embrace it and incorporate it in such a manner that students learn the basics and more.”
Sundial and MPC fall under the supervision of the school board for secondary education SVOBE (in Dutch: Stichting tot de Bevordering van Voortgezet Onderwijs Bovenwindse Eilanden).
Regales told WEEKEnder that one of the major challenges Sundial experienced over the years was combating the stigma society had placed on the school because it catered to vocational education students, who have more affinity with practical lessons versus theoretical lessons. She said also that changing and applying the various educational systems government had introduced over the years; adapting and finding solutions to deal with the increasing gap between Foundation Based Education (FBE) at the primary school level and basic secondary education at the high school level as well as dealing with an increase in the behavioural and learning challenges amongst students and trying to maintain “a peaceful and safe environment” in the school were also challenging.
“There is also a great need for a new building. Our present facility is outdated and is not entirely functional for learning (optimally). Taking into account the size of the classrooms with the needs of the modern required VSBO educational system, I can safely say we have outgrown the building we are currently in. It has been challenging to do the basic necessary upgrades in technology because of the way the school was electrically wired so many years ago,” Regales explained. “We want to move more towards creative learning by way of technology, but it has to be done in phases because the school was not primarily built to hold that amount of electrical load. So we are at a crossroad where we either move the school to a new location, or we undergo major renovations.”
Asked what she sees as the biggest impacts of the school over the past 50 years, Regales said: “We are seeing the fruits of our labour each time we go to many places on the island. We see our students at the airport, government offices, the hospital, restaurants, we see them all over. So we are blessed to have inspired so many students over the past 50 years and we look forward to continue inspiring more.”
She said also that the 50th anniversary is significant for the school. “Our 50th anniversary means we have come a long way and we are really happy for the many blessings.” She said the school is what it is today due to the support received from the business community, government, parents, students and its school board. “In a nutshell, this says that as a school, we are a force to be reckoned with within this community and the world.”
Asked how vocational education can be improved in St. Maarten, she said, “We need to remove the stigma associated with vocational education. We as a people understand that this economy is not predominantly run by doctors and lawyers, but by the people who do the groundwork. The doctor cannot run his practice optimally without a nurse. The contractor of a building will not find work if he does not have masons. The factory cannot mass produce if it has no workers. We tend to look down at these jobs and forget how important these persons are to our society. We always tell our students that whatever vocation they choose to do, they should make sure that they are the best at it because society and communities will fall if they, the vocational worker, did not exist. Basically, we need to re-educate the masses on what vocational educational is really about.”
Regales said the institution is dealing with the gradual disappearance of respect, manners, values and norms.
Sundial School and MPC have many plans to mark their anniversaries. Plans include a gala fundraising dinner today Saturday, March 25, at The Westin St. Maarten Dawn Beach Resort and Spa. The dinner is in aid of promoting technology in classrooms. Entrance is US $100.
On May 26, a Talent Show and Art Exhibition by current and former students and staff will be held under the tent at Princess Port de Plaisance and Casino. Entrance is $10.
From July 27 to 30, a school reunion (1966 to 2015) will be held at Sundial School.
On August 10, an Educational Symposium will be held with guest speaker Alan November.
Regales said the institution is “just trying to reach out to thank everyone who has made the school thrive over the years… this will also be a period in which we can reflect and re-evaluate our mission and vision for the school. We are about offering quality education and with our partners in education (meaning everyone involved), we will make this work.”
Sundial’s current population stands at 296 students: 121 males and 175 females.