The In-Between Years

A look at middle schooling in Providenciales.

By Kathy Borsuk

I remember my pre-teen and early adolescent years with a cringe. I was chubby, socially awkward, and sported bangs (fringe) that were perpetually crooked, ugly tortoiseshell glasses, and clothes that were always too small and out of style. In the public school system in my small town in the US, students attended “elementary school” from kindergarten to grade 6, then automatically attended “junior high” (grade 7 and 8), followed by “high school” for freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years (grades 9, 10, 11, and 12). My transition to the large junior high where we were bussed did not go smoothly and were among the worse years of my life.

So when our Advertising Manager Claire Parrish told me I should write a story about the middle school situation in Providenciales, I didn’t know where to begin. I have no children and was totally unfamiliar with the island’s school system. Claire’s son Will had just entered grade 7, so she was able to explain firsthand the dilemma that exists.

In the TCI, students attend primary school—either government or private—up to grade 6. At that time, most students sit for the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), a 3 1/2 hour ordeal that thoroughly tests their knowledge of math, English and science. The results determine a youngster’s placement into high school as well as the granting of academic scholarships. Students also can sit for a separate entrance exam to determine their eligibility for very limited places at the country’s premier private secondary school, the British West Indies Collegiate, or the TCI Middle School.

The majority of students in public schools go straight on to the one of the government high schools. In Providenciales, this is the large Clement Howell High School in Blue Hills or the newly opened Long Bay High School in Long Bay. Both encompass students from grades 7 to 11, although for 2017, the Long Bay school will open a separate building for middle school students.

My first thought was, “Whew! That’s a lot of pressure to put on kids that are only 11 or 12 years old. The competition must be fierce among schools and students. What if a child had a bad day? And success-driven parents on top of that? Can kids get ulcers? What an unusual system!”

As I visited a sample of private schools in Providenciales and talked to their principals, I was a bit relieved to see that there are more options available than I thought. With the population of resident expatriates increasing again as the economy improves, the number of options available to middle schoolers has also expanded

Precious Treasures students display the TCI International Costume

Precious Treasures students display the TCI International Costume.

Precious Treasures International School was founded as a day care and preschool 28 years ago by Directors Allan and Yvonne Hutchinson, who initially served as founding principal.  Centrally located on Cooper Jack Bay Road, Precious Treasures is today celebrated for consistently providing premium early childhood and primary level education to an international family of some 160 children from ages 2 to 12 years. In the Fall 2016, the school will expand to offer secondary level education starting with its inaugural Grade 7 class.

With the mission to provide a world-class international education that prepares students to be global citizens and life-long learners in the 21st century, Precious Treasures uses the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) in foundation years and will extend this focus on internationalism and critical thinking with the use of the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) for the middle school department. The school is the only provider of this experience within TCI and continues to ensure that teaching practices focus on research, exploration, investigation, creativity, communication, and problem-solving. Learning at Precious Treasures is based on a student-centered and learning-focused educational philosophy that places students and their learning at the center of all school activities.

I met recently with the Hutchinsons, new Administrator Anniona Jones and Special Projects Manager David O’Connell, who are clearly dedicated and enthusiastic about excellence and the holistic growth of their students. In discussing their reasons for opening a middle school, Principal Jones explains, “At Precious Treasures, we see our student body as a home with strong Christian principles having a desire to multiply our God-given talents. Giving our students the new option of grades 7 and 8 provides them a chance to transition smoothly into secondary level education while being socially reinforced by the family-like environment that they’re used to. We engineer a social environment and an academic program that builds students’ psychological confidence and academic competencies, guided by strong senses of morality and social responsibility. We want our students to grow as global citizens, considering the impact of their actions on other people, the environment, and the world as a whole.” She adds, “We encourage every child to take responsibility for their learning by monitoring their own progress. We also empower parents with the information required to support their children effectively throughout their development.”

Founder/director Alan Hutchinson further explains what sets Precious Treasures International School apart, “We guarantee a system designed for specific outputs —progress for every child. We celebrate every child as an exceptional student. We want to find, facilitate, and celebrate the personal best of every child. We think very carefully about the kind of person we want to meet in 20 years and work backwards from there to create that person.”

Parents who select Precious Treasures will be ensured highly qualified teachers with degrees in the subject areas they teach, small classes capped at 15 students, dedicated homerooms equipped with multi-media projectors, e-book library access, and a newly opened specialized science laboratory. With a school-wide iPad 1:1 program, students and teachers are required to use the latest technology to enrich the learning experience. Finally, with plans to expand into Grade 8 in 2017, the goal is to relocate the Middle School into a new, state-of-the-art building. Through a developing “Partners in Education” program, the school is currently seeking corporate and personal sponsors to help fund this goal and accelerate the vision and achievement that has become its hallmark.

One “school” of thought believes that grade 6 students do well as the “oldest kids on the block.” They have a year or two to savor being at the top of the totem pole, so to speak, and can serve as mentors to the younger students. This is the philosophy that guides the International School at Leeward, according to Vice Principal Indrani Saunders. Celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, the International School of the Turks & Caicos was the original “international” primary school in Leeward, and today includes 20 nationalities among its student body.

Grade 6 students at the International School preparing for GSAT.

Grade 6 students at the International School preparing for GSAT.

The International School is a bright, lively oasis at Providenciales’ northeastern tip, with a current enrollment of 130 students including the newly built nursery which opened in September 2015. It follows the National Curriculum of England, adapted to meet the needs of the school community and make full use of TCI’s wealth of natural resources, with class size from Senior Kindergarten to Grade 6 no larger than 18 students. Its mission is to combine traditional values with modern vision to enable students to become global citizens of the future. It’s clear that teachers care deeply about their students and their adventures in learning.

Besides the fully equipped science lab and ICT suite, music teacher, and French and Spanish language classes, the school sports playgrounds, outdoor courts and a stage, along with a brand-new 25 meter training pool—the first of its kind on the Islands. Having such an array of activities, Mrs. Saunders says, encourages students with a broad range of skills.

Of the upcoming GSATs, Mrs. Saunders says, “Children are both anxious and excited about the test. Our Grade 6 students are being prepared with sample tests and daily essays.” The students we questioned agreed with her assessment, and said while they would be glad when the exam was over, they did feel ready.

For the 2016 Fall semester, the school plans to add a grade 7 to accommodate their students’ needs. Vice Principal Saunders explains, “These are still children who like to play on the playground and interact with their friends. We want to offer them a comfortable setting where they can grow and mature into the more challenging high school level.”

Year 6 students at Provo Primary will have the chance to continue for another year.

Year 6 students at Provo Primary will have the chance to continue for another year.

Alison Williams is director and founder of Provo Primary School, a colorful, art-filled collection of buildings tucked next to the Graceway Sports Centre in the island’s mid-section. Alison opened the school in 1991 as a pre-school—Headstart Learning Centre—which soon become a primary school, moving to its current location in 2003, with enrollment growing over the years from 2 students to 165 today! Principal Sian Jones took over the daily operation of the school in 2009.

The much-beloved school offers a UK-based, child-centered curriculum in a nurturing, caring environment. Ms. Williams explains, “We encourage our children to be problem-solvers and creative thinkers and our hands-on, investigative approach to learning has led to extremely high levels of achievement. Over the past five years, we have consistently seen top places awarded to our children in their post-primary school placement test. This is a direct result of our teaching methods and excellent staff.” The topic-based, creative curriculum links subjects through central themes that classes explore together, thus applying skills through meaningful research, investigation, reasoning, and inquiry.

Provo Primary has always been well known for its Arts Program and the children put on outstanding Christmas shows each year. Having studied music to degree level, Alison understands the importance of teaching Music in primary school. She introduced steel drums to Turks & Caicos in 1989 and the children enjoy playing in the Provo Primary Steel Drum Band. The school has two qualified Dance and Theater Arts teachers and sports also plays a huge part in the school. Alison explains, “We are extremely lucky to have all the sports facilities right at our doorstep. We use Graceway Sports Centre once a week and also access the FIFA soccer pitch, the tennis courts, the swimming pool at Flamingo Park, and the running track.”

Field trips are an important part of the curriculum and children go on day trips beginning in pre-school. Provo Primary Year 5 children go to North and Middle Caicos for two days, while Year 6 students enjoy an international trip for five days.

When asked, Ms. Williams said that she believes it is probably better for middle-school age children to be separated from the influences of older children, but also recognizes their need to feel like they have “moved on” from primary school. With this in mind, she says she plans to build a middle school adjacent to Provo Primary School, starting with Year 7 in 2017, and adding Years 8 and 9 in subsequent years.

The enthusiastic director is excited to extend the ethos of Provo Primary and its methods of delivering the curriculum. She hopes the older children will be inspired to learn through interesting and relevant topic areas such as marine biology, conservation and renewable energy. While still following a UK-based curriculum, the new middle school will ensure that children are also equipped to enter into the US and Canadian school systems.

Year 7 will have a science lab-style classroom, and alongside a traditional classroom seating area there will be space for Design Technology and Art. The music room and stage area at Provo Primary will continue to be accessed. Outdoor learning will include an aquaponics area for gardening, with the added benefit of being right on Flamingo Lake for extracurricular and Environmental Science activities.

TCI Middle School was opened in 2010 as the first true “Middle School” in Providenciales, encompassing Years (grades) 7 to 9. It has since grown to now offer the full “High School” age range (Years 7 to 11), offering an International curriculum based on an adapted British National Curriculum in Years 7 to 9, then the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) course of study in Years 9 to 11. Like the British West Indies Collegiate, it is a fully accredited exam centre for IGCSE awards, enabling students to leave in Year 11 with an internationally recognized qualification.

TCI Middle School includes a well-equipped Science Lab.

TCI Middle School includes a well-equipped Science Lab.

TCI Middle School’s central location on Leeward Highway below Richmond Hills offers easy access to the small, comfortable campus. Mark Dunbavand is its founder, principal, and a teacher—a professional who is clearly passionate about education. He says, “The school began as a response to the need for more options for an international education after Primary School. We started with only eight students, three in Year 7 and five in Year 8. We have grown steadily— we currently have 41 students on roll, rising to more than 50 next year. However, we are small by design; there is a maximum of 12 students per year group in order to facilitate individualized learning. With this number, we can give each student individual attention; challenging and stretching the more able as well as supporting those who need it.”

Principal Dunbavand believes that students need to be challenged academically and they should thrive in the right environment. His school clearly offers a calm, familial atmosphere, with highly qualified teachers, all with international experience, teaching their specialist subjects with all the equipment required to “get kids excited” about learning.

Facilities include a well-equipped Science lab for courses in Chemistry, Physics, and Biology. Multimedia presenters are standard in every room and half of the classrooms have interactive whiteboards. All students are also assigned a personal netbook/laptop which can be used in all lessons. As the whole school is has Wi-Fi coverage, any room can be turned into an ICT lab at any time.

At TCI Middle School, students are very involved in community activities, including projects through links with the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs and the recent “TCI Shines” road clean-up campaign. Students are taught responsibility and through the School Council have a say in the development of the school—including areas to be expanded, resources to be bought, and even, initially, in choosing their school uniform!

Mr. Dunbavand notes that as part of the school’s ongoing development they are opening a Year 6 for September 2016. “Our students come to us from many different primary schools and therefore, have very different prior learning experiences. Our Year 6 would enable us to help them all become more independent learners so they are more fully prepared for the academic challenges ahead and provide a smooth transition into Year 7.”

My visit to the British West Indies Collegiate on Venetian Road made it clear why parents and students strive to attend. It is the only school of its kind in Turks & Caicos offering an International Advanced (A) Level program that provides the necessary qualifications for access to university. This allows Belongers and other residents to complete their secondary education will remaining in the Islands. It encourages young people to return to TCI after completing university, able and willing to contribute to the country’s future development. The school also plays a vital role in attracting key workers from abroad.

BWIC’s stated goal is to “provide our students with a progressive academic education in a safe and stimulating environment, place them in the best possible universities worldwide, and will them to become young citizens with a responsible, honest, and altruistic character and respect for the world in which we live.” The 12 acre campus contains well equipped classrooms, a science block with separate laboratories for Biology, Chemistry and Physics, a large IT lab, a huge library, an art room, a dedicated music room, and Brayton Hall, a state-of-the-art auditorium. The school also makes use of the National Stadium at its flank for track and field and other sporting events.

BWIC has a new music room fitted with acoustic tiles.

BWIC has a new music room fitted with acoustic tiles.

The not-for-profit BWIC, which opened its doors in 1993, has been run by the formidable Principal Sylvie Wigglesworth since 1995 (she now attends to the education of the children of former students!) A no-nonsense administrator, Principal Wigglesworth is obviously respected (with a touch of fear) by students and teachers, but I sense a kind, caring soul who only wants the best for all. In fact, to date the BWIC has a 100% success rate for securing university places for students completing the Advanced Level program, with no dropouts from university programs in its history.

Admission to BWIC in Years 6 or 7 requires that students take the collegiate’s entrance exam, with top performers following up with an interview. Successful applicants typically stay at the school until Year 13. Of the student body, approximately 65% are TCI nationals, with the rest from a variety of nationalities.

Madame Wigglesworth carefully schooled me on the particularities of the British education system, explaining that Years 7, 8, 9, also known as Key Stage 3, are considered foundation years. The school follows the British National Curriculum from Year 6 to Year 9. During these Years, every subject on offer is compulsory; students choose subjects in which to specialize over the next two years. As an accredited independent center with the University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) students sit on average nine IGCSE subjects in Year 11. If successful in a minimum of five, including Mathematics and English Language, they are eligible to pursue the CIE Advanced Level course of study, leading to globally recognized qualifications and entry to university.

Principal Wigglesworth is a strong believer in the need to challenge students to do their best. She believes that high-achieving grade 6 students will be bored in a primary school environment and enjoy the step up into the Collegiate atmosphere. That is one reason she encourages potential students to enter at grade 6, giving her and her large cadre of teachers (all with university degrees and postgraduate teaching qualifications) the chance to “get to know what they don’t know” before the rigors of Year 7. Indeed, as we toured the campus and questioned students in Years 6, 7, and 8, all said they were happy to have left primary school and started at the Collegiate when they did.

After my interviews for this article, it was clear that across the board, the educators are competent, dedicated, and caring, with a different focus than the business-oriented people  with whom I typically interact. Principals and teachers are concerned with growing up children, not profit; influencing our future generation, not the bottom line. If I were a parent, I would rest assured that my children would be in good hands no matter what choice we made. The challenge would be to select an environment that would best suite a child’s particular needs, temperament, and skills.

Of note is that scholarships, both academic and need-based, are typically available for each school mentioned here. And it goes without saying that PTA involvement is rich in every school, as well.

1 Comment

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Jack Hyde
Sep 10, 2016 14:43

Interesting comprehensive article. One can learn journalistic writing by reading this and considering how quotes are woven in, and how research is linked in a logical fashion along the way.

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