A great school profile can impress prospective parents, attract the best teachers, and even provide the local community with a much-needed boost. However, the opposite will be achieved if there is no investment in a particular institution so that it becomes the last option for both students and parents, and its community appeal will slowly dwindle as has been the case at Tunapuna Government Secondary School (TGSS).
Established in 1962 with classes from Forms One to Five, TGSS can boast of having a reputation as one of the better performing government secondary schools along the East/West Corridor.
Holding its academic head high as they face the many challenges head-on, the 57-year-old school—situated a stone’s throw away from Hillview College—continues to produce top performers, outstanding personalities, positive contributors to society and public figures such as Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus and former transport minister Devant Maharaj among others.
Despite the aged infrastructure, the student population has grown throughout the years.
And while the school has continued to limp along in spite of the neglect and lack of funding, school officials, parents, and past pupils have vowed not to give up.
'Shortchanging our children'
President of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Shirma Maraj expressed deep disappointment as she lamented, "We are shortchanging our children. Our kids are the future and the school does very well on all fronts including sporting and academics."
The list of woes plaguing the termite-ridden school includes small classrooms; improper ventilation; rotted floors and doors; the absence of a proper staff room; no sick bay; no audio-visual room; no auditorium; a cramped library; no air-conditioning units in the classrooms; only two science labs for the entire school.
Indicating the PTA was always willing to assist wherever they could, Maraj said, "We are overwhelmed because we have to do repairs all the time and we always have to keep asking parents to donate and give of their time to effect these repairs where possible.
"The classrooms are so hot. The teachers are frustrated and the students cannot focus and are distracted…it is appalling."
Their latest efforts included refurbishment of the music room, the replacement of the flooring throughout the Form One classes, and the removal of ventilation blocks replaced by louvres for improved air flow.
Their current woes also include a malfunctioning water pump which needs to be replaced immediately. A recent movie-night fundraiser was hosted to generate funds to assist in this area.
Maraj said the rewards have been worthwhile as the students continue to excel. She claimed that during the last five years the pass rate has been between 78 to 86 per cent at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination.
Maraj said efforts over the past 20 years to introduce a Form Six had proven futile.
"Approximately 85 per cent of our students normally get five or more passes at CSEC, some get distinctions and they go on to other schools and when they get scholarships…those schools get the recognition, not TGSS," she said.
Although she described TGSS as a "quiet and humble school", she said this was a demotivating factor to both the staff and student population.
Meanwhile, Maraj is worried as the Education Ministry has mandated that all secondary schools prepare themselves by 2020 for exams to be posted online. "The school is old, it is not properly wired and they are not ready."
Questioning how long this "patching up" could continue, she said an ideal solution would be for them to be given a new school.
Maraj does not believe picketing or protesting is the ideal solution as she pleaded, "Please somebody, we need help."
'The school has produced so many good professionals'
Asked how he would be able to assist in perhaps establishing the school's alumni, Maharaj said he and some former classmates had been meeting regularly to discuss how they could go about helping their alma mater.
Having demitted office in 2015, Maharaj said requests for the school to be repainted and for the establishment of a Form Six block had been passed to then education minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh who indicated it would have been included in the next year’s Budget.
He said, "I am very familiar with the systemic decay of TGSS because I pass the school every day on my daily route. It is unfortunate because the school has produced so many good professionals. In my year, it produced an aviation engineer, a doctor and others who performed very well."
To those who believe TGSS should be written off, both Maraj and Maharaj protested against it as they appealed to past students to stand up and let their voices be heard for a new and improved facility so it can continue the good work for which it has become known.
Baptiste-Primus wants all past pupils to come on board
Vowing to do everything she can to assist in returning TGSS to its former glory, Baptiste-Primus expressed pride as she recalled early days at her alma mater.
Having visited the school in September 2018 to address the new student intake, she learned of the many issues affecting the school.
Revealing she had experienced a sense of deja vu when she entered the compound at Taylor Street, El Dorado Road, the minister said nothing had changed.
During that visit, Baptiste-Primus undertook to work with the principal and vice principal to provide some much-needed furniture to the school. Confirming that this only recently concluded, she expressed support for the efforts by the PTA to establish a Sixth Form at the school.
Acknowledging the PTA had completed some in-depth work to ascertain exactly how much it would cost to acquire, refurbish and outfit containers to be used, she said, "I share the desire to see TGSS attain its former standing. I would agree with making a call for them to contact the principal in the first instance, indicating in what area they would be able to assist the school.
"This is a good school and with the establishment of a Sixth Form, we know we are going to attract a lot more students who can make a contribution to the school and therefore, I am prepared to sit and work with them."
She appealed to all past pupils of TGSS to come on board. "We all have a responsibility as this is the school that really assisted us in laying the foundation for the kind of future that we are all enjoying. Let us all bring our collective energy to help in rebuilding this school."
Anyone wishing to assist can call 662-4718.