I would be remiss if I did not extend heartfelt congratulations to Orion Academy in Roseau Dominica on the occasion of its 10th anniversary. Time does fly by, and I am honoured to have been associated with this private secondary school since its inception. It prides itself in offering students a more well-rounded, albeit holistic education and offers programs above and beyond the set syllabus by the Ministry of Education in accordance with the regional Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC).
When the school was getting off the ground in September 2003, I received a call out-of -the-blue from one of the Board Members who asked if I could help as a lunch-time monitor or in any other way to support the recently founded educational institution. As I was well into writing at that point, I wondered if I could contribute with some English language
instruction. ( I had a teacher’s permit from Nova Scotia, Canada, but had never used it). I then met with Principal Frances Harris and she readily agreed that I could work with the older students, if I so desired.
Keeping in mind that I had never formally taught a class in a school before, I took on the task as a great challenge. Amazingly, I found that I really enjoyed it and appreciated the interaction with the students.
The next year, I shifted into the English Literature realm, under the direction of Mrs. Harris. I started off by volunteering a few hours a week to teach the young people from Forms 1 to 3 about metaphors and similes, poetry, Shakespeare and novels that I had never read before! It was a tremendous learning experience for me as I prepared weekly lessons on concepts long forgotten and subconsciously applied in my own literary creations.
Then the time came for a few of my interested Form 3 students to undertake intensive course work over five terms in two years (Forms 4 and 5) for the very challenging regional Eng Lit exams (CXC’s). I enthusiastically jumped into completely unfamiliar waters. As the detailed syllabus was overwhelming to me, I sought assistance from long-time English Literature teacher at the Convent High School, Daria Sorhaindo. She patiently reviewed the task-at-hand with me, after which the prospect of leading the class in this subject seemed much less daunting. I was very grateful for her help, because her guidance made my lesson preparations much easier!
As I read and re-read and researched, I made some amazing discoveries about myself and the capabilities of my students.Although I am an avid reader, I had never given poetry or drama much thought after my own high school days.I was determined that the class would not be boring or dull. With a serious attitude, but fun-filled approach, I felt that I was able to bring the genres of Eng Lit (as I called it) to life. When the students selected a monologue or excerpt from a Shakespearian play, they really portrayed the roles well. I was so impressed with their creative talents, including their thoughtful costumes and props. Their poetry recitations always held me in awe too – I admired their courage and determination to recite classical, contemporary and Caribbean poems from memory. Perhaps they found that the easy part! For then I required them to prepare detailed analytical papers to ensure that they really understood the work.
While the young people busily prepared their assignments for me, they were also dealing with several other complex subjects at the same time, in order to fulfill the requirements for the CXC and subsequent high school graduation. Sometimes they were exhausted and discouraged. It was also rewarding for me to provide good cheer and encouragement as I knew that they were all capable of success.
And it came to pass that my three students who graduated in 2008 (Amanda, Edward and Abi) all did well on their Eng Lit exams. While consistent high achievers Edward tied for second with the highest results on island, and Amanda placed sixth overall, it was relative newcomer Abi who impressed me the most with her scholastic performance. She probably doesn’t remember this, but when she arrived in my class in Form 2, she promptly informed me that she did not like reading at all! Interestingly, by Form 3, (she was a class behind Edward and Amanda), she was scoring A’s and was first in her class in Eng Lit. At that time, she decided to return to the U.K. the following year to go to college, and as a result skipped critically important Form 4 (3 terms). Abi arrived in Form 5 with Edward and Amanda, who had covered considerable complex subject matter the previous year.. While she only had two terms to prepare for the challenging final CXC exams, she was undaunted by having missed so much material the previous year. I have never seen anyone so organized, focused, dedicated and diligent in her approach to catching up and doing well. Of course, she met with success!
I then had an opportunity as a private tutor to instruct a few students who were graduating in the class of 2011. Although the CXC exam syllabus noted the preparation of different novels, plays and some of the poems than those of 2008, I was now much more familiar with the requirements. At first, Dylan was my only student. He ate up the subject with relish (sorry Dylan!). He was perhaps pressured at first as he was constantly hammered with questions and had to fully engage all the time in the class as the only one! Then Myan came along, and Norris joined them in Form 5, as he had recently returned to Dominica from living in another Caribbean country. He had taken Form 4 Eng Lit there, so his remaining two terms with my class did not really pose a problem. Again, the instruction of this fascinating subject gave me tremendous pleasure, largely because of the favourable responses from my students and their eagerness to improve and succeed! They all performed very well on the CXC exams, with Dylan ranking in the top 20 CXC overall results in Dominica for that
However, the biggest gift to me came from Myan. While she missed numerous classes because of a then persistent health challenge, she conscientiously worked on her assignments at home and then submitted them to me for review. Despite her frequent absences, she scored top marks on her CXC Eng Lit exams. I am so proud of her!
All of the above-named students have either gone on to study at post-secondary institutions here or abroad or are about to do so in the near future. I wish them well and will always be grateful to them for letting me share my knowledge and learn along with them in English Literature Forms 4 and 5 at Orion Academy.
I would also like to thank the Board of Directors at Orion Academy between 2003 and 2011 and former Principals Harris and Madisetti for permitting me to spend some very special time with wonderful, well-rounded students at a unique school in Dominica. I have benefited tremendously from this previously unanticipated, but extremely rewarding experience. I think I am a better writer because of it!
May Orion Academy have many more years of educational success!
For further information about Orion Academy, check the web site (highlighted) or write to: OrionAcademy@gmail.com or call (767) 440-3233.
Reference: Dominica News Online April 25, 2013
* Special thanks to Orion Teacher Elizabeth Madisetti and Orion Parent Wendy Walsh for their assistance with some background details.