The Plain View Combined School an initiative of the West Indies Mission now Evangelical Churches of the West Indies (E.C.W.I) is almost as old as the St. Lucia ministry having its beginning in 1955. The school is now a government assisted institution with an enrollment of 619 students and a teaching staff of 29`. The school is recognised as one of the leading primary schools in the south of the island and continues to be a key ministry of the E.C.W.I.
The school in 1955 was nothing like it is today. The school actually had its origin at the residence of Mr. & Mrs. Harms who were missionaries serving in Vieux Fort with the West Indies Missions. The students gathered in their living room and were instructed based on Canadian Curriculum. There were eight (8) students in the initial batch.
Reasons for Establishing the School
There are basically three main reasons for the initial attempts at starting this school. One of the main reasons was the growing discomfort experienced by the non-Roman Catholic students especially the children of West Indies Mission decisions believers. The Roman Catholic Church was, as it still is today, the dominant and more established religious group on the island. Roman Catholicism was promoted by the French colonial powers during their occupation of the island.
Without going too deeply into the aspect of the island’s history, the church was deeply involved in education during the port emancipation history. This was reinforced in the island’s later history which the initial government began the policy of assisting these private schools while allowing them to continue with the administration of the various institutions.
Most students were obviously Roman Catholic however, with the advent of Protestant Christian ministry after the end of the Second World War the Roman Catholic Church witness an increasing number of non-Catholic students in the schools. The students reported being prosecuted in various ways. Whilst some had Bibles and other forms of Christian literature confiscated, many students reported being verbally abused by both students and teachers. In Vieux Fort the West Indies Mission students can remember being called names in the local vernacular such as Mission Demou (Devil missions) and caca (reference made to human faeces). The situation became so grave that some parents had to withdraw students from the schools as students were being generally ostracised. It became clear that these students were only tolerated not welcomed in the school.
Another reason was that the Roman Catholic authorities maintained a strict policy of allowing only Roman Catholic teachers at their schools. Christians who desired to be teachers had little or no opportunity to pursue the profession.
Plain View began as a ministry of the missionaries. Along with providing spiritual guidance the missionaries saw the need to equip the Christians and to assist them in improving their lot in life. One of the obvious ways of doing so was to educate them. Persons who had passed the legal school leaving age without having the opportunity of getting an education were given a second chance. Many students would probably have never gotten an education were it not for the mission’s school project.
Apart from these reasons another factor which aided the formation of the school included the fact that some persons lived long distances away from the few schools in the town. Also the missionaries were already providing tuition for their children who lived with them on the island. This could be easily extended to other children.
Curriculum Development (before 1972)
Initially, the courses followed up to grade eight were correspondence material originating from Saskatchewan, Canada. Provision was made later for students who wanted to pursue higher grades such as grade 12.
The curriculum was broad based and provided opportunities for students to be exposed to water colour painting, music and literature in addition to the academic subjects. This was a privilege in St. Lucian culture and schooling philosophy. Students were provided with individual packages of materials. They were able to read their lessons ahead of time. Supplementary material was also provided up to grade 11. The primary emphasis of the school was Language and Spiritual Development.
Students were provided with a good foundation of the four language fundamental skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Students graduating from Plain View School were known for their exemplary penmanship.
Curriculum Development (after January 1972)
The school achieved ‘Government Assisted’ status on January 1972, the curriculum was then harmonized with that of St. Lucian Primary School. There was a significant local input into the curriculum, particularly in the subjects of Geography and social Studies.
Achieving Government Assistance
The core of individuals instrumental in the proposition of this status comprised of: Marie Cumberbatch, Ignatius Evans, Sara Unger, Pastor Peter Velinor and members of the Vieux Fort Board.
An assessment of the school was made by the Ministry of Education prior to the granting of the above mentioned status which was granted in January, 1972.
As a result of this change, teachers were paid higher salaries and the curriculum was standardized to that which existed in public schools at the time. The new curriculum facilitated the preparation of students for Common Entrance. There were no school fees.
The teachers, who were Christians exhibited genuine devotion, since they were originally paid lower salaries than their counterparts in public schools and generally in industry.
The government provided training for teachers of Plain View School. The training process involved in service training at Sans Souci and later training at the Teachers’ College at Morne Fortune. Two of Plain View’s teachers, Romanize McDiarmed and Lucia Chitolie were one of the first to receive in service training.
Ignatius Evans completed training at the St. Lucia Teachers’ College in July 1971 and became the first local principal in January 1972. He was already in the past in September 1971. He piloted the transition and manged it from private to government assisted.
As part of the requirements of the Government, the school was extended physically so as to accommodate a large number of students. A minimum 275 students was requested by the government.
History of the school’s Physical Plant
We have established that the school’s first home was in the Harms’ living room. It was clear then that this could not continue very long. The demand for this service was very high. The system of tutoring began would gradually metamorphose in to an institution of a much larger scale.
Walter Grymaloski approached the then government of Saint. Lucia for property and permission to construct larger facilities for the school. Government responded by giving the church a site at Black Bay in Vieux Fort, this was quickly cleared by the Christians. However the offer was rescinded. Another site was offered at the Coco Dan. Again after the land was cleared the offer was rescinded. This clearly frustrated the believers. Eventually an individual named James Clarke who had leased some property in La Resource form the government offered the church half of his lot for construction of the school.
It is there that the school finally found a permanent home. The first building on this lot was the former main building which is centrally located in the current complex. For the construction work E.C.W.I members contributed materials. The construction work was directed by Peter Velinor and the then pastor of the Vieux Fort church, Norman Ferhs. The labour was provided by the church members. At this time the school administration was Sara Unger.
TThe second building constructed is the structure located on the western end of the complex. This building now houses the E.C.W.I kitchen and soon the E.C.W.I southern office. Construction was undertaken in 1971 as part of the school’s effort at receiving government assistance status. One of the prerequisites of gaining this status was that the institution had to cater for a minimum of 250 students. Additional funds were sourced by Sara Unger from friends overseas.
The timber hall forming the northern wing of the complex was constructed during the post 1980 Hurricane Allen reconstruction period. The materials were provided by the government of Saint Lucia. The prefabricated structure had been donated by the Venezuelan government for reconstruction of damage schools. The building was constructed completely at Pastor Peter Velinor’s expense.
The other structures were built by the government of Saint Lucia. The main building is a two story structure which now house administration and many of the classrooms of the school. This wing was funded entirely by the government of Saint Lucia in 1996.
The first batch of students, eight in total included: Veronica Andrew, Agatha Hutson nee Joseph (Agatha Evans), Marie Evans nee Williams, Monica Barley, Egitha Petron Poleon nee Fadlien, Joseph William, Veronica Wilson.
The first set of graduates from the Plain View Combined School were Veronica Andrews, Ignatius Evans, Marie Evans nee Williams and Anazilta Harrow. They graduated at Grade 8 and passed in flying colours!
When Plain View School sent its first batch of students to sit the Common Entrance Examination, the school achieved a 100% pass rate.
Glimpse of Student Life
In the earlier times, walking was the means of transportation for students. Students from Augier trekked the terrain from Augier to La Ressource twice a day. Many times students would break off branches to serve as a shelter form the sun as they walked. Some would walk barefooted, and put on their shoes as they neared the school building (thus prolonging the life of their shoes).
There was no school feeding programme at the time and so students brought their cooked meals to schools in metal carriers sometimes wrapped up in a towel. Typical meals were farine and shellfish, fried fish and roti, roasted sardine and oil with ground provisions and bouillon. To supplement the meals the students ate guavas form the innumerable guava trees in the school vicinity.
Typical school games were jack stones, skipping ropes, dutch ball, hide and seek, ring games, football, cricket and later volleyball.
School hours were just as those today: 9:00 am – 3:00 pm.
Plain View Campus at Augier and Dennery
Augier: Mrs. Grymaloski was the school administrator at the main school at the time behind the Vieux Fort Bible Church. She went on furlough for one year. As a result of this she organized tutoring for younger students from Augier to take place at Augier. Those students walked to school and had no means of other transportation to go to Vieux Fort.
Students of grades one and two remained in Augier during the year and were tutored by Marie Evans nee Williams, Julianna Tench, Elias Tench, Evester Tench and Roma Mc, Diarmed. The school at Vieux Fort was managed by Ignatius Evans for the year.
Dennery: The school at Dennery was funded by the Dennery Evangelical Church. The school is reported to have come about because of the lack of schools in that area and the ‘persecution’ of Evangelical Christians in that area.
It was reported that Mathias Andrew was the first teacher there. The school was managed by Celina Deterville nee Promese and was later joined by Mary Wilfred nee Promese. (Celina Deterville and Mary Wilfred were past students of the school at the Vieux Fort Bible Church now known as Vieux Fort Evangelical Church). Celina Deterville taught for twelve (12) years. She stated teaching at eighteen years of age and retired from the profession in 1972. Sara Unger was the (Canadian Missionary) administrator for Plain View School and was the supervisor of the work at Dennery.
The school was at the house next to Sydwarnn Recaii’s building in Grand Reviere, Dennery. Students were not only form the Evangelical Church, but from the Adventist and Catholic Churches.
The school was closed later because of the financial strain which it incurred on the Dennery Evangelical Church.
It was a relatively expensive business for the churches to maintain these schools. They could only do this because of the low pay by the teachers. In the case of the Vieux Fort School, staff got $25, $35, or $50 monthly. The sacrifice of these early pioneers cannot be overlooked.
Other sacrifices included the donations by the churches for the construction of the first building of the school. Also the building of sections of the school by Pastor Peter Velinor, the taking of a loan by the members of the Vieux Fort and Augier believers, and the many others who still contribute today.
Plain View Combined School is one of the top primary school in Saint Lucia in terms of academics. Students were also exposed to non-academic programmes such as Music, Agriculture, Home Economics and Physical Education.
Plain View Combined School has made a significant contribution to the Saint Lucian community socially, economically, morally and spiritually. Past students include principals (Ignatius Evans, Paul Sammy, Marie Evans), Education Officers, Chief Education Officer, Doctors, Engineers, Bankers, Nurses, Teachers, Farmers, Preachers, Musicians etc.