We won! We won!

Yesterday, Friends School participated in the field day as a part of our participation in the Inter-Institutional Athletic Competition. We won the competition which consisted of some normal track and field events and some additional events such as egg toss and tug of war. We completed the year-long 4-sport competition placing 2nd in our 4 team conference.

But that makes a boring story, doesn’t it?  So…

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Lined up for the start of the field day competition.


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Start of the ‘marathon.’

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Brandon finishing the ‘marathon.’

We left school at 7:15 with most of the students, picked up a few along the way and arrived at the  4-H Youth Development Center a little after 8:30.  The first event, a 2.5 mile run referred to as the “marathon” began promptly at 9:00 on the road out in front of the facility.  Two police motorcycles led as the students ran up over a hill and out of sight.  Ten minutes later a lone runner came back over the hill. He was wearing a grey shirt and everyone assumed, at first, that he was from the Cadets. But no, as he came closer it was our own Brandon.  In first place.  He entered the field of competition for the final two laps all alone and finished about 400 meters in front of his nearest competitor.

This is particularly special because we did absolutely no distance training and he beat students for whom a distance run is a part of their everyday routine (Cadets and 4-H). This kids got game.  I’m trying to figure out if there is any opportunity for him in Belize to realize this potential.

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Beginning of the egg toss. Egbert and Kylah are in the foreground, Cion and Harrison are the second pair from the front.

The next event was the egg toss. Our entries were Harrison and Cion.  Together, standing on top of each other, they might reach 6 feet tall and weigh 200 pounds, but they have athletic ability.  Ta-da. First again.

We ran the sprints in a grass field where the lanes were marked off with lime. Tyrese was our quickest student and we expected him to do well in the sprints but in the 200 he stepped in a hole and fell. Surprisingly, Michael got 2nd.  Woohoo. We are doing well after three events.

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Ms Darcel giving final instructions before the balloon toss.

Of course we didn’t continue on that pace all day, but we did place 2nd in the lime and spoon and the high jump.  I was particularly pleased with the high jump because we did not have any opportunity to practice so the boys were learning as we went.  There was a jump-off for second which Michael won.

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Balloon toss

I thought it would be fun to add some actual field events to the day, so I had promised to get a shot put while in the states.  I showed the boys the rudiments of the event and let them practice during the morning break, then over lunch we ran the competition. Tyrese won with a 36’0′ throw of a JrHi boy’s shot.  (Ok, being the only school with a shot, maybe we cheated on that one by practicing ahead of time.)

The most exciting event of the day was the 4 x 100 relay. The boys wanted to tell me the order in which they were going to run. Ahh, no. Fastest on anchor, 2nd fastest on opening leg. Michael, you will go first, Shamar second, Brandon 3rd, Tyrese anchor. It was a close race all the way and Tyrese and the boy from 4-H were neck and neck for the last 50 yards. We won by a good inch and a half.

There was once during the day when we had a special teaching opportunity.  As mentioned, we had never had a chance to practice the high jump. When one of our boys had a problem and looked a little awkward when practicing a jump, our other students laughed at him.  I, and Ms Candi, explained that everyone was doing the best they knew how and we do not laugh when someone is giving it their very best, even if they are an opponent. And we particularly do not laugh or poke fun at our own teammates.

At Friends School we support each other in all of our efforts.


Here are photos of some of our boys with their medals:

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4 X 100 relay: Michael, Brandon, Tyrese, Shamar

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Shot put 1st place: Tyrese

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Michael 2nd in the 200

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Michael and Tyrese: 1st in three legged race

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Harrison and Cion: 1st in egg toss

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Brandon and Mario: 3rd in water balloon toss

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Brandon: 1st in marathon

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Egbert: 2nd in lime and spoon



So, how many students to you have at Friends School?

That’s an interesting question.

When I arrived a week before school started we had 17 registrations which is unusually high for recent years. Conversations with the past three principals of the school indicated that some (many?) students who might use our school do not even think about it until all their friends have gone back to school in the fall.  It has been our experience that we get several enrollees in September and early October.

This year we had 20 enrolled by mid-September but the expected increase in late September and October did not materialize. A few additional students have enrolled throughout the year and our current enrollment is 26.  Our attendance is not 26.

One student (I debated using the students names which would have made this more personal but chose not to), following many disruptions, was finally told that he could no longer attend. Two students whose family is gang related were moved out of the city to another city ‘far far away’ for their safety. Three more students have stopped attending and have informed us that they will not be returning but their parent or guardian has never withdrawn them so they remain on our books.

Each of these students is a story. Some of those stories break my heart. I will be glad to tell you in person but I will not share them here except to say that I find it particularly tragic when a student who is academically gifted chooses to go on the street.

A few other students have moved or withdrawn and an equal number have entered. So my current comment, when asked about our enrollment, is, “We started the year with 20 students and we will end the year with 20 students.”  And then, with a rueful smile and slight shake of the head, “Not the same 20 students.”

Adult School

There are adults in the city who, for various reasons, have never received an elementary school certificate.  During this year, three of them approached Ms Candi at different times asking if there was anything we could offer them.

I was privy to one of those conversations where Ms Candi asked the lady if she would be ok with attending class with our students.  She said that she would and she tried it but it wasn’t really a good idea.

While the FUM visitation team was here we received an invitation to attend a roundtable discussion. I was busy with the team but Ms Candi attended. The roundtable was sponsored by the Government of Belize (Ministry of Education), the University of West Indies, and other parties.  During that day the ministry was complimentary of our success rate with our students.

The upshot of the day is that we were asked if we would pilot a program for adults that leads to an elementary school certificate.  There are two advantages to the adult who gets the certificate.  One, almost all the businesses in Belize City now require an elementary school certificate as a condition of employment and, two, an adult with the certificate could then apply to University of West Indies to work on an equivalent to our GED or apply to ITVET in a vocational program.

We are researching and discussing all the details before actually offering the program.  How many hours a week?  What time of day? What would the annual schedule look like? Who would teach it? How will the finances work out? What fees would we charge? How do we determine when the student has earned his/her certificate? And on and on, as you might imagine.

At the roundtable, the Government of Belize said that there was no money available for a pilot program but suggested that there may be support available if the pilot is successful. To be perfectly honest, I do not trust that ‘suggesting’ but we will follow up on it.  At any rate we will be proposing to the School Board and to FUM that we offer a 2 hour a night, 4 day a week, evening class for a maximum of 15 adults.

Stay tuned.


Bachelor’s Degree

When I arrived I began inquiring about Ms Candi’s and Ms Darcel’s credentials and academic state of affairs.  Ms Candi has been attending all the workshops presented by the Ministry of Education for years, believing that the workshops would lead to a permanent teaching certificate.  I decided to do a formal check on that assumption and it was incorrect. The credits earned from the Ministry Workshops will keep a permanent teaching certificate up-to-date but they will not earn the certificate.

Ms Candi needed to go to college and get a Bachelors Degree in Primary Education.

By way of background, both Ms Candi and Ms Darcel have Associates Degrees in Business. (Ms Candi started at Friends school, way back when, as a secretary and worked her way into a teaching position.)

So Candi and Darcel made a little pact with each other to get their Bachelors degrees. We investigated various possibilities, looked at costs and considered what was available to people who are already working.  Galen University, headquartered in St.Louis, Missouri, has a school here in Belize and a program that satisfies our requirements. Classes can be attended from home via a computer but tests must be taken in person.  Even though the main campus in is Belmopan there is a site here in the city where students can attend class and take the tests.

They took the steps to apply to the program for a Bachelors Degree in Primary Education. I stuck my neck out and paid for the application fee from the Friends School account. Ms Candi and Ms Darcel assure me that they will be able to pay for the rest of the expenses.

Last week Ms Candi and Ms Darcel received their letters of acceptance.  Let’s just say we had a little excitement around the office that day.Galen acceptance

It will be three years of teaching in the daytime and, in the evening, caring for their own children and going to class.  Each class is taught as an intensive which lasts 5-6 weeks. (Classes continue in the summer with a heavier load.)


No one here is naive. We know this is going to be tough.  But it’s do-able and will be a great benefit to the teachers and to the school.