This history of the school has been compiled from the newsletters of Francis Wilson.
Identifying the need
Francis and Vernon Wilson came to Belize as volunteer Missioners from the US Episcopal Church. They spent their first five years in Belize City. There Vernon set up a jewelry design and manufacturing program first at the vocational school then at the national prison. Vernon donated all the tools and equipment from his jewelry store in Williamsburg, Virginia where he was a well respected goldsmith and custom order jewelry designer.
Francis volunteered at the Anglican Diocese of Belize office where she worked closely with Mrs. Carol Babb who was the General Manager of Anglican Schools.
Francis & Vernon would holiday on Ambergris Caye. They became concerned at the number of children who were playing on the beach and selling jewelry during school hours. When they asked why this was, they discovered that the existing schools were at capacity and there was no space for more classrooms.
At the same time, Vernon discovered the forgotten neighborhood of San Mateo. There local families were living in a swampy area with no sewage, no roads, no electricity and no hope of change. When he spoke to the Mayor about what was most needed (and expecting the reply to be an infrastructure project), the Mayor requested he open a school.
Working together with Mrs Carol Babb and others in the Anglican Diocese of Belize, land was secured for the school. Our eternal thanks go out to Mrs Carol Babb for her hard work and determination in securing the land. Special thanks also go to Mr. Johney Bricino, the Deputy Prime Minister in the PUP Government of Belize for securing the land deed and title.
Starting to build
Once land was secured building began. Helped came from the local community and also from American and Canadian Mission teams.The Binkley Family made a donation of $30,000 US in memory of their John Harold “Hal” Binkley III. This incredible donation allowed us to build our first three classrooms.
Bishop Phillip Wright named the school “Holy Cross” and in September 2006 just three short months after we received the title, he came and dedicated the school.
The following pictures stories are a brief history of the building of the school, taken from the early newsletters sent by Mrs Francis Wilson. We hope you enjoy reading our story.
In August of 2006 construction began with sinking 6×6 posts into the mangrove swamp. With the help of volunteer mission teams, construction of the school continued.
The school opens
Holy Cross Anglican School officially opened on September 4, 2006 with 80 students in three classrooms. These students started school with no books, furniture or supplies. But, within a short time, volunteers began arriving with books and supplies for the school. Thank you!
Right away, it was noticed that malnutrition was a major problem for most all of the students. A nutrition program was begun that supplied breakfast, a morning snack and full lunch every day. Children who were not in enrolled at Holy Cross kept coming to the school and by October enrollment was up to 100 students.
It was late October before our long awaited and much prayed for desks arrived! All aspects of life at the school improved when the students no longer had to sit on the floor. October was a wonderful month for us, as we got our first pieces of office equipment and completed two bathroom buildings. As part of the nutrition program the children’s heights and weights began to be monitored, a practice which has been continued to the present.
Students start school with no desks
October 2006 – 100 children are now learning to read, write, add, subtract and prepare for a meaningful life – breaking the cycle of poverty. On October 22nd our long awaited and prayed for DESKS arrived. With the arrival of the desks, teaching, learning, classroom management and lunch time improved. Also, our long awaited bathrooms are now ready. A small copy machine was purchased for the office.
November 2006 – The Government of Belize notified us that they will pay the salaries of our 4 teachers. We began construction on 2 new classrooms. One classroom has become the home to our second class of Infant 1 students.
December 2006 – Saturday Dec 16 found us on a 3 week clean up, fix and finish of all the projects that we haven’t had time to finish. Best of all we began construction of the new school kitchen/ canteen/ temporary church building.
2007 – 2008 School Year
300 students are now enrolled in Holy Cross School. Seven more classrooms and a school office / health clinic will be built prior to opening of school in September of 2007. We hope to have an enrollment of 350 students by then. We will offer three Infant 1 Kindergarten classes, two Infant II first grade classes , two Standard I second grade and one class each for Standard II, III, IV,V and VI. Our goal is to provide an education of all children unable to attend other schools due to lack of space or financial constraints. In February, electricity arrived at Holy Cross. It only took seven months to connect, but that is pretty fast for Belize.
The first volunteer mission team arrived at Holy Cross from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Durham NC. Under the leadership of John Willard, the team contributed time, talent and treasure to students, staff and local communities. They completed work on the sixth classroom and began work on the school chapel/cafeteria.
Miss Rosita Miguel, from Belize City, spent the day at Holy Cross and provided hands on training for our teachers. Only one of our teachers had secondary school training specifically in education so we needed lots of guidance. Friends and volunteers from San Pedro and the world beyond made many of our memorable moments possible.
Shortly before the school year ended, enrolment was at 170 students. The students have been learning to read, write, do arithmetic, among other things like learning The Lord’s Prayer, washing hands before each meal and saying please and thank you. A school nurse had been hired. Her responsibilities were endless and she has made an invaluable contribution to the health and well being of the students. The teachers were being taught sign language because two deaf students were enrolled.
Work was begun on the School Office/ Nurse’s Office/Infirmary and future dental clinic and storage room. Dr. Mark Johnson and his wife Joan offered to spearhead the setting up of a small dental clinic at the school. This will insure that our students receive dental care several times a year and that other children in the community can be cared for, free of charge. A friends of Holy Cross group sponsored a fundraiser. They raised almost $10,000 to purchase desperately needed land fill.
Construction was to begin on a five classroom pod which would house the Infant I and Infant II classes next fall. When this project is complete, construction will begin on the remaining three classrooms needed before the fall classes begin. Plans for the upcoming 2007-2008 school year call for Holy Cross to become a full Primary school offering classes from Infant I through Standard VI ( K-7). Our projected enrolment would more than likely double. The school was working on a plan for teachers and staff to have First Aid training, Fire Safety, and Hurricane Evacuation.+-A professional/career day is planned as well as a music and art appreciation day. The new school dental clinic is just about finished.
Discussion is under way with Christopher Newport University, Virginia regarding their setting up and funding a teacher training program and a marine biology study/training facility adjacent to Holy Cross. This would be a fabulous resource for the entire nation of Belize.
August – Teachers are back to school for teacher training. They are taking classes at the school and in Belize City to upgrade their skills.
Hurricane Dean – The school survived Hurricane Dean. The classrooms are ok and there was no leaks or water damage. Some landfill was lost and 1/2 of a septic system that was to be installed in the Office. The Hurricane did set construction back a week and now it’s a race to get everything done for the Sept 11th first day of school.
September – On September 11 by the grace of God and the incredible support of our friends locally and throughout the world, Holy Cross opened after dodging two category 5 Hurricanes. We now have 462 students enrolled for the new school year, 15 classrooms, a Chapel/cafeteria, School office/Infirmary, Dental Outpost, 16 teachers, a Principal and Vice Principal, a school nurse/counsellor and an office manager/bookkeeper.
The school continues to provide a protein rich breakfast with milk, mid morning fresh fruit snack and a full nutritious lunch at no cost to all the students. In addition, our youngest children receive a multi-vitamin daily. Students who cannot afford back packs, shoes, uniforms, socks and underwear receive these needed items and all basic school supplies free of cost. Our school nurse provides basic health care, screening and counselling. She promptly refers our students with more serious problems to the local Health Clinic, arranges home visits with social workers and even meets with local officials – all in an effort to promote a healthy, safe environment for our children.
Holy Cross Anglican School is indeed a beacon of hope to many families in San Pedro. Last week over 280 students and their families jammed the little Chapel to worship together and offer prayers of thanksgiving. The government of Belize pays for teacher salaries. Everything else (construction costs, feeding program, transportation, lad fill, uniforms, school supplies, school nurse, water, gas, electricity, telephone, field trips, medical expenses , bookkeeper/office manager, resource material, etc.) depends in great measure on donations and prayers of support. The Government of Belize has undertaken to provide free textbooks to all students this year. Unfortunately we are still awaiting delivery of these books.
Our wonderful Feeding Program is also incredibly expensive. The current cost estimate is 2US per child per day which amounts to $1,000 per week. Salaries for the school nurse and office manager are $375US per week, Utilities are running around $1,500US per month. The school incurred almost $7,000US in expenses for two cater 5 hurricanes.
Holy Cross needs additional bathrooms ($30,000US), a computer room and computers (at least $25,000US), a playground, a high speed copy machine, furnishing for our infirmary.
Construction costs for building 9 new classrooms, expansion of the school kitchen and cafeteria area ran almost $l00,000 US. With the help of volunteer mission teams this pas summer and their financial contributions, the current debt is $60,000 US. The school had to purchase 300 new student desks, 12 teacher desks, 9 large bookshelves, 10 tables and so many chairs. Total costs of furniture were$7,000 US. And then there were brooms, trash cans, dust pans, water holder, cups, plates, spoons, fans, poster board…
Land fill, our continuing nightmare, is costing $70 US per truckload (7 cubic yards of sand). We lost some of the headway we made through erosion during the recent hurricanes. We need tons of fill under the new classrooms (Ministry of Education is NOT happy with classrooms in the water).
It was standing room only at the Sunday service at Holy Cross today. The kids and parents had the opportunity to meet Miss Grace the new school principle.
The last few months have been hard. First the was Hurricane Dean, then Hurricane Felix, the erosion of our precious landfill, the torrential rains, then days of the highest tides in recent memory, textbooks that didn’t arrive and then the MUD, thick, sink to your knees mud, then LICE, on hundreds of heads.
An incredible moment occurred on Sunday, November 18, 2007 when Bishop Philip Wright welcomed 31 folks into the Kingdom of God at the first Anglican Baptism service in San Pedro. Numerous students from Holy Cross along with several parents and younger siblings, received the Sacrament of Baptism.
2008 – Two volunteer Audiologists are testing the students for possible hearing problems. Several students were fitted with hearing aids and a few had major ear infections.
Construction has begun on the Computer and Library.
Computer Teacher – the Ministry of Education finally approved the salary for a designated Computer Teacher. Our computer lab will now be filled with students anxious to learn the incredible new technology. In all, hundreds of people through the nation of Belize and the world, contributed their time and talents to make this miracle a reality. The 513 students of Holy Cross will be blessed for years to come by this incredible educational facility.
Holy Cross March against HIV/AIDS – Valiant chants of “protect yourself, be careful and abstain” echoed through the streets as students from Holy Cross took to the streets for the fight against HIV/AIDS. The students held posters promoting safe sex and ways to protect yourself.
The dental clinic is looking good. All the students have been seen at least once and more if needed. The school has noticed an increase in health and well-being as a result. There also has been an increase in heights and weights due to the feeding program. The children are growing at a more normal rate and although some are still on the low end of the scale, they are continuing to show improvement.
Celebrating – We just learned that John Willard of St. Luke’s, Durham, NC received approval of a grant request on behalf of Holy Cross. Through his efforts, Holy Cross will receive $22,500US towards the construction of the Computer/Lab/Library.
Rejoicing – Today we found out that 77% of our Standard VI students passed the mandatory National Primary School Exam. The national average pass rate is 43%.
So much has gone in our second year. 22 students just celebrated their Graduation Day. Our Valedictorian was a boy who was heading down the wrong path and now is headed in a better direction. There is a scholarship program in place and the top students will be offered a scholarship so they can continue their education. In exchange, they will work Saturdays at school to give back to their community and learn life skills.
In an effort to protect the environment, several school on the Island are joining together to encourage the community to make reusing and recycling a part of San Pedro’s education system. The goal is to jump start reusing and recycling on Ambergris Caye by having some people talk to the students about it’s importance. In the new school year, plans is to have the students use clean recycled products in their arts and craft projects.
A mission from the states was busy working on the computer lab, framing out the soon to be library, putting up hurricane shutters, painting around the school, and helping with summer school classes.
We are involved with the Minister of Education in setting up a college course for teachers using our new computer lab to help them obtain their Associate Teachers Degree. There are plans to build Catogory 5 hurricane shelter in the future. We also have plans to build a health post and child counselling center. to be opened in Sept. We are the only school in the country with a totally free dental post for children and a full time nurse on staff. Our recent graduates have completed the mandatory summer school as part of the enrollment process for San Pedro High School.
We are celebrating the arrival of 40 new Dell Computers, several printers, projectors and all the pieces and parts necessary to put together a state of the art computer lab. Thirty-two volunteers from St Matthew’s in Pacific Palisades, CA will be here to oversee the instillation and set up of the computer lab. We are also celebrating the arrival of precious school supplies, tennis shoes, BOOKS, uniform shirts and pants, etc, etc, etc…
We now have 500 students registered for the start of school in Sept and have turned down over 200 due to lack of space. There is a great need for good affordable education on the island and we will strive our best to supply it to our children.
To be continued…. read more of our school history in the old school blog.