Grand Bahama News

East GB children still waiting for schools

McLean’s Town school opening postponed; new High Rock school still on the drawing board

Four years after Hurricane Dorian, residents of East Grand Bahama are still waiting for schools in the area to reopen while families are forced to drive daily to and from Freeport, move closer, or send their children to stay in the city.

All four schools in East Grand Bahama – East End Preschool, East End Primary School, McLean’s Town Junior High School, and Sweeting’s Cay All-Age School – were damaged by the hurricane, remained in a state of disrepair during COVID and were condemned by the Ministry of Education in 2021.

According to the 2022 preliminary Census of Population and Housing, there are 4,612 households in the area.

Member of Parliament for East Grand Bahama Kwasi Thompson said the postponements have been upsetting for his constituents.

“The parents who’ve been calling me have been very distressed up until this very school year,” he said.

“They’ve been asking when is the government going to be able to open schools again and when are their children going to be accommodated, particularly the ones in Sweeting’s Cay and High Rock.”

In 2021, $7 million in funding was allocated to build an all-age school in High Rock that would double as a hurricane shelter, however, Thompson said that construction was paused due to the election.

“If the Minnis administration had continued, its construction would have started in 2021,” he said.

“However, the construction was halted, and the current government took a different approach this year as they decided to renovate McLean’s Town Junior High School.”

Ministry of Education District Superintendent for Grand Bahama and Bimini Ivan Butler noted that the renovations are almost complete although the roof still leaks.

He said, “We initiated recourse to rectify that challenge, and we are very pleased with the progress that we’ve made. We anticipate that the school should be ready for January in a month or so.”

Bulter said the school’s floors were retiled, metal roofing with additional hurricane straps and hurricane impact windows were installed, the bathrooms repaired, and the walls remediated.

“We are also repairing the sea wall that was damaged out there as a safety measure for our students. In terms of utilities, furniture, and staff, we are confident we have everything we need to operate the school,” he said.

When asked why the previously condemned high school was repaired instead of being rebuilt, Butler explained that the external foundation remained intact after the storm.

Thompson and Butler also said the plans for a new all-age school in High Rock were revived.

Though unable to give specifics, Butler said, “The contract was negotiated between the Ministry of Education and a private contractor. The Ministry of Education can tell you that a site has been identified for the new school and plans have been drawn. We hope that its construction will be in the not too distant future.”

Thompson and Butler admitted there is concern about the effect on the academic success of the area’s students.

Butler stated, “The Ministry of Education has a learning loss recovery program so we can mitigate some of the cases where our students … missed a year or two. We’re trying our best to find out where our students are now through a series of tests that’ll give us the information to best address this issue.”

East Grand Bahama Chief Councilor Marcus Cooper and Sweeting’s Cay Deputy Chief Councilor Neceva Roberts insisted the East Grand Bahamian students are resilient and said having to move to Freeport schools has had some benefits.

Cooper said, “On the positive side, they get to meet new people, gain new friends, and better cope socially since they’re in a bigger environment.”

However, both councilors said they would prefer that the East Grand Bahama schools reopen.

Roberts noted, “Some of the parents have to send their children to Freeport and find money to keep them there. Sometimes, things would get rough, and they’d have to bring them back.”

Cooper said the new combination school and hurricane shelter is much needed.

“There’s no adequate shelter here because of the low-lying areas of East Grand Bahama, so the all-age school would bring some relief to the residents,” he said.

“Students would be able to participate in extracurriculars without worrying about the long travel back. Also, there’d be additional economic activity happening in that area.”

He explained that local laborers could be used in the new school’s construction while the potential job opportunities could attract more professionals.

Roberts also said a school is still needed in Sweeting’s Cay as students sometimes miss classes due to inclement weather and traveling back and forth to the main island could prove dangerous for younger children.

“I still worry about the next generation coming up. They’re going to need a kindergarten and a grade one class. It’s going to be a challenging time for them,” she said.

Thompson said that the east end also needs a preschool.

“Having a school in the community deepens connections within a community. It’d be beneficial for not just the students but for all the community,” he said.

“These kids had their entire lives devastated, gone, uprooted. Their family members … passed away because of Dorian. A lot of them … lost their homes. It was an unimaginable time for these kids. They all deserve something to return to – a bit of normalcy, a bit of hope.”

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