The year 2020 has been a difficult time for students and schools on St. Martin. Schools were quickly closed for safety. Classes moved online when students, teachers and parents were not prepared for it. There was confrontation when police were sent to shut down a private school that reopened in the fall. The border closure has prevented students and teachers from crossing the border from their home to their school.
Though this is an exceptional year, many of these educational anomalies are not entirely new to St. Martin. Back in the day, many students would walk to the most accessible school, regardless of the border. Students in French Quarter headed south to Philipsburg rather than circle the northern part of the island to get to Marigot.
Correspondence courses were the virtual learning of the analog era. On St. Martin, both youth and adults took classes by mail to learn subjects or trades that weren’t taught on island. This remote learning often empowered local people who didn’t have the resources to study abroad.
This year, many students will miss out on some or all of their education. There are students without devices, without internet connections and without a quiet place to study. This also echoes the past. During much of the last century, St. Martiners went abroad to find work. This often put stress on families, prompting older children to leave school to take care of their younger brothers and sisters.
Looking back at some of the photographs of school life on St. Martin, we can get a feel for the changes in education. Zooming in on an image of a one room school in the early 1940s, we see students lined up in front with a range of emotions on their faces. The teacher is mostly hidden in the doorway.
A particularly cinematic photo from around 1950 shows a teacher leaning over to help a young student. Behind them, a shingle roof and palm tree are framed by an arched window. In the foreground, a student lies face down on a chair. The walls of the room are bare.
A classroom photo from around 1990 is suddenly much closer to what one might see today, if school was in session. There are fluorescent lights and posters on the walls. There are desks in rows instead of shared benches. The blackboard is perhaps the biggest giveaway. Today it is likely replaced by a whiteboard, digital whiteboard or projector screen.
There are relatively few images of school life on St. Martin over the years, but the ones that we have can bring back memories. Recording memories of school can help preserve this important part of life on the island.
What are your memories of school in St. Martin? Share it by sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org or to The Daily Herald.