Routines and Reading
In 1940, when Alphaeus got married to Isabella, books pointed the way forward. They started a family in Scarborough, capital of Tobago, and continued the daily routines he either learnt or improved on at college. Among these were:
- sitting as a family for meals and conversation;
- morning and evening family chapel, or worship, that required reading;
- planting flowerbeds, fruit trees and vegetables;
- family worship, with extended reading and singing on Friday night and
- daily chores cooking, washing, keeping home and yard in order.
Without delay, he opened the world of learning to Florence, his firstborn. Decades earlier, literacy primers opened doors for Adventism in the American South. The same happened in the British West Indies.1 Now, Edson White's Best Stories From The Best Book brought the idea of a better life down to earth. His work helped the newlyweds nurture reading, writing and numeracy skills in their children.
Passers-by noticed something unusual at the Scobie home on Robinson Street. They saw an adult and infants seated on the verandah, each one more or less deciphering part of the daily newspaper.
The scene so impressed Stephanie Shurland, twenty-one-year-old head of the Anglican primary school nearby, that she invited the early readers to school. Ms Shurland would become a leading educator in Trinidad. At the beginning of her career in Tobago, however, she became a lifelong role model for Florence.2 The helpful head start among appreciative Tobagonians was short-lived, however. The bookseller had to move, with his family, under transfer to Trinidad.
Dreams and House Moves
For Florence, moving home proved more frustrating than it was for a “bright” child, also tutored by his father, three decades earlier. Unable to find employment to match his skills, Henry Williams earned wages that were always lower than family expenses. Before his first child reached age twenty-one, the growing family had to move house eight times. In their constant search for low rental housing, they faced the bailiff at least once when they were unable to pay the rental.3
Throughout those house moves, Henry Williams and his wife nurtured a dream of their own. They invested hard-earned cash in extra tuition for their first son. Devout Christians, they made the difficult decision to divert Eric from primary schools and the outstanding college run by their church. Williams’ focus on getting his son into Tranquility Boys, the state’s model school, was farsighted.
That choice, and extra tuition there led to an exhibition for the son of parents barely able to afford housing, let alone secondary schooling. He entered Queens Royal College in Port of Spain, the colony’s prime doorway to further education. A spectacular sequel to this effort brought Henry’s dream close to reality. Two decades after Eric won his exhibition, the state began taking steps to improve provision of schools for children without access to secondary schooling.
The Scobies returned to Trinidad as the state started taking steps to improve provision. Within twenty years, like the Williams, the Scobies would move house in search of low rentals. The Scobie family moved ten times.
To follow his dream, Alpheus, also a devout Christian, moved in the opposite direction from Henry. He did not consider Tranquility Girls model school, but not because of its impossible distance from his home. Instead, to paraphrase Eric Williams, as Alpheus and Isabella disputed their way all over Sangre Grande in search of low-cost housing, they favoured church schooling.
A New School
A logical result followed. Alpheus had found a better life at CTC. Bookselling took him to Tobago, where earlier booksellers introduced work by the author of Best Stories at Moriah, Isabella’s home village. Moriah soon had an Adventist school of its own, after Glamorgan led the way.
These strands of interest blended. In Sangre Grande, Alpheus and Isabella met John Roberts, reassigned there that very year from leading Adventism in Tobago. As a teenager, John had founded Tobago’s first Adventist school at Glamorgan. Unavoidably, Roberts and five Scobie infants boosted the growth of a church school opened three years earlier in Sangre Grande.
Ups and Downs in School
Florence was among the earliest students at the new school housed, typically, in a shed. Three years after it started, local church organisers extended teaching beyond primary, to intermediate level. Consequently, at age eleven, Florence advanced to a curriculum that included Latin, French, Mathematics and Science.
That same year, however, church employers transferred her father to Grenada. In Victoria, she returned to normal primary schooling that led to her entry for local exhibitions. The result confirmed her rapid progression through school in Sangre Grande. She won a coveted exhibition for tuition-free schooling at the best secondary school in the Grenada capital, St. Georges.
Understandably, locals protested. They did not think it was fair for someone from Trinidad and Tobago with its many schools and opportunities to benefit from free schooling intended for Grenadian children. Confronted with refusal of an award his daughter deserved, Alpheus returned home to educate his growing family.
In Trinidad and Tobago, state support for schools was gathering pace. The state recognised Hindu, Moslem and non-established Christian denominational school boards. This recognition benefited Adventism. It promised to stimulate growth in primary schools and improve the quality of provision.
The shed at Sangre Grande took permanent shape, the lower level improved, with new facilities, and extended upstairs. State support led to growing enrolment.4 This favourable development brought new ups and downs for at least one student.
Prospects brightened for Florence when, twenty months of leaving Sangre Grande, the family returned there. However, the intermediate class had moved out of the building that held primary level classes. Her former class upgraded in 1952 into Bates Memorial High School, located at Haran Court Lodge, minutes away from the primary school.
As at other high schools, the cost of education was prohibitive. Secondary school tuition cost as much as $12 per term. And though numbers had improved since the time of Eric Williams, exhibitions were still scarce. Only 236 of 14,000 students (less than 2%) were eligible to attend secondary school on a non-paying basis.((Williams Connell, Erica. “Eric Williams” 28 Nov 1979, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdSTIAPQGMU&t=757s. Accessed 2022-05-03.)) Alphaeus did not have funds to pay for secondary schooling. Therefore, Florence again had to attend primary level classes. Disappointment intensified the ups and downs in her life.
Florence was one of six candidates entered by the new, state recognised Sangre Grande Adventist Elementary for Primary School Leaving examination in 1953. Prospects looked bright for her as the only successful candidate. However, with government funding and attractive, more spacious accommodation, school enrolment was growing fast.
As a capable student and as the eldest girl child of a leading school supporter, Florence found herself committed to ensuring successful operation of the school. One outstanding example of her “helping out” remains clear. A four-year-old who had been at school (much like Florence herself at Scarborough, a decade earlier) suffered serious injury from a fall. Though the infant had to be absent from school for six months, she cannot forget being home schooled. Florence visited her daily to ensure she kept up with schoolwork.
With the approval of her parents, the local church school enlisted its most successful product as a Pupil Teacher, or Teaching Assistant. Alpheus and Isabella could not afford luxuries such as home ownership, secondary education or, for that matter, new clothing. They depended on home-manufactured, or “pre-loved” items. On cue, however, they received full barrels from Tobago-born friends at CTC, the Lionel Brathwaites, then working in the British Virgin Islands. These thoughtful gifts permitted the teenage schoolteacher to dress respectably, while remaining unpaid for three years.5
Florence lived the experience of pioneering founders of church schools that Adventism eventually adopted. For such pioneers, religious zeal meant a struggle to live in minimum comfort as they taught the schools that opened minds to a “newfangled” church.
To amuse her great-aunts, the young pioneer sent them a dollar as a keepsake. That hard-earned dollar mirrored more than a dream.
- See Wiseman, H. “News from Tobago” Review, 1 Apr 1940. 2, for introduction of related material by Jamaican colporteurs at Moriah, Tobago in 1900; for Grenada, see Sweany, W A. “British West Indies,” Review, 25 Oct 1906. 19.
- See Resource below.
- Williams, Eric Eustace. Inward Hunger: The Education of a Prime Minister. 1969. London: Deutsch, 27, cited by Boodhoo, Ken. The Elusive Eric Williams. 2001. Prospect Press, Port of Spain. 37.
- Cf. Dottin, Clive P. “Bates Memorial High School.” Encyclopedia of Seventh-Day Adventists 5 Apr 2022.
- After a third party on the local church school board challenged the default, she received a monthly salary.