Lorin Smith looks back at the legacy of the Bermuda Technical Institute and why many people believe that the school's closure in 1972 left a void in the Island's education system that has never been filled.
As one of Technical Institute's most respected graduates - "Sprouty was a real down to earth guy, an 'A' student and a gifted athlete and footballer, just a well rounded person," says one former student - Alan Richardson has set a pace of scholastic and professional achievements that is not easily matched or duplicated.
Graduating from Technical Institute with seven GCE 'O' levels passes, the former Bermuda youth soccer team champion went to the then Sixth Form Centre where he obtained an 'A" level in Mathematics. Then, it was on to Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada where he graduated with a first class honours degree in commerce 1973, while being awarded the university medal for achieving the highest academic standing from a graduating class of approzimately 150 students. Returning home armed with a bachelor of Commerce degree, he held a number of jobs with local accountancy firms, eventually securing his Chartered Accountancy qualification in 1975. After running his own accountancy firm for a number of years, he is now senior mamnager of retail banking at the Bank of Bermuda, a position that now makes him the most senior black at the Bank.
Still, for all his accomplishments, Richardson looks back on his tech experience as an invaluable one; a place where he learned important lessons that have equipped him for life's challenges.
"I believe Tech taught us the value of hard work, how to be self-relaint, goal oriented and disciplined. Also, the teachers helped to build self-esteem in people and, as a result of building self-esteem, character which, ultimately determines, I believe, one's long term destiny." he explains.
It was teaching that was directed towards the whole class, whether one was strong academically or not. Everyone was challenged to achieve their best. The teachers built our self-esteem to the point where you felt that you could accomplish just about anything you set your mind to achieve. This, in turn, influenced what you though about yourself, what kind of goals you aspired to achieve and invariably, a lot of guys who came out of tech had long term goals to be an architect, an engineer, something which really meant pursuing continuing education in order to achieve middle management positions in various companies in Bermuda. In fact, a lot of middle management positions in the trades and service industries were fed from Technical Institute."
The value of sports as a character builder was something else that was wholeheartedly encouraged at Technical Institute, Richardson recalls.
"Mr. Crawford, the principal, stressed the importance of there being a balance between academics and sports. He positively encouraged the extra-curricular activities, particularly, if you had a sporting background. Tech had a very proud tradition athletically, whether it was soccer, track and field, cricket or cross country and it was a badge of achievement to get onto one of tech's teams. So you carried that as king of a reputation.
But I believe Mr. Crawfords greatest contribution was in providing an environment where a bunch of guys could come together and address the academic aspects that they were there for, whether it was vocational or otherwise, and really grow and mature as young men with a sense of destiny.
Director of Public Transportation, Herman Basden, one of the first group of students to enter Technical Institute when it opened in 1956, believes that the school provided young males with values which, he claims, are sorely lacking today.
"One thing that is lacking today is that the older boys don't take responsibility for the younger fellas," he recalls. "But that's something that we had at Technical Institute. The older fellows commanded respect, and prefects were real prefects back then. Beleive me, when I was coming along, there would be no such thing as what is presently happening around at the Bus Terminal in hamilton. If there had been any Tech boys around there acting up, although in reality there probably wouldnt have been any because we had too much pride and respect for ourselves, a group of older fellas who were prefects would have gone around there and got it all straightened out, I can assure you."
Basden also speaks fondly of the code of discipline that was practced at the school. "Tech was very strong on uniforms and each morning the students would have to queue up outside the building and have thier uniforms and shoes inspected and then one of the boys would be called upon to read a passage of scripture. That taught us discipline and gave us a healthy respect for authority, something else that is really lacking in schools today."
Why is there such a big problem with our youth today, particularly young males, when it comes to discipline and respect for authority?
"Of course, it goes right back to the home and the parents." Basden states, "But although the parents are ultimately responsible, they can't be with their children 24 hours a day. That's where I believe the school and the teachers can step in and play an important role. These young fellas need positive role models, older fellas who they can look up to right in thier schools and who will look out for them and give them proper direction. I believe, to a large extent, that the people a lot of younger fellas were looking up to, got lost themselves along the way.
"You know, at Tech, we had older boys who the younger fellas admired for their scholastic achievements and for their athletic abilities. In fact, if you were a prefect and were good at sports, you commanded respect."
Basden believes that Technical Institute served another important purpose: providing hope to boys who were otherwise considered not so academically inclined. "The signifant thing about Tech is that it came along at the right time because there were so many other intelligent boys, who didn't go to Berkeley Institute or one of the other academic schools, who were given a chance to excel. It took ordinary people and gave us hope and a sense of purpose.
"Also, we believed in our teachers and our lecturers. They convinced us that we could make something worthwhile out of our lives. I think we all, both teachers and students, had something to prove at Technical and there's no doubt in my mind that, had I not gone to Technical Institute, I wouldn't be the present Director of Transportation." he states emphatically.
"Thats the type of value contribution that school gave to me, as well as to many other young fellas who went there over the years."
They have all gone on to achive varying degrees of success in both their professional and personal lives but back then, Garrett (Punchy) Dill, David Scraders and twins Richard and Robert Calderon were my heroes. Just as kids today "wanna be like Mike (Jordan)", when I was growing up on Glebe Road in the heart of the North Village community, I wanted to play football like these guys.
Our paths first crossed when I was transferred to Prospect Primary School Central as a result of my mother moving the family from Middletown to Glebe Road and, consequently, from out of the Central School Zone.
I got to admire Punchy's dribbling skills, his sheer wizadry with a football, a mini-sized nightmare for opposing defenders; David's aggresive approach to the game and refusal to lose at any cost; and the Calderon twins' fierce determination and tenacity. David and I would have many epic battles in those days as captains of opposing teams at Pig's Field, the place where the fellas' footballing days began.
However, what also made these guys more intriguing and fascinating to me, as a youngster, was the fact that they all opted to attend Technical Institute upon our graduation from primary school.
What made them all decide to go to Technical Institute, I wanted to know?
Explains Dill: "I went to Tech because of my older brothers, Wendell and Shervin. They were always talking about the school and I found what they had to say pretty fascinating. So, I guess it just came naturally."
Robert Calderon, on the other hand, had originally intended to go to Berkely Institute, but changed his mind when his twin brother, Richard decided to go to Technical. "I guess, being twins, I wanted us to stick together. It just made sense at the time"
For David Scraders, there was another real motivating factor that influenced his decision. "I went to Tech because I saw a chance for us to be together again since we all played for Prospect's football team as well as for North Village Community Club. There was a lot of unity amongst us guys, we were all close and I always dreamed that we would end up playing pro football together one day."
Pro football not quite, but they did all go on to become popular and outstanding members of various Tech football teams, the North Village Red Devils and all four went on to represent Bermuda at the senior level.
Along the way, they all attended college at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, where they again excelled as members of that school's soccer team.
Richard Calderon recalls: "Tech always had great sports teams and it was really an honour to represent the school. And, apart from the talented players we always played with at Tech, all four of us had grown up together, playing together at Prospect Primary and with North Village's junior team, but we really learned to play football at Pig's Field. That small field taught you close skills and it was hard just trying to get a kick with so many guys wanting to play."
Apart from its excellent sports and athletic programme, all four remember Technical Institute for its structured and disciplined approach to education.
"The school was very strict and had some of the better teachers in the school system, in my opinion," Robert Calderon explains. "Teachers like Dr. Maxwell, who was a great disciplinarian and a brilliant maths teacher. He was a person who believed in giving detentions and he didn't stand for any nonsense in his classes."
The other guys nod their heads in approval. "The teachers made you want to learn," says Scraders. "They were always well prepared and expected us to do well. It was a real shame when the school closed down, a real shame!" Robert Calderon agrees. "Just look around at places like Cable and Wireless, Bermuda Telephone Company and the Electric Light Company and we will find a lot of former Tech graduates holding down very responsible positions. The school was providing this community with a lot of highly skilled black Bermudian technicians."
Dill, who is a self-employed technician in the construction foeld, points out that he still appreciates the value of the education he recieved at Tech. "The skills I acquired at Tech were invaluable. I see lots of young men entering the construction trade who lack basic knowledge and the basic skills. They have no knowledge of what a sixteenth or a half inch is in terms of measurement - it's real sad. I can honestly say that Tech gave me a good foundation."
Richard Calderon, who is Director of Sales at the Elbow Beach Hotel, recalls that, besides the school's excellent academic and technical curriculum, the teachers were also excellent role models. "There were positive black role models like Mr. Alfred Carey, Mr. Guishard, and Mr. Sweeting. I can remember , back in the 1960s and early 1970s, there were a lot of changes happening in the school system. A Lot of influences were coming into schools, here on the island, like the black movement in the United States and students, particularly blacks, were becoming restless and racial tension was running high, but I really admire Mr. Carey and some of the other teachers for helping to keep us in check and for keeping us focused on our educational goals. I know it couldn't have been easy, but they managed to accompish it."
His brother, Robert, who has held senior Personal Administration positions in the island's hotel industry, says: "Tech made a major difference in my life and provided me with the proper foundation to achieve my life's goals."
Concludes Punchy Dill: "Tech had tradition, a strong prefect system. I can remember walking around one time with my tie unfastened and being apporached by one of the prefects and told to fix it properly right on the spot.
"The teachers espoused achievement and gave us a sense of pride and respect in ourselves. I believe everyone who went to Tech was affected by it."
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