This article was taken from our archives. It first appeared in The Bermudian in 1985. It appears here exactly as it did originally.
To many Bermudians, Howard Academy is a forgotten chapter in the history of secondary education in these islands. After all, almost 20 years have passed since the unique institution was forced to close its doors for lack of government financial assistance.
Yet, for 20 years, Howard Academy filled a significant void in the community by providing its students with a special educational experience they probably could not have received anywhere else. For those who were fortunate enough to have shared that experience, the memory of Howard lives on. It is a cherished, though sometimes painful memory of a school, a shortage of teachers and inadequate facilities struggling to survive. Eva Robinson, a former teacher who spent twelve years at the school remembers: “Funding was a constant concern,” she recalls, “and it was a continuous struggle simply to keep the school operating so that the children could receive an adequate education.”
In order to appreciate Howard’s struggle for survival, and its quest for recognition, it is imperative that one understands the social and educational conditions that gave rise to its existence.
Bermuda, in the early 1940s, was a deeply segregated society, and higher educational opportunities for black children were extremely limited. At that time, those children who failed to gain admission to Berkeley Institute had Sandy’s Secondary as the only alternative, so for most black children, further education was more a dream than a reality, unless of course, their parents could afford to send them abroad to school.
The late educator, Victor Fitzgerald Scott, writing in the May 24, 1965 edition of The Bermuda Sun, stated: “One cannot help recalling the time, some twenty years ago, when between 130 to 140 children used to seek admittance to the Berkeley Institute, and only between 40 and 50 were accepted, leaving about 90 of them disappointed and frustrated. Some of the children who failed to gain entry to the Berkeley Institute were accepted to Sandy’s Secondary; the others had to do without further education. It was this situation which gave birth to Howard Academy.”
Howard Academy, or Skinner’s School, as it was called initially, was founded by an elderly English headmaster, Mr Edwin T. Skinner in 1944. Although retired from the teaching profession, he was approached by a number of concerned parents and asked to tutor their children. Originally starting with six students in his home, Skinner later moved the school to a building on Jubilee Road in Devonshire. Although it was only a one-room building, Mr Skinner and his assistant, Mr Braxton Burgess, taught separate classes by dividing the children into younger and older groups.
Bermuda Industrial Union President, Mr Ottiwell Simmons, one of the first group of students to attend school at the new premises, remembers those early days.
“Eight to ten of us, both boys and girls, used to sit on wooden benches around one raw wooden table and do our lessons,” he recalls, adding that in addition to their schoolwork, they were also responsible for maintaining the school premises. In retrospect, Mr Simmons, who spent two terms at the school after failing to secure admission to Berkeley Institute, felt that the school had provided him with much needed inspiration. “Both Mr Skinner and Mr Burgess inspired us towards learning, towards morality and respect for others, and we were also encouraged to be good citizens of the community.” Commenting further, Mr Simmons added: “That man should be honoured for the contribution he made to education in our island. As far as I know, his was the first school that was open to all people regardless of race, and although it was looked on a relegation school, it had high standards and everyone had had high expectations to achieve. Furthermore, both Mr Skinner and Mr Burgess presented us with a fine example of two people working to get in racial harmony.
Another student who attended Skinner’s during the early stages was P.L.P. organizer, Mr Roosevelt Brown. He remembers Mr Skinner as “a very old fellow who was conscientious of people trying to learn.” He recalled one particular experience which had a profound impact upon him while he was a student at the school. “We had been having a series of discussions about Africa in our geography class and Mr Skinner, in order to increase our knowledge of the topic, invited Mr Mark Albuoy and another gentleman to come and share their experiences with us as they had both recently visited the African continent.” Mr Brown felt that that was really extraordinary, as students were rarely exposed to any type of positive information about Africa and her people. This, he explained, was just one of the many ways in which Mr Skinner demonstrated his dedication as an educator.
“It was also during that time when Mr Brown was a student at Skinner’s that the school’s name was changed to Howard Academy. This was done, surprisingly enough, by the students themselves. Nodding slightly and breaking into a smile, Mr Brown explains: “One afternoon, while a group of us were sitting around having lunch, we decided that we were tired of the name Skinner’s School. However, none of us could think of another name. We thought of a few names of black schools in the United States which we were familiar with like Howard University and Morgan Sate, but we still couldn’t settle on a name. While we were discussing the matter, Howard Joyiens pulled the plaits of a girl named Betty Sherlock. She turned around and said to him ‘Behave, Howard’ and suddenly the thought occurred that Howard would be a good name since we had about five boys with that name at the time – Howard Joyiens, Howard Flood, Howard Dill, Howard Lee, and another boy named Howard Joynes. After choosing the name, we tossed around ideas as to whether we should call the school Howard College. Finally, we arrived at Howard Academy, and we approached Mr Skinner with the idea and he gave his consent. From that point on, the school was known as Howard Academy.”
With the death of Mr Skinner in May of 1951, Howard Academy entered a new era with the appointment of Mr Edward DeJean as principal. A Canadian by birth, Mr DeJean first arrived in Bermuda in 1948 and worked as an electrician at Masters Ltd. A tough disciplinarian, by his own admission, he, along with the cooperative parents, teachers and students, transformed Howard Academy into a vibrant, academic institution that attracted the attention of the public with its innovative, yet serious approach to education.
In many ways, this approach was necessary for the personal development and self-esteem of the students. Many had entered Howard labeled as non achievers, slow starters with behavioural problems – students who were unable to gain entrance either to Berkeley or Sandys’ Secondary. With the tools of motivation and encouragement, DeJean created an environment where students felt challenged to achieve.
Kenneth Richardson, Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet, and a former pupil of Mr DeJean’s, elaborates: “The school gave us a sense of self-worth. Many of us had come from backgrounds and situations in which we needed to have that sense instilled in us. Mr DeJean taught us to have confidence in ourselves and made us aware that with limited resources so much could be accomplished.”
A sensitive and deeply compassionate man, Edward DeJean was able to empathise with the emotional needs of his students. He asserts: “Our kids at Howard were never devalued or humiliated. We tried to inspire them and give them hope. Of course, when the need arose, we had to discipline them. However, I have found in my experience with teaching, that once kids are motivated, there is no real discipline problem. At Howard, we entrusted our kids with a certain amount of responsibility. We taught them and then taught them to teach each other. Our kids were not taught to grandstand, but to serve. Emphasis was placed upon these three things – service, industry and integrity. We expected our children to achieve,” he declared.
Mr DeJean’s wife, Marian, who taught at Sandys Secondary from 1949 to 1963 and who, according to her husband, has been teaching since she was sixteen, agrees. “Howard was an educational experiment where students had an opportunity to talk and release their creative ability. It was a process of motivation and modeling where confidence was expressed in the ability of the children.”
The opportunity that was given to express one’s ideas, and the self-confidence that developed as a result of Mr DeJean’s motivation, are two aspects of the educational process at Howard that are still most vividly remembered by Hubert “Governor” Preece, another of DeJean’s former pupils. “Some of our class periods were open discussions in which we would express our ideas and opinions on various topics and issues of the day. Although he was our teacher, DeJean allowed us to challenge him and this gave us that confidence to believe we could take on anyone.”
Preece recalled one particular occasion when a group of police officers visited the school to speak to the students. After a vigorous question and answer session, one of the policeman asked Mr DeJean: “What kind of children do you have here? All the other schools we visited hardly any of the children asked any questions, but this is quite the lively bunch!” Chuckling, Preece added that this was an example of the type of self-confidence the students had developed as a result of being allowed to express their views during class discussions.
Reflecting on his days at Howard, DeJean, who is now the Administrator-at-Large for the Department of Education, pointed out that the staff and parents deserve much of the credit for whatever success the school may have enjoyed. He recalled, with admiration, how various parents, even after their own children had left the school, would assist with fund-raising activities in order that other children could receive the benefit of an education. One such person was Premier Swan’s mother. “Even after John had left the school, Mrs Swan would be there helping out in whatever way she could,” he states, adding that such dedication, on the part of various parents, made the whole experience at Howard richly rewarding.
Since Government had refused to give the school official recognition, providing only an annual grant of one thousand pounds, additionally funds were raised from bake sales, dance hops, bazaars and other social functions to pay the teachers and to meet other expenses. In the words of Kenneth Richardson: “Howard Academy made dance hops popular in this country. We used them to raise funds to pay the teachers.”
One teacher whom Mr DeJean feels is worthy of special recognition is Eva Robinson, who, in his words, “gave 12 years of continued, dedicated service.”
Eva Robinson taught at Howard Academy from 1953 until the school closed in 1965. When she started at Howard, the school was still located at Jubilee Road and she had the responsibility of teaching 29 girls between the ages of eleven and 18. No doubt, this was quite a responsibility considering the limited space in the one room building.
As the student enrollment increased, other accommodations had to be found. The Department of Education offered the use of a building on the site of the Bermuda Technical Institute. Yet these accommodations soon proved insufficient and the Governing Body of the school purchased an old wooden building from Dockyard which was dismantled, transported and re-erected on Government land by the students, with the assistance of Mr DeJean, the Governing Body, parents and other volunteers from the community. Mr DeJean remembers a Mr Harold Smith making his truck available to transport the 35 loads of material from Dockyard to the Technical Institute!
With the completion of the new building, conditions were a little more bearable, although there were only three teachers at that time. In order to cope with this situation, a tape recorder was used to tape lectures for the students. Miss Robinson explains how this was done: “We had one big building which was divided by folding doors and the rooms were subdivided into four classes. After assembly, the folding doors were replaced and we would place a tape recorder, on which the teachers had taped lectures, in one of the classes. After the tape had finished, the teacher would go back into the class and discuss the lecture with the students. Mr DeJean would tape geography, I would sometimes tape English Literature and Mrs DeJean would also use some of her material from Sandys. That is how we managed to cope with the four classes, although we only had three teachers at the time,” she said, smiling.
As far as her overall impression of life at Howard was concerned, Eva Robinson fells that it was a worthwhile experience. “My overall impression was one of struggle,” she asserts, “however, it was never dull as there was always something interesting in the making. We were trying to the best of our ability to provide an academic education for the children. At Howard, the children and teachers were more relaxed and this, no doubt, aided the students in their learning experience. We really pushed the children to achieve,” she added reflectively.
While discussing the attitudes of children, during that period, towards their education, and the role parents played in shaping those attitudes, Miss Robinson declared: “Parents did impress upon their children the importance of getting an education, but since the parents were spending money for their children’s schooling, the children’s attitudes were difficult to the children of today. Apart from today’s children, who have a free and compulsory education, the children then recognized the significance of education to their advancement.”
According to Mr and Mrs. DeJean, Miss Robinson could often be found, sometimes up until six p.m., assisting students with their lessons at the school. In addition to teaching, she performed secretarial duties such as typing correspondence and keeping records.
If there had been one sad note to her experience at Howard, it has been the news from the Department of Education that the twelve years she spent teaching at the school are not pensionable because Howard was considered a private institution, operating outside of the Government secondary school system.
In addition to the school’s educational system, Howard’s reputation was enhanced by the soccer programme that Mr DeJean put together. Although he had never played soccer as a youngster whilst growing up in Canada, and really had no knowledge of the sport when he first arrived in Bermuda, DeJean, through hard work and determination, equipped himself with the necessary skills to become an official F.A. coach. Placing a tremendous emphasis on training and metal preparation, he developed Howard’s soccer team into the most feared team in the school system. The team developed into such a force to be reckoned with in school soccer, that one particular headmaster didn’t want his school team to play against them because he felt they were good as professionals.
Indeed, Mr DeJean did adopt a professional approach to the game and he encouraged his players to do likewise. He studied the training techniques of various professional teams and he often took along his boys to watch the training sessions of different British teams that visited the Island. Incorporating much of what he observed into the team’s practice sessions, he stressed to his players the importance of “out-thinking” their opponents. As Kenneth Richardson remembers: “He taught us to play the game with our brain rather than our brawn.”
Although the team had developed into a recognised soccer power, even beating such men’s teams as the Wellington Rovers and the Pembroke Juniors, playing soccer, or sports for that matter, never became simply an end within itself. “Soccer,” Mr DeJean recalls, “was always a means to an end. I saw the value in soccer as a means of building character and self-confidence in the boys. I tried to stress to the kids that if sports could create within them such dedication and commitment, then how much more should they be committed to getting an education to equip themselves to take their place in society.”
As a result of their success in the school soccer program, the team decided to stick together and form a league team. Picking up a number of players from Berkeley Institute like Arnold Todd, the young men formed Devonshire Colts, a popular and formidable force in local soccer circles. Some of the players to come through that programme were former national soccer coach, Carlton “Peppy” Dill, Leroy “Nibs” Lewis, Cecil Durham, Alex Romeo, jr., Del Trott, Arnold Todd and Onslow Grant.
In 1958, Howard Academy was told that the grant it had been receiving from Government would be cut off but, as a result of the arguments of various M.P.s, the grant was continued. However, in June of 1959, the Board of Education argued against the school, stating that since there were more secondary schools in operation, there was no longer any need for Howard Academy.
Five years later, on June 22, 1964, a letter was sent to Mr Erskine Dyer, the acting secretary of Howard Academy, from the then Director of Education, Mr D. J. Williams, stating: “…the Board of Education was prepared to forward a request to the Legislature for a supplementary grant of three thousand pounds to cover the school’s operating deficit for the years 1963/64 and to include in the Department of Education’s Estimates for 1965 a sum sufficient to operate the school until 31st August 1965, provided that the Governing Body agrees to the following conditions” one of which was “the school will go out of being at the end of the summer team 1965, when sufficient space will be available in Government Secondary Schools to accommodate pupils of Howard Academy wishing to continue their secondary education.”
At the end of the summer term of 1965, Howard Academy closed its doors for the last time. An important era in the history of secondary education in Bermuda had come to an end. A school, which had for so long waged a courageous battle against the odds, had finally been laid to rest. So ended a dream; a unique period in the Bermuda schooling system that may never be seen or experienced again.
Premier John Swan, in recollecting his experience at that historic institution, and describing the influence that Mr DeJean had had upon him, made these comments: “Edward DeJean presented a symbol of hope to all of us. He challenged us to think, to explore the world around us. He taught us to be disciplined, and to respect discipline. But, most of all, he taught us by example and many of us sought to emulate him. Whatever he was then, he remains today. As far as Howard Academy is concerned, it has put a stamp on us that no matter what our political affiliation, we are first and foremost, ex-Howard Academites. If you can understand that, you will be able to understand the type of impact Mr DeJean has had on all of us.”