Teacher Retirement, Island Style

Well, it’s been 2 years since I officially retired from teaching. But it seems that I just can’t get it out of my blood.

Not long after we settled into our new apartment on the tiny Caribbean island of Caye Caulker, Belize I went down to the local high school to see if they could use any of my “expertise”. After all, I do have a very special set of skills. 🙂

But first, let me tell you about the education system in Belize. Education in Belize is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 14 years for primary education. That is, it is compulsory until a child either finishes Standard 6 (the 8th year of school, but not exactly equal to 8th grade in the US) or turns 14, whichever comes first. In 2001, 93.2 percent of children ages 5 to 14 years were attending school. Let’s turn that around, almost 7% of children ages 5 to 14 were NOT attending school. That is at least in part because of the expense. Belize says that primary education is free, but there are still expenses; school fees, uniforms, books, school supplies and transportation. So considering the expense and the fact that students are not required to attend high school, it is not surprising to learn that 50% of the youth of Belize do not earn a high school diploma. FIFTY PERCENT!

Now let’s go back to Caye Caulker. Caye Caulker is really just a fishing village. Yes, it is a popular tourist destination (or at least it was before Covid-19), but the Belizeans who live here are villagers, just trying to scrape by. And up until 2008, there was not a high school on the island. Families who wanted their children to go to high school had to send them to the main land by way of a 45 minute boat ride. And if they could not afford to do that, then their children never attended high school.

Then came 3 loving, dedicated people who wanted to make a change in their small part of the world. Heidi Curry, Joni Miller and Dane Dingerson came together to found Ocean Academy High School. They started with just 10 students that first year and in the fall of 2019 the student body had grown to 133 students (1330% growth!)

Let’s talk about education in Belize again… high school is NOT free. The government only pays a portion of the operating expenses. And I mean the very most basic of the operating expenses, not all of the extra stuff that we are used to having in our classrooms in the United States. The rest of the funding is usually collected in the form of student fees. But the founders of Ocean Academy knew that many of the children here on Caye Caulker still would not be able to attend high school if the student fees were high. So they started fundraising and they initiated Social Enterprise (a blog on Social Enterprise at OAHS coming soon) so that student fees could be kept as low as humanly possible. Additionally, they seek sponsors for individual students and scholarships are available. The goal is to make high school accessible to ALL of the teens on Caye Caulker.

And THAT is how I’m enriching my life in retirement, by contributing in a small way to this wonderful little island high school. I invite you to come visit. Especially my teacher friends from the states. You will go back to your classroom with a whole new appreciation of what you have available to you there.

If you would like to sponsor a student at Ocean Academy, visit this site.
Or message me. I would love to tell you all about Ocean Academy High School. ❤

1 Comment

  1. Ms. Penny….From 1 educator to another…You are a tireless, creative, generous contributor to Ocean Academy and the island of Caye Caulker in countless amazing ways. I look forward to reading your periodic blog entries and viewing your wonderful photos.

    Liked by 1 person

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