Growing up on the islands means a lot of things, like school time; waking up and putting on your uniform, or your “house” shirt, preparing for BJC exams and bringing your money for snacks or a sandwich from the “tuck shop” (if you didn’t bring your own lunch). Yes, education in the Bahamas is similar to anywhere else in the world, but with our island way of doing things, here are a few of our island school differences.
Unlike some countries where children start school around age six or seven, we place our children into Reception or Pre-Reception when they are four to five. Reception is the year right before first grade, where colors, numbers, the alphabet, are taught. This means that when our children have finished Primary School (Reception to Grade 6), Middle School (Grades 7-9) and then High School (Grades 9-12) they are graduating at 16 or 17 years old.
Because our children start school a little earlier, island children who go to boarding school may repeat a grade, to catch up in age to their new classmates, and this is often why island students take a “gap” year before college or continue one more year of high school in an International Baccalaureate Program. The IB program is an intensive two year study course in Grade 12 plus one more year that thoroughly prepares students for entry level at university or colleges abroad.
All public or private schools in the Bahamas have their own unique uniforms and in fact we can’t remember when this wasn’t done! High school girls must wear a skirt and blouse with above the ankle socks and black flats, while the high school boys wear slacks and a button down shirt with black closed-toe shoes. Blouses and shirts are often embroidered with the school’s logo or initials.
From the day-to-day uniforms, to the sports uniforms, we can all identify which school a student is from just by seeing the uniform. Every Bahamian child remembers school uniform shopping in the summer months, which often involves trips to a seamstress to have uniform skirts or slacks, hemmed, taken in or let out! And what island girl hasn’t grimaced at Mom’s choice of those sturdy black shoes that you were sentenced to for at least a year or until you grew out of them.
Carrying lunch to school is a have to, however, most schools also have what islanders call a tuck shop. Everything from sandwiches to snacks and drinks, even ice cream and candy, is sold in the tuck shop, often being run by someone who has done it for years. There’s nothing more satisfying than finding a few dollars or quarters in your lunch bag and knowing that means extras at the tuck shop.