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Berkeley Institute: a school built with ‘grit and determination’

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Respice Finem: Steve Smith, chairman of Berkeley Institute’s programmes and legacy committee, left, with Anika DeShields, deputy chairwoman of the Berkeley Educational Society; Keisha Douglas, school principal, and Marva Bridgewater, secretary of the Berkeley Educational Society (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The “grit and determination” leading to the opening of the Berkeley Institute almost 125 years ago is the living legacy in its students now, according to school principal Keisha Douglas.

An array of commemorations culminates in 2023 at the Pembroke school, whose founders fought nearly two decades for the financing to open the island’s first integrated place of learning in 1897.

Celebrations, which opened with a September 6 reception for alumni and friends, come to their next round on October 16 with a praise and thanksgiving service at St Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Hamilton.

The Royal Gazette met with Ms Douglas and members of the planning committee in the school’s newest work in progress – a history room highlighting Berkeley from its opening in a schoolhouse on Court Street to the modern day.

Ms Douglas, who took the helm in 2017, said: “One of the biggest things we share with students is grit and determination – keeping the end in view.

“The founding fathers met regularly for 18 years, with no school in sight, before the school opened.”

Cheryl-Ann Griffin, of the school’s programmes and legacy committee, added: “Money was designated for the school. But the founders insisted they wanted an integrated school.

“At the time, schools could only be segregated. The founders determined they would do it on their own.”

While the school has remained “an icon in the Black community”, Ms Griffin pointed to Berkeley Institute’s diversity today in keeping with the founding vision.

Although marking a 125th anniversary comes with special meaning, Ms Douglas said that keeping pupils and their families conscious of the Berkeley legacy was integral to life each year at the school.

“Each year, in addition to the opening of the school, every September 6 we celebrate our history, and the founders of our school in the third week of October every years.”

Work in progress: The Berkeley Institute History Room, which opens formally next May (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Students take notes during the ceremonies for class projects on the 11 founders.

Ms Douglas said the school spirit among Berkeleyites was “unique”.

She recalled, after attending Berkeley as a student and working 20 years as an educator, being seconded to serve as principal of Clearwater Middle School.

Pupils there who were unaware of the school song had all the pride of “a mini Berkeley” by the end of her East End tenure, Ms Douglas said.

“That pride in your school song and colours is a concerted effort we make from the time a young person and their family registers for Berkeley,” Ms Douglas said.

“They spend a day with us and they leave knowing the motto, the mission. They are still middle schoolers when it starts.”

That motto, Respice Finem or “keep the end in view”, is quickly learnt – and a youngster’s assignment into either of the school’s two “houses”, green or gold, is decided in part by where previous family members were placed.

Ms Douglas said the school welcomes newcomers, or “first-generation Berkeleyites”.

But at every major event possible, Berkeley alumni come to speak “so students can see what they could become – they go as close as five years out of the school”, she added.

“Every chance we get, we bring back Berkeleyites, and we keep it going.”

School events always come with the Berkeley song, she said, which is “synonymous with who we are”.

“A lot of schools cannot boast that, but we can.”

Anika DeShields, deputy chair of the Berkeley Educational Society, counts herself as a first-generation Berkeleyite.

“It was never meant to be an exclusive school,” Ms DeShields said. “It was intended to be a comprehensive school.

“But there was always that drive to be successful. The pride started from there.”

Marva Bridgewater, society secretary, said it was traditional for Berkeleyites to say “respice finem” on seeing students to get the response “keep the end in view”.

Some already know it from their parents and grandparents.

For Steve Smith, chairman of the school’s programme and legacy committee, the first formal celebration of founders’ day fell in 1956 – the year he was born.

“It’s been going strong ever since,” he added.

Mr Smith said the school is seeking to have a plaque put by the car-park across from the Bermuda Industrial Union headquarters on Court Street, once the site of Samaritan's Hall, where the first classes were held.

Founders’ day, highlighting the 125th anniversary, will be commemorated on October 21, with a string of commemorations planned until August 2023.

It includes a formal opening of the Berkeley History Room, with portraits and displays covering 1897 to 2023.

“It will happen in May,” Mr Smith said. “I decided to do it in Heritage Month.”

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Published September 21, 2022 at 7:48 am (Updated September 21, 2022 at 7:47 am)

Berkeley Institute: a school built with ‘grit and determination’

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