• Liz Lopez

Primary School in Barbados

Our original plan was to get a sitter for the mornings while Lopez has off in the afternoons, frolicking at the beach with Penny and Cal. The babies fared pretty well during their 5 or so weeks of no school during COVID, so we figured 3 hours a day would be sufficient for them to spend with a sitter, then a lunch and relax break, then the beach. Being in a sticky, hot climate, with one tenth of your toys, a small backyard and few of your creature comforts is not the same as lockdown at home. At home they had our huge backyard, the sunroom with all their toys, their costumes, their stuffies – everything. Here was different and we worked to find our sitter immediately upon arrival. I reached out to several babysitting services I’d found online and interviewed a total of four babysitters through Crystal Care. Amanda was amazing and oversaw all interviews, based on our initial conversations of what we were looking for. I would highly recommend Crystal Care to anyone on the island looking for reliable sitting. They also do other stuff like house cleaning and dog walking, FYI.

We selected De’Wayna, who started right away and spent two lovely weeks with the babies. She was fantastic, the babies looked forward to her arrival each day and we’ll happily request her services again when we want time out with Faith and Ayo.

However, it didn’t take long to realize the kids wanted school. Even three hours a day wasn’t enough for them. De’Wayna’s first week was also the week of crazy rain, so they couldn’t go outside, so they did art and played in their room in the morning. It was enjoyable, but they needed kid interaction. (Nearly anyone under 15 years old at the beach and Penny was begging us to go play with them. We had to hold her back several times from trying to play with teenagers.)

Wills Primary School is two blocks from our house. I’d seen it online before arriving, but the price was steeper than I was interested in paying. Three weeks out of quarantine was the amount of time it seemed steep; since then the price has become worth it. We inquired about public schools as well. St Lawrence Primary is at the other end of the Gap, about a 25-minute walk, and I’d called about enrollment after a lovely Canadian couple told me about it. They posted on the Barbados Expats Facebook group about school and said they had people DM’ing them (direct messaging for my family reading this.. no judgement, truly had to google it a few months ago) saying do not send your kids to public school in Barbados. They promised bullying, racism, the works. But they toured the school and found the teachers and school lovely, and they enrolled their girls. I hadn’t even considered public school, assuming Welcome Stampers wouldn’t be allowed to take up spots. I was wrong but unfortunately, by the time I called, there were no slots available. Amanda even contacted the Ministry of Education on my behalf (I’d emailed them, with no response) and there were no available slots at any of the Primary Schools on the island. So Wills was back on the drawing board and the lovely school administrator, Miss Mendes, responded promptly and confirmed available space for Penny and Cal! Yay!

They started on Monday and in typical back to school fashion, the to do list was extremely long. We needed to get their uniforms, order their school supplies, pay the capital contribution and fill out the paperwork. They gave us two places for uniforms, one for Penny’s and one for Cal’s, and we were to go there before their first day to get sized and purchase their uniforms. Well, Lopez and the babies got off at entirely the wrong spot, and by the time they got there, it had closed. Luckily for us, Wills had a shirt and shorts for Cal that we were able to purchase from parents who turned theirs in. Second hand for the win! Same with Penny, thankfully, since we still haven’t made it to her store. Their little uniforms are adorable while the dress shoes with white socks are the cherry on top.

We’d read online that City Center in Bridgetown was open on Sundays, but Google lied. NOTHING is open Sundays here. That’s hyperbole, there were a few choice stores, but for the most part, Barbados is dead on Sundays. That will apparently change with the holidays coming up, but not yet. So we were SOL for the shoes and socks in time for Monday morning.

Thus, Lopez's sassiness with me Monday morning. He thought I shouldn’t take them to school since they didn’t have their shoes, and the paperwork said School Uniforms must be worn at all times. But I went anyways and was reassured by Miss Mendes that their regular tennis shoes were fine until we got to the store. Monday at lunch we ran to Payless in Bridgetown and got their shoes. Penny’s were way too big, so her pink Adidas made an appearance Tuesday as well, but Cal was good to go. They needed two pairs, their regular black dress shoes and then predominately white tennis shoes for gym days, which they each have twice a week. On those days, they wear their school gym clothes, consisting of navy shorts and a green t-shirt. They’re in the same gym house, which would have end of term competitions against each other if not for COVID, but the gym clothes and houses remain regardless.

One of the differences we’ve noticed from home is that things here have a pre-determined way to be done. For instance, for school supplies, we were given their class list and were instructed to email the order to Bryden’s Stationery, a store at Sky Mall in Bridgetown. They then assemble the supplies and let us know when ready for pickup. We placed the order last Thursday and the kids still don’t have supplies. Apparently, some of the required books aren’t even in the country due to COVID, so some kids won’t get all the books they need but they’re making the best of it. Same with the shoes, as Miss Mendes said they are making more accommodations than usual because of COVID. Some parents are still out of work and can’t get the right shoes or whatnot and that’s ok. Because they rely 100% on imports, they were seriously impacted by the shutdown.

Penny said her first day of school was the best day ever and Cal agreed it was great. We got a video of Cal doing a sleepy bunny, then dancing bunny, song and dance through the class app and it was similar to videos we got at home, filling me with happiness for how they would be spending their days. Penny has made friends, although she can’t remember any of their names (to which I told her she really needs to find out, especially since she said her friends call her Penelope and she wished they would call her Penny.. I told her to ask them nicely to use Penny instead but also that she should be happy they at least know her name, unlike some kids Penny Sunshine). Cal was brave and happy the first day of school but has since regressed to fits of crying claiming he'll miss me and holding onto me for dear life. Come on kid! I’m glad you love your mama but get outta here!

At pickup on the first day, his teacher said he did well but that he needed a few hugs from Penny. They always let him visit Penny at Learning Edge when he was sad or tired and he got sissy hugs and everyone thought it was adorable, but his new teacher didn’t seem to think so. She said today was the only day, but it happened again on day 2, but it didn’t the third day, so progress!

The kids get hot lunch 2-3 times a week and do cold lunch the other days. You just send in money for the days they want hot lunch with a note on what their selection is and the cash. The ladies at Dover Market have me asking for small bills nearly every day so I can get exact change, per school’s request. So far they had Subway pizza and spaghetti. Penny brought her leftovers home both days and when I asked Cal if he had leftover spaghetti, he said that a chicken ate his. I geeked out and told him to tell me the truth and he said that no mom, seriously a chicken got in their room and was in his box of leftovers so he couldn’t bring them home. Amazing.

I’m elated for the new structure to their day, making new friends, and learning and playing each day; it's what they should be doing and more like home again. Walking to and from school is an added bonus we’d never get at home and I’m thrilled to watch them learn and grown in their new environment.

Side note about school in Barbados: it’s more accelerated than the States. Penny and Cal were both placed in classes a year younger than local kids due to the education variances. Primary school starts at 4 and goes to 11; then they take a required national test, the Common Entrance Examination, and head to Secondary school. School ends at 16 here but kids have an option to take two additional years if they choose. The literacy rate is 98% so they’re obviously doing things right.