It gives me great pleasures to welcome both teachers and students to the new school year in an environment that is as close to normal as we have been since the start of 2020. I say as close to normal as possible because the memories of COVID-19 and its impact on education are still fresh.

Both teachers and students were made to operate in the most trying of conditions as they were forced to adapt to online teaching and learning. And even when we returned to in-person learning, there were many limitations that added to the burdens that our educators faced and the challenges our children had to overcome. Yet, despite the odds, you managed to succeed. We can never be thankful enough to the educators for the sacrifices that they make. We can never be too proud of our students for excelling under the most difficult of circumstances when their emotional, physical, social and spiritual development was under such strain.

We begin this academic year virtually free of these incumbrances, with a clear focus on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. The teachers spent the past week preparing for a smooth start to the year. We seldom recognise them for such efforts, because what they do while students are still on holiday seem so routine. I’d like to assure you today that there’s nothing routine about these preparations, for they are planning to prepare a sound foundation for the future of our island. For where will we be, how can we realise our full potential without education? How can our island progress if there is no learning?

As the new school year begins, we hope the children are excited to resume classes, or in the case of new students, to experience something different. The summer holidays are a good time to connect with family, strengthen the bonds of friendship that already exist and form new friendships. But now that students have had time to rest and the teachers a moment to recharge, this academic year begins with new hopes and positive mindset.  We expect that every student will grab the opportunity to write a brighter and more exciting chapter in their school life, a chapter full of learning, knowledge and experiences that far exceed any chapter they’ve ever written in the past.

We also begin this new year with positive developments regarding a collaborative effort between the Seventh Day Adventist school and the GVP secondary school. Recognising that some students need additional care, or certain parents want their children to remain in the smaller, sheltered school environment, the SDA school, working closely with the GVP school, has begun hosting Group 9 students, thus offering a choice to parents and pupils alike.

Effective today,12 Group 9 students from the various elementary schools in Statia will begin classes in the basement of the SDA church. Among them is a special needs child who will have a "shadow teacher.” The students will be taught all the GVP grade 1 subjects, and the GVP remains the responsible school - the one the inspectorate will liaise with.

This collaborative effort is possible because the existing education law permits an elementary school to team up with a licensed or existing secondary school to operate at least groups 9 and 10. It’s an extraordinary act of selflessness by the SDA school, which we applaud and appreciate.

I am heartened by developments such as this and I wish to encourage parents and students to take advantage of every learning opportunity, including the out of school programmes. And I look forward to parents becoming move involved in their children’s education and in the school programmes. By doing this we demonstrate a commitment to helping the children recognise the endless opportunities that are before  them, and to realise the dreams that begin with education.

 Best wishes for the new academic year.