‘A lot of work, but rewarding’
Vaz Prep revels, reflects on 72nd anniversary
A throng of past and present students, educators, and principals clad in yellow and blue gathered in celebration of Vaz Preparatory School’s 72nd anniversary at the Kingston-based institution on Friday.
Founded by the late Hazel Louise Vaz, the school has come a far way from its early days having classes in a garage in 1951 with only three students to now operating with an enrolment of approximately 1,300 pupils.
Paulette Ulett, one of the first three pupils at the school and daughter of the founder, told The Gleaner that it is her mother’s belief in, and dedication to God, that has led the institution to where it is now.
“We’ve had hard times, good times, spectacular times, and there were times when we walked through the valley, but because we’re in God’s hands, we know that whatever we experience is called growth and development, and I think that is what has helped Vaz Prep [in] staying the course with the motto ‘Honest Labour Bears a Lovely Face’,” she said.
Ulett recalled that there were times when her mother faced difficulties and was unable to pay her teachers, but with the help of her husband, Everard, who gave of his salary to assist in this regard, they were able to meet the challenge.
“It has not been all song and dance, glory and praise, but she was ... diligent in whatever she did, and she did put her heart and soul in whatever she did,” Ulett said.
She noted that among the primary concepts taught at Vaz Prep, staff sought to instil values of Christianity, nation-building and the value of education.
“Mrs Vaz was somebody who really believed in this, our country, and that every effort that we expend must be towards making others better,” she said.
Despite leaving the institution decades ago, Ulett still recalls the memory gems she learned at school.
“Work while you work, play while you play. That is the way to be happy and gay. All that you do, do with your might, for things done by half are never done well,” she recited, noting that the message remains relevant today.
Kayon Mills, a grade five teacher who attended Vaz Prep in 1978, told The Gleaner that her experience as a student was phenomenal as although she was not from an affluent family, she felt welcomed in the space.
A member of the Jamaica Folk Singers, Mills recalled the many fulfilling opportunities she had as a youngster and credits her interest in folk music to the experiences she had at Vaz Prep.
“The seed was planted here as I was given the opportunities to develop whatever talents God has given me, and now, I’m here as an adult, teaching, giving back to Vaz and on the side, still doing my passion, which is singing and dancing,” she said.
In reference to a song titled Gonna Build A Mountain, which she learnt while at school, she stated that the students were always taught songs which contained an encouraging message “that was also [helping to] build the qualities that Vaz Prep wanted to develop in its students”.
She stated that the school was keen on producing well-rounded students who were God-centred, respectable and productive.
During the Founder’s Day celebrations, the school was engaged in various activities such as trivia games, singing of songs, scripture readings and a segment dedicated to recognising staff members for their service of 25 years and over.
Glenette Colman-Wray, supervisor for grades two and three, is the longest-serving teacher at the institution, dedicating 49 years of service.
In a brief response, the recently retired vice-principal thanked God for carrying her thus far, and said she was praying for the strength to carry her into her 50th year of service.
“I’ve gone through the ups and downs of Vaz, the ins and outs. I’ve experienced everything and I’m glad and I’m so happy, and I think this is where the Lord wanted me to be,” she said.
Founder Vaz started her teaching career in 1931 at the Morris-Knibb Preparatory School. She transitioned to Vaz Prep, where she served as principal until 1976.
A month after the school’s establishment, enrolment reached 23 pupils.
Her husband would set out collecting crates and boxes to be used as substitute for the necessary desks and chairs needed at the time, until with the help of friends and neighbours, furniture was sourced.
Another garage was constructed and used as a classroom as the student population grew.
By 1980, a building was constructed on the Jackson Road property, which presently houses three grade five classrooms, two grade three classrooms and a staff room. The grade four block was constructed on land to the rear of the property. It currently houses three grade four classrooms.
In 1991, former Prime Minister Michael Manley and former principal Beverley Ulett opened a new block of classrooms. The school’s creative centre is the last suite of rooms added to the property. The building was built after the original home of the Vaz family was demolished.
Karlene Bisnott-Hemmings, who is the institution’s third and current principal, told The Gleaner that the school continues to be proud of its achievements and of the dedication of staff, who have lent to its stability.
Bisnott-Hemmings, who is also past student of Vaz Prep and assumed the role of principal in 2008, stated that she was particularly proud of their move towards becoming an inclusive institution, giving support to students who are struggling with learning and for those who have intellectual and physical disabilities.
She spoke to the existence of a special needs unit, which has been in operation for over a decade, that continues to grow in numbers, catering to students with mild to moderate learning and behavioural challenges.
“It’s a lot of work, but it is rewarding when you see the success of the students at the end of the day. That’s what gives us the motivation to keep going,” she said.