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Toco Secondary celebrates milestone

News day / Called the Wall of Fame, the display features images of past students who have excelled in various fields, including, culture, business, sport and the arts.

Among them are school principal Verona Davis-Modeste; retired national cricketer Renwick John Bishop; soca artiste Patrice Roberts; mixologist Raymond Edwards and Olympic gold medallist Keshorn Walcott.

Davis-Modeste said while many of the school’s past students have continued to excel in their respective fields, the success they enjoy came at a price, mainly due to the limitations of living in the remote, north-east coast village.

“It was about hard work and sacrifice,” she said of the qualities which enabled many of the school’s alumni to excel on the national landscape.

“But then too, if you don’t have family outside of Toco, it might be difficult to achieve success because there is nowhere to stay and transportation could be a problem.” Davis-Modeste joked that the situation has led many Toco residents to conclude that “there is Trinidad and Tobago and then Toco” –alluding to the feeling of disconnectedness which villagers feel from the rest of the country.

Even Walcott, she noted, had to relocate to train for the 2012 Olympics, for which he received a gold medal in the javelin throw.

Ordinarily, Davis-Modeste said the Government provides maxi taxis for students along the north-east coast and as a far away as Sangre Grande. “But one of the issues we face is if we have training on afternoons, is to get the children back home. Transportation is a problem in these areas,” she said.

“If we could get a Government- supplied bus system regularly, that would solve the problem.

But the bus system is not regular.” As Toco Secondary celebrates its 40th anniversary, Davis-Modeste lamented that transportation, particularly for students involved in sport and other extra-curricular activities, continues to be a bugbear at the school.

President of the Parent-Teacher Association Leroy Serapio agreed, saying the “distance from the mainstream” is perhaps the major challenge confronting students.

“Sometimes, you leave here to go to Port-of-Spain is sometimes $100 plus you have to spend.” A former star runner, Serapio said students who do not have family support in other areas were often saddled with exorbitant transportation fees to get to training sessions. He said the situation has caused many gifted athletes to fall by the wayside.

Still, Serapio considers himself to be one of the fortunate ones.

“I was living in Toco and running for Petrotrin which is at the next end of the country because at that time, because this area did not have a club,” he said, claiming that athletes from Toco and other rural communities are often discriminated against.

“Many of us face obstacles in being from the country area and not being selected for national teams when in fact, we deserve to be.” He said Walcott’s Olympic gold medal provided an excellent opportunity for the then Government to put a fresh focus on the area.

“There were some people who felt that Keshorn won the medal by guess and many others were still adoring George Bovell and Njisane Phillip even though it was Keshorn who won gold. They wanted those two guys to bring gold,” he said.

“So, that just gives the idea that Toco is treated like the thing that fall off from the donkey’s tail. That is the cold reality because here is the evidence.” Serapio was confident that the village can produce athletes capable to representing the country in the 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games.

“That is the kind of vision we have in terms of the ability of the athletes and the foundation that we laid in terms of preparation.” Asked about the importance of track and field to Toco, Serapio said: “We feel that track and field is our birthright. We often tell people when we were born, we born running, with that passion, energy and wanting to succeed.

“We have always seen track and field as one of those vehicles to keep Toco on the map in a positive light.” Lower Sixth Form student Chezziah Phillip attests to Toco Secondary’s greatness in sport.

Four years ago, she transferred to the school from Arima Secondary to participate in its vibrant athletic programme, managed by former student, teacher-cumcoach Annalee Walcott.

“The school has one of best track and field programmes anywhere in the north-eastern side of the country and perhaps the whole of Trinidad and Tobago.

They cater for all students despite their strengths and weaknesses,” said Phillip, a hurdler.

Phillip, who lives in Sangre Grande, does not suffer the same fate as many students who may have to travel over long distances to get to the institution.

The athlete said she has had the good fortune of staying at Walcott’s home in Toco on weekdays to attend classes and training sessions.

Although she began attending Toco Secondary in Form Three, Phillip observed that the school has come a long way.

“I am seeing the difference. It has been gradual progress in the right direction. I have no reservations about coming to the school.

I give it a ten out of ten,” she said with a laugh.

Inspite of her positive take on the school, Serapio insisted that progress in the village will only come through action and not talk and challenged the authorities to develop the region.

“If you are not doing things to develop the community, using its strengths, what are you really doing?” he asked.

Serapio listed sport and eco-tourism as two areas through which the region can benefit.

“We don’t have much economic activities as other places and avenues for real employment in this part of the vineyard as other places will have,” he said.

“We do not find the government is doing enough in relation to eco-tourism and sports tourism.

“We understand the value of tourism and what it can bring in terms of economic sustainability for residents on this coast.” Serapio said the authorities’ neglect of the region also was evident in the school’s sub-standard physical infrastructure. He claimed that the school’s pleas for a refurbished structure has fallen on deaf ears.

“But we are a peaceful people.

We do not like protests. We writing everybody and sometimes I feel we are being taken for granted because it is in our nature not to engage in confrontation.” Serapio said Toco Secondary, which opened its doors in September 1977, deserved a new school.

Still, Davis-Modeste contends there is much to celebrate.

She said the fact that the school has survived for four decades, despite its shortcomings, was a testament to the determination and commitment of the teachers and students.

“I think it is a great mile mark and we growing still because we would have achieved a number of things in a short space of time, ” she said of the 40th anniversary milestone.

However, Davis-Modeste who was among Toco Secondary’s second batch of students in 1978, said while students continue to excel in sports and culture, there needed to be much improvement in the academics.

She also complained about the lack of parental and student involvement in many of the school’s activities.

“We have a challenge in getting both students and parents to value education in these parts because in some areas, the money comes so easy that some people do not value education. They could make quick money otherwise.” She said the students also needed to pay greater attention to the talents they possess.

“They have the natural talent but to develop it is the problem.” Davis-Modeste said the school also has suffered because of a high turnover of staff over the years.

“They would come into the system because it is their first appointment but they do not stay in Toco because of the distance. So, we always have a high turnover rate of teachers which impacts negatively on the students. That will always be a challenge.” Saying the school has had teachers from as far as Chaguanas and Point Fortin, Davis-Modeste said the Government needed to urgently address this issue.

“Within that 40-year period, the number of people would have passed through Toco Secondary is phenomenal.” She remains hopeful that the school will continue to get scholarships in both sports and the academics in the future.

“I hope to see that before I leave,” said Davis-Modeste, who became principal in 2012.

Serapio said the school also must be recognised for its high level of discipline.

“We really don’t get credit for our discipline,” he said. This school don’t really have violence in comparison to other schools and there is a sense of peace and wanting to be part of this institution that you don’t really see anywhere else.” He also regarded Toco Secondary as a community institution.

“It is not just focused on the children but on the holistic development of the community,” he said.

“There is always an activity in this space, from group meetings to sporting activities. The school has always been opened the community for anything that is positive.”

Upcoming events to commemorate 40th anniversary

* Teachers Recognition Ceremony in October

* Function to honour the 20th anniversary of the school museum, which began as a Young Leaders project.

* School concert in November

* Sports Day in February 2018

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