photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

PHILIPSBURG – “When it is a windy day, our whole school shakes,” Chanel Almonte explains. Almonte is among the 150 students that attend the Charlotte Brookson Academy (CBA). Hurricane Irma destroyed their school five months ago.

With nowhere else to go, they moved into a large pavilion, which was provided by the Netherlands. In the past weeks the students and staff have had to deal with daily struggles affecting their work and health.

Article continues after the video

By Laura Bijnsdorp

A five-year search
CBA was founded in 2012 as an experimental school. The high school provides an academic curriculum while also offering an array of extra performance art classes. The school has had to move locations various times since its inception.

About a year ago, after being recognized as an official school by the Sint Maarten government, CBA ending up in the old government building. “Teachers, parents and students tried their best to help us covert various offices into classrooms,” recalls CBA Director Claudette Forsythe-Labega.

Just months after the school had managed to get comfortable, hurricane Irma hit the island.

Today, the school is once again struggling to find place to house their school due to the high rental costs on the island in comparison to what they receive in subsidiaries and tuition.

Reminded of Irma
Teaching in the pavilion is not an easy feat due to the noise-levels. The ‘divider walls’ that create the eight rooms within the pavilion do not reach to the top, thus any noise is easily heard.

“You can hear a person all the way from the other side of the pavilion, even if he/she isn’t talking loudly,” says CBA teacher Keron Gray.

The voices of 150+ persons isn’t the only commotion heard within the tent. On a windy day, every inch of the tents shakes, resulting in loud banging and rattling sounds. Forsythe-Labega: “I think the students react more heavily to these noises, due to their memories of the hurricane.”

Inhaling toxic fumes
“You can smell the smoke from the dump very strongly here,” states CBA student Sidkenie Toulon. Two weeks ago, The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation donated 150 facemasks to CBA. “The staff and students of the CBA are in a direct downwind location from the fumes caused by the landfill and therefore we decided to provide these facemasks to the staff and students”, commented Tadzio Bervoets, managing director of the Nature Foundation.

During previous studies in air quality and soil composition at the Philipsburg landfill the Nature Foundation recorded positive results for various heavy metals. Some of which – such as lead, arsenic and copper – can be toxic to one’s health.

“We’ve had teachers and students go home ill due to the negative effects of the smoke,” Forsythe-Labega explains.

The students have their classes in big tents. Photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

Waiting for a blessing
Almonte: “It would be a blessing to finally have a school-building to call our own.” At the end of May, CBA will have to move out of the pavilion, as the hurricane season will officially start on June 1st.

“A building to meet our basic needs would cost about 5-7 million. A proper performance-art facility and campus which includes an auditorium would be closer to 16 – 18 million”, estimates Hiroshi Shigemoto, CBA’s finance manager.

This week CBA will be meeting with the minister of education, to talk about their options. Shigemoto: “The minister has indicated that CBA is a priority. It would be great if we could come to a solution, possibly also utilizing the Dutch recovery funds.”