A trip down Memory Lane
Tutorial High School first opened its doors on September 1, 1939 by one man, Austin Cosmo Castello. A Visionary and a consummate educator he was, taking a huge leap of faith in then British Guiana in response to a very pressing need for secondary level education for children of working class parents.
Ironically, this exact date was the day the German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, a signature act that blossomed into World War II. The effects of this catastrophe had not yet filtered down to this hemisphere, although our Colonial ‘owners’ were participating.
British Guiana remained relatively calm under colonial rule at a time when the secondary education system as it were catered only for the children of colonists, the wealthy migrant owners of sugar cane, cotton and tobacco plantations, and the commercial business class.
Details remain sketchy about the first location of Tutorial High School which began quite inauspiciously with just seven students. Austin Cosmo Castello was indomitable, determined to educate as many children as he could.
By 1946 the War was over, British Guiana was in the throes of a multitude of material shortages and deprivation, yet the population of Tutorial had swollen to several hundreds and had outgrown its initial location. Austin, called “the Toucan” everywhere else but to his face, secured a larger building aptly called “The Sunbeam Hall” at ‘GG’ Bent Street, Wortmanville. It was owned by a Friendly Society.
Soon enough this two-storeyed building was bursting at its seams as the number of entrants kept on growing. Though the school was located in Georgetown, many of the students came from villages on the East and West Coast Demerara, and West Coast Berbice.
At the time, the school was figuratively in competition for students with Central High, Washington High, Wray Enterprise and Chatam High Schools to name a few. Yet the halls of Tutorial kept on swelling. One may conclude that “the Toucan’s” easy approach to fee paying was a major contributory factor. The monthly fee in those pioneering days was $2.00 yet many parents struggled to meet it. Some had four children attending the school, others travelling from the rural villages were faced with additional costs for snacks, transportation and contingencies.
In the spirit of his cause – an education at any cost – Castello waived and reduced fees and offered full scholarships for high performers.
Late alumnus, Peter Britton, A.A., LLb (Lond) once wrote in an historical review, “I vividly recall that September morning in 1946 when about two hundred of us descended on that two-storeyed ‘GG’ Bent Street building. We came from as far East as Hopetown, West Berbice, and as far West as Stewartville, West Coast Demerara, whilst … encompassing those from Mahaicony, Beterverwagting, Plaisance, Kitty and central Georgetown.
“Most of us were armed with letters of introduction from our erstwhile headmasters and notifications of our scholarship awards, and were accompanied by our parents/guardians, most of whom were making their initial trip to the capital city.
“Anxiety was most high. Uniforms were stiffly starched and shining. The girls were all bedecked in ribbon bows, the boys in shoes and socks, some of them donning these for the first time.
“The sum of $2.00 per month was far beyond the reach of many parents, yet I do not recall a single student being turned away for non-payment of school fees. I certainly do remember many who were able to complete their schooling without making a single payment after the first term’s fees.
“We (the alumni) remain conscious of the fact that we were able to secure a quality secondary education by the gift of our Founders.”
Perhaps it was the palpable generosity of Austin Castello who was eventually joined in this noble endeavour by his brother Joseph, known fondly among generations of student bodies as “Bups”, which engendered the immense popularity of Tutorial High, that and the highly acclaimed athletic prowess of the students.
As was to be expected, THS took a coveted place of prominence among the extant high schools. Soon enough they outgrew the Sunbeam Hall and relocated several times to Croal Street, Stabroek, to the building that now houses the Malteenoes Sports Club in Thomas Lands, then to a three-storeyed building at 52 Fifth Street, Alberttown.
The alumni from the era of the 1940’s and 50’s cannot help but recall with vivid detail the stringent regulations that kept the male population physically separate from the female, and the laws of personal and social etiquette that became par for the course.
The late Senior Counsel Peter Britton wrote, “Our association with and proximity to the female population ended at the gate of the school. Any infraction of this rule was treated almost as a treasonable offence to be visited with the greatest severity on the sinner and the sinned alike”.
EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION & SPORTS
Mr. Britton went on to juxtapose the education system of today with yesterday’s especially in the context of corporal punishment, noting that it was a firm and inflexible rule at Tutorial more than 60 years ago that only the principal, or his deputy, or a senior member of staff in his presence and with his permission could administer corporal punishment, whatever the student’s infraction.
The students flourished in this environment that carefully nurtured development of the mind and body. The path chosen was competition – debates, elocution and quizzes for the ultimate prize of a Government Junior Scholarship to one of the elite secondary schools and junior colleges.
Lancelot Thom was the youngster who earned the school its first Grade I pass at the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate examination in 1941, just two years after its quiet opening. Students continued to win distinguished Government scholarships and awards for outstanding academic achievements.
Between 1945 and 1969 a number of Tutorial students won national scholarships and awards including Frederick Debidin, Jacob G. Bynoe, Shira Khan and Donald Roach. Tutorial’s Debating Team rose high in the local standings, often defeating teams from the more “elite” schools.
From the basics, the Castellos kept the curricula up to date with what obtained in the high-brow schools here and abroad. Science was taught almost from the inception, but the first fully outfitted science laboratory was opened in 1959, with facilities for tutelage in Biology, Physics and Chemistry.
Tutorial’s tradition of excellence in sports was just as consistently demonstrated throughout the 1950’s to the early 1970’s. In 1963 the Tutorial Girls team won the Roy Wong Basketball Trophy, and the boys won the ‘Juice’ Basketball tournament.
Individual athletes excelled in their respective sports, including track and field, cricket, rounders, football and rugby. In 1970 the school won the O.T. Donald Under 16 Football Cup, and in 1971 the rugby team snagged the Hardy Timmerman Trophy.
Tutorial athletes represented Guyana in the junior Carifta Games and the International Texaco Games in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago in that era.
The single most outstanding accolade that alumni hold on to is the achievements of the now late Claudette Masdammer-Humprey, British Guiana’s first female Olympian. Claudette entered Tutorial High on an Athletic Scholarship and her athletic (sprinting) ability was nurtured by the Castello Brothers.
In 1956, she was selected to represent the country (colony) at the Olympic Summer Games in Melbourne, Australia in the 100m and 200m races, and was the only female West Indian athlete who qualified for these premium sprinting events.
In 1958 she went to the Commonwealth Games and the following year copped the 100m Bronze medal plus Silver in the Long Jump at the British West Indian Championship Games held here in British Guiana.
Claudette’s performance earned her the national Sportswoman of the Year (1956) award in British Guiana.
It became a tradition for new entrants each academic year to become acquainted with the accomplishments of past students so they could endeavour to surpass them. “Excellence in all fields of Endeavour” was the motto, and they were never allowed to forget the intellectual giants who had graced the “Sunbeam Halls”.
The aura of success hung around Tutorial for almost three decades. It had become one of the most popular urban secondary education institutions with a reputation for high academic achievements, and for fearsome sports competitions.
The younger Joseph Castello officially retired in 1976 and Tutorial High became a fully government-controlled institution. In September 1984 the population was fractured, dislocated. Half of the student body was placed in the former Central High School building in Woolford Avenue (its current location), and the remainder in other secondary school buildings. In the 1990’s a series of renovations were undertaken in the Woolford Avenue building to add classrooms, Home Economics, Science & Information Technology laboratories.
A mid-afternoon fire in 2007 destroyed a relatively large wing and the school lost a huge portion of its historical records. The burnt out buildings have since been rebuilt and more modern facilities installed.
The four Chapters of the Tutorial High School Alumni Association are now very determined to restore the high level of achievement, academic and otherwise, for which Tutorial was well known.
The Alumni Chapters in Guyana, London and Toronto along with the Support Group in New York have been raising funds for many years and transmitting those funds and materials to improve the fortunes of their Alma Mater.
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