Belize marked an education milestone this week with news of a first-ever region-wide triumph in the Caribbean Examination Council’s (CXC) Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations sat in May and June of this year. For the first time ever, we produced the region’s top student, Dorien Villafranco, previously of St. John’s College (High School) and currently a physics and mathematics major across the Landivar campus at St. John’s College Junior College.
Dorien, 16 at the time of this writing (he caps a whirlwind week with his seventeenth birthday tomorrow, Friday), passed an unprecedented 15 subjects at Grade I on a six-grade scale: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Integrated Science, Human and Social Biology, Mathematics, English A, English B, Spanish, Social Studies, Principles of Accounts, Religious Education, Physical Education and Sport, Caribbean History, and Information Technology.
Amandala visited the Landivar campus this afternoon to speak firsthand with Dorien and his now-former principal, Sol Yam, assistant principal for academic affairs at SJC.
Young Dorien, son of Marcelino and Audrey Villafranco of Belmopan (His mother is a statistician at the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB) while his dad is the financial controller for Eugene Zabaneh Enterprises), told us that there is little secret to his fantastic performance in the CSEC exams (he got A’s on all his profile grades except for a B each in Caribbean History and Integrated Science). The foundation, he said, starts in first form: “…being consistent and dedicated with your studies, so that at fourth form, all it really is, is reviewing what you have learned and applying it to the examination.”
He was quick to add that his preparation for this moment was what carried him through: “There is a lot of work that has to be put in, and you have to constantly review, because even at the time of examination you may forget something….” He also mentioned having faith in God and himself and doing the necessary work.
As perhaps can be expected, Dorien struggled to think of any of the 15 subjects he passed causing him any anxiety at exam time, finally mentioning that the oral portion of the Spanish exam was “a concern,” as he did not speak Spanish frequently at home. But as he also pointed out, “there was really nothing difficult about it; the exams were mostly based on what I had already learned and they threw nothing new at me, so it was just about the preparation.“
Villafranco credits some of his teachers for their help and assistance, including Math teacher Ufemia Castillo, English lecturer Michelle Murray and Principles of Accounts teacher Elmer Ortiz, who stayed behind with him after class to prepare him for that examination – that subject and Social Studies were outside his particular program and so he registered for them as “independent study” under CXC rules.
Readers may have guessed at this point that Dorien likes science. He hopes to carry out further study in the field of aeronautical engineering, and particularly the design of airplanes, with which he admits he has been fascinated since he was a child. His reading – his only hobby – is mostly about technology and aeronautics, particularly airplanes.
And it’s fortunate that he has no fear of airplanes and flying, because he will have to take a trip to the Turks and Caicos Islands on December 2 to be honored with other top regional performers.
Dorien described for Amandala his reaction to the call from the CXC Registrar in Barbados at SJC last Friday: “I was excited, very elated… because of my preparation I had expected to do pretty good, but not this well.“
So what did he do to celebrate?
Dorien, a sheepish look on his face, responded: “Well, I had a class right afterwards, so I went to class.“
One moment he was the top student in the Caribbean, the next, a typical first-year junior college student. But Dorien Villafranco is not your typical student, as Ms. Yam asserts:
“I have known [Dorien] for 3 years here at SJC, and he has always been dedicated, committed to his studies, respectful of authority…frequently I find myself calling on his parents to report only good things about him. He is a role model for the other students, a humble, approachable person, and he has earned the respect of his classmates and the school in general.“
The educator told Amandala that this was “just the start of it for Dorien; I see him doing well at CAPE-level as well.“
Dorien was salutatorian of the SJC graduating class of 2010 and served on the student government in addition to being president of his third form class and vice-president of the student body in fourth form.
Sometime in November, Dorien will speak to the current student body of SJC (he told us he’ll get to work on his speech “this weekend”), and other activities are being planned in his honor. At the Turks and Caicos ceremony in December, Dorien will receive a prize package including a full scholarship to the University of the West Indies, monetary prizes, plaques and books.
Dorien’s triumph is also one for SJC, which has been somewhat sidelined in the last few years as rivals like Wesley College, ACC, and Edward P. Yorke produced top students. But the Catholic heavyweights managed to wrest the prize of school of the year from former four-time holders Queen’s College of Guyana.
From a graduating class of 152, 37 received certificates of excellence and there were 39 certificates of achievement for passing a minimum of seven subjects.
Ms. Yam told us that Dorien’s achievements have set the bar rather high for the class of 2011, but SJC’s success, she told us, can be attributed to the support given to the all-male student body by their teachers and particularly their parents.
Elsewhere in the region, Jamaica produced three subject award winners: She’niele Grant for Business Education with 11 Grade 1′s; Ayala Bennett for Humanities with 11 Grade 1′s; and Adrian Kellyman in Visual Arts, Two-Dimensional Work, Imaginative Composition, for his piece “The City Dump.”
Hemawati Lochansing of Trinidad won the Visual Arts, Three Dimensional Work prize for her creation of a ceramic savings container shaped like a tree trunk with two iguanas sitting over the coin slots.
Oliver Maynard of Grenada was named top student in Technical and Vocational Education, having received 10 grade 1′s, a grade 2 and a grade 3 overall, while Guyana’s Navindra Baldeo was top Science student with 12 grade 1′s and a 2 in French. Zoie Hamilton of St. Kitts and Nevis won the prize for best English A short story for “Grasping Death,” based on a scenario involving a math teacher fainting during a class. They all join Dorien in the Turks and Caicos on December 2.
Local awards ceremonies are expected sometime in November.
Article by by Aaron Humes