Sunday, 7 October 2007

Miss Cooke's Story (Part 2)

This is the story of Miss Cooke, BBGS' Master Builder, taken from her article published in the School Centenary Magazine, May 1993.

Seeking Nothing But the Best (Part 2)
by Miss Elena M. Cooke
Ex-girl, ex-teacher and ex-headmistress (1958 - 1977)

Teach us to bear the yoke in youth
with steadfastness and careful truth

I never thought I would be a teacher but that was God's plan for my life and once I got into the profession I found great delight in opening up new worlds to my pupils. But it was not always easy. Taught from early childhood 'Whatever your hand finds to do, verily do it with all your might', there was this keen determination to bear the yoke with steadfastness and careful truth.

Late nights became the order of my day as I prepared the next day's lessons and marked piles of exercise books. That did not mean I had to lose delight in simple things. With great enthusiasm I began the school choir when all I had in qualifications was a love of music!

It was soon after the war. Our library was non-existent. I remember visiting friends and suggesting that they should let me have some of their collection to begin a school library again. All contributions were carefully scrutinised and thus began a lending library on the verandah outside the Fifth Form classroom. Every interval found me sitting on a low stool advertising my books and telling the girls they did not know what they would be missing if they did not stop by and borrow one of my best sellers all neatly packed in cardboard boxes on the floor beside me.

I was soon to find myself spending nearly every afternoon in school looking after such extramural activities as the Literary and Debating Society, the Geographical Society, St John’s Ambulance Brigade and the Christian Union. Those were the times I really got to know my pupils especially when we went on excursions and debated with other schools. They were fun times too.

Yes, they surely were hard times too, when difficult pupils could make life unbearable and when I had to learn to win them over – to break through long standing barriers. Then there were the not-so-academically-minded pupils who had a defeatist attitude to learning. They had to be helped out of that sad state and made to realize that they had their talents too. Yes, there were those from broken homes, those from poverty-stricken backgrounds. Knowing and appreciating the care and concern of my teachers when I was at school, I prayed for special strength and understanding to help my many pupils.

Early years of teaching were a time of learning and teaching. There were the special training classes every Saturday and sometimes, during the week, speech-training and singing. And when those exams were all over then came my private studies for entrance to a university in the UK. An activity-oriented life intermixed with much fun and laughter and sometimes tears as well.

Father in heaven who lovest all
O help Thy children when they call
That they may build from age to age
An undefiled heritage

That became my prayer when I was appointed Principal of BBGS – a position which I never wanted and which filled me with fear. But one never cries out to God in vain – His ear is ever bent low to hear our feeblest cry and He enabled me through those difficult early years and then the challenging years that followed. Mistakes were made and hard lessons learnt.

From an enrolment of 500 the school was to grow to over 2000! School extensions became necessity every time there was yet a further increase in numbers. Fun-fairs and food sales became the order of the day – hard work but so challenging one could not resist it! They were truly fun times too as the whole school – head, deputy head, staff and pupils (both old and present) all worked as a team. There was such a tremendous sense of achievement when all the necessary funds came in time for the various building projects.

The policy of the school from its inception was to build only when funds were in hand. I remember being told by the Board that we could not build a hall the size I planned as we did not have the funds for such a large building. I felt strongly we had to build it according to the original plans and hence prayed much. God answered in a wonderful way when the Lee Foundation contributed RM40,000 and made our dream come true. Yes, those were challenging years and I am always thankful that Mrs Tan Lai Kuen, our deputy head, was always there to support and be fully involved in all our dreams. Together, two very different personalities worked as a team both seeking nothing but the best for BBGS.

We aimed at excellence in every aspect of school life. We were anxious that each BBGS pupil should give of her best and so towards that end we worked. Cleanliness, a sense of order, a love of beauty had to be inculcated and so began competitions in class cleanliness, toilet cleanliness and floral arrangements in every classroom. Discipline had to be maintained and a sense of dignity instilled and total loyalty practised. Above all our sincere desire was that every pupil should know without a doubt that without God in their lives all would be in vain. And hence our school motto – Nisi Dominus Frustra – has been and, I hope, will continue to be a guide to right and wholesome living to every BBGS pupil.

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