First came the dream of a school to revive the quality of education desired by many parents for their children. Later, the ambition to run such school engulfed Chief Mrs. Taiwo Ibitola Taiwo whom history has proven to be a die-hard achiever. She is an eye-witness to the government boots that stamped out the ownership of secondary schools by the missionary. Thus in 1986, she became the Founding Chairman of the Atlantic Hall Educational Trust Council. It took three years for Atlantic Hall School to throw its doors open to accommodate school children who are committed to learning in an intellectually stimulating environment. She is back as the Chairman, Atlantic Hall Educational Trust Council exactly thirty years after being a founding chair.
“It is a momentous year for us as we are celebrating our 30th anniversary as an inspirational change agent,” she began to recount that afternoon inside her glass-walled office in Lagos. “What we started 30 years ago set the bar for many other private secondary schools. Private secondary schools were banned at a time. During the Jakande era, he took the mission schools away from the missionary. Those were St. Gregory’s College, Holy Child, CMS Grammar School; that really collapsed the whole idea of private secondary school. We were the first private secondary school after that period. We are not for profit.”
The school was nestled in the serene Shonibare Estate, Ikeja for 15 years. The thought of expansion made it important to look for space outside the busy Lagos Mainland. That search led to Poka in Epe. As expected, many parents were initially uncomfortable with the relocation plans. It meant that the school would operate full boarding service and of course, parents had to pay more school fees. Still, many parents didn’t withdraw their children on the confidence that Atlantic Hall will maintain the desired level of qualitative education, discipline and other child care management areas.
The permanent site in Epe has no fewer than 700 students in a facility that sprawled across 30 hectares of land. It has swimming pools, tennis courts and can pass for a university in appearance.
“We are planning to build a multi-purpose hall. We serve 66,000 meals in a month. Our catering department is a huge department and it is a lot of work and logistics. We have a clinic that is almost like a hospital. We are proud of what we have achieved. Our children’s children are going there,” she said excitedly.
It is not surprising to find that many students of Atlantic Hall have parents who live and work in diaspora. Taiwo explained why parents often make such tough decision.
“When the children reach their teenage years and start acting up and they become difficult, parents bring them back to Nigeria. And we are very strict with them. In America, students have to go through the security to ensure they are not carrying guns into the school. Parents send their children back to Nigeria to absorb our good values, good manners, being well brought up and then do well at school. You can walk through Atlantic Hall and you will get children who greet you as you pass by. You won’t get that in America or elsewhere. At Atlantic Hall, we teach the right values,” she explained.
Part of what motivated her to raise the standards of the school was that she wanted her children to attend the school as well.
Having accomplished that, another tough job was to adjust to running a school which was a day school with only 50 students at the boarding facility now turned a full boarding school. Since 15 years ago when Atlantic Hall was moved to Epe, there has been no power supply. The school is run completely on generators, which has made it expensive to run the school.
“We run on two 500 KVA generators. You should see how many dead generators that we have there. We are raising funds for alternative power supply options. We are working and praying very hard that Lagos State connects us to the grid. The hybrid solar is also an option we are looking at.
“We have a 1.8 billion fund raiser project. Fund raising is about cash, kind, goods and services. The multi-purpose hall will have games, theatre and assembly hall. If we were a day school, that will cut off a huge chunk of our expenditure. But we are full boarding school that serves breakfast at 6am, tea break at 11am, lunch at 12, coffee at 2pm and supper at 6pm, hot chocolate and biscuits before bedtime,” she recounted.
At the moment, Taiwo is not resting on her oars, knowing that the world is dynamic. The school is currently seeking partnership with international organisations and institutions to equip the teachers and students with 21st century skills that will put them in good stead.
“These 30 years, our vision has been what got here, won’t get us there. We recognise that we have to be disruptive and the fact is that education is changing. We are learning artificial intelligence because the computer will do most of our work. We have got to be on that cutting edge to give our children the educational advantage. We want our children to have the total education and be able to fit primarily into our society and fit effortlessly into any part of the world. They should not go to America and be thinking that those Americans are cleverer than us,” she said.
For the challenges that eat deep into the school pocket, Atlantic Hall is creating an endowment fund that will also support the scholarship programme that it has initiated.
“For over 10 years now, we have three types of scholarships in Atlantic Hall, but we have not been talking much about it. The first one is for whoever gets the best result in our common entrance will get full scholarship throughout his/her stay in Atlantic Hall, as long as you maintain the right GPA throughout. The second scholarship is for the person that holds a second position.
“And then we have a special scholarship for indigent students. It is run through Lagos State primary schools and model colleges. They have an internal selection process and these children will sit for our scholarship exams which is high level. We have had incredible success story. Our Lagos State indigent scholar this year, William got nine starred A’s. He came from a poor background, but when a child is smart, everyone wants to be his friend no matter what his background is. He becomes a role model; good at sports. He won all the prizes. He just won a scholarship in Accra to a university that is worth $40,000. He was a hero in the school,” she said.
Atlantic Hall used to have a sea school to teach students survival skills. Some years ago, it was stopped. Taiwo also gave the reason behind the school’s decision.
“The sea school is too risky. The whole idea of Man O’ War drill sounds really good but we are dealing with children and our auditor thought it was too much of a risk.”
As part of activities marking the three decades of Atlantic Hall, there will be a special outreach programme in Epe on September 21.
“We would go to the various Obas’ palaces and do check-ups (blood pressure, BMI) and we are partnering with Emzor Pharmaceuticals to give the community free drugs. Everything will be done for free. It is a way of identifying with our community. The big gala event is going to be at the end of October and we have launched a fund raiser. We are partnering with international organisations in Canada, Carlton University to bring some of their teachers to teach our students more about AI and our teachers will go to Canada to teach as well,” she revealed.
Some of the distinguished alumni of the school include Ogunlewe Seye (athlete); Naetochukwu Chikwe otherwise known as Naeto C (music artist) and Idia Aisien (model and media personality).