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Changing a village through education

News day / SHE smiled broadly giving extra light to her eyes. Kezia Alexander is on her way to fulfilling her dream of becoming a doctor.

Come September she will be attending St Joseph’s College. She is one of several students from Excel Beetham Estate Government Primary who, this year, will be attending a school outside of the catchment area. For the first time in 18 years, the school received a pass for St Mary’s College. There are many philosophies which posit that education is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, vehicles for social change and behaviour modification.

It is this philosophy that is the driving force behind Beetham Gardens Learning Support Centre.

Managed by the Rose Foundation, the project has yielded fruit, with its students having passed for schools outside of the catchment area. Traditionally, Newsday was told, many of the students would usually attended Success Laventille and surrounding Life Centres. This year, however, some of its students have passed for schools such as St Mary’s College, St Joseph College, Barataria North Secondary and Tranquility Government Secondary School. The foundation provides remediation for students from standards two to five. For the Rose Foundation, this represents the beginning of change in a community many see as at-risk. The foundation was contracted by then British Gas (BG) [now Shell] in 2015 to manage the learning centre. Its history was told to Newsday by the foundation’s chairman, Sterling Belgrove.

Talking about how the foundation became involved, he said, “The Morvant/Laventille initiative was one which gained momentum some years ago. And as a result BG, at the time, had made a commitment to support the initiative. Their involvement was around education.

So they sponsored an after school programme at the primary school on the Beetham. The programme was initially managed by the Rotary Club. One year later the Rotary Club was having some challenges with the programme and so we were invited to take a look at the programme “Having done the diagnostics we assumed management of the programme.

And we established what we then called a Learning Support Centre because we did not want to create an after school scenario.” After having done the necessary assessment the foundation developed individual plans for each student. Some of the programme’s components include remedial classes, a siblings programme [where siblings of older students in the programme were taken care of so the older brothers and sisters could attend], holistic development, social graces and etiquette, anger management, dispute resolution and life coping skills among others.

The overall objective of the programme being, Belgrove said, to not only transform the student’s academic capabilities but to also ensure their all round development of citizens of TT. But the foundation and the programme’s previous mangers understood that its takes a village to raise a child. So, a partnership has developed with the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF).

The officers of the task force transport the children to and from the Life Centre as well as provides a supporting disciplinary role. WPC Mottley who has been involved with the programme for a year said while she got involved as a result of being attached to the task force, she has always had a passion for “dealing with children.” Over the year’s span, Mottley saw many of the centre’s youth face challenges.

But the intervention of the centre and the IATF officers have resulted in changes in their attitudes. “We were instrumental in picking them up…we built a bond with them and it impacted a lot.” Similarly, PC McPherson, who joined IATF and programme approximately three months ago, has seen great changes in the youth.

McPherson, who also grew up in Sea Lots, says the students attitude to work has changed. He said he volunteers for anything in the community to try to assist. Very often, McPherson said, there would be a lot of negative comments about students and people coming from communities like Beetham. He said, however, through education many changes can occur in the community.

Education, he said, made the difference in his life. He offered advice to the area’s youth, saying, “Take your education seriously.” He also called for other corporate and non-governmental agencies to offer similar programmes within the community.

Belgrove said there was a history of the IAT F having to go into the school, regularly to council the children on behaviour and their attitudes but that has since “come down to zero.” Providing meals, a reduction in the noise levels at the school are also markers for the Rose Foundation that an impact has been made. Parental involvement is also high through the parent outreach programme. “We got buy-in from the parents in that they really felt comfortable that we were taking care of their children.

All of the children would be picked up from the school and delivered to their doors…,” Belgrove said. He said parents were now committed to having their children attend the afternoon classes because of the comfort of having them dropped home, every afternoon, by the IAT F. He said more parents were also coming and taking an interest in the school than was seen initially.

The school’s principal, Ann Antonie, said of the programme in 2016, “With the introduction of the dining room and the increased personnel, there has been a noticeable improvement in discipline.

The goals of the programme appear to be more within sight. It would be good for the partnership to continue. It would provide the children of the low socio-economic neighbourhood a better chance of becoming literate citizens who are able to contribute positively to their community and country.” Ultimately, for Belgrove, “Our expectation is that with the support we are providing for the residents of the Beetham, that they would take greater pride in their community.

They would become ambassadors for a more positive image and conversation about the Beetham.

The nation would realise that some of the most productive people come out of the Beetham and that it could become a destination for exploration and visiting.”

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