This is the graduation season, and I must say it makes for a lot of happy moments and I am absolutely happy and overjoyed when I see so many youths graduating and sharing this joy with their families. I know for many or the majority it has been a struggle, since many of these students are from lower- middle-income situations and even below the poverty line and come from homes where their single parent is working very hard to see them through school. Of course, there are those middle- income to upper-middle-income families who are a little bit better off and who are barely making it comfortably but still not having life as hard and challenging as others. Then there are those few who come from the wealthier families, these with family names and social recognition because of their social statuses and business statuses outright. These are the fewer, and with the financial contributions to the child’s schools they are assured that the authorities will turn a blind eye to allow them to be overlooked for breaches for which other students would be punished, thrown out of school or not allowed to walk up for graduation.
The school system shows and teaches the inequities of life which these kids will come out in the world to face. In my time at school there was a young lady, who is now seeking to run for office, that the nuns at Pallotti allowed to repeat every form she had to, unlike others who were given one chance to repeat. But in those days her parents were major financial contributors to the school. It is in this educational environment too that some students learn from early to fight the system, as the pious religious leaders are selective as to which “sinner” is punished and which is not!
I am one of those persons who feels that we need to re-think how we educate our children and we need to move away from this archaic system that teaches students to regurgitate information rather than to engage in critical-thinking and fails to develop their creativity and inquisitive minds. To me it’s as if our education system seeks to herd students as if their brain is cattle-programmed and can be led in only one direction, when in all honestly, the minds of our children and their imagination and creativity and productivity can be limitless!.
Independence High School head of the game
I was the guest speaker at the 27th graduation ceremonies of the 182 students who received their diplomas from IHS (Independence High School) on Saturday, 8th June, 2019. They gave me so much hope and I saw the joy in these students and their families and there was a spirit of accomplishment beyond the diplomas in their hands. To me it was as if the students were happy to move on to a new horizon, but were sad that they were leaving the protection and confines of an institution that welcomed them like a second home. Mein, hearing their cheer and high spirits was joyful. I too was so encouraged by the following facts I saw or learnt about the progressive approach to the education at this school:
1. The policy is not to kick kids out of school but to do everything to give them an opportunity to get back in school and get at least a high school diploma — unlike other schools, which are too quick to throw out the student and to even deny them the honour of walking up for graduation. For them pushing students to stay in school and finding creative ways to deal with the troublesome ones made them feel that the school cared.
2. Pregnant students are allowed to leave and give birth and are welcomed back at school to complete their education … No problem and no stigma attached. They are incorporated back into school life, and having a child does not result in their being deemed an outcast.
3. The school has an ACE programme that is an adult education platform to give those too old to go back to the regular daytime high school to complete their credit hours in the night classes. More adults are encouraged to get into this programme. Adults attend night classes after regular working hours and if they excel, they are allowed to graduate with the high school population. This year a 30-year-old single mother of 3 kids topped her ACE and got special awards and recognition and gave a valedictory address in which she explained that ten years after dropping out of high school she returned to her school and is now so proud she finally has that diploma in hand. The story was moving. Even if it’s only one person like this, it is one person less left behind.
4. Half of the students who graduated were on the honour roll and were mostly females. Imagine what it takes to keep half of your students so focused to change that learning curve. Also, 57% of the population were Hispanic and many were children of immigrants, born in Belize mostly, and many were first-generation-educated.
5. The school has cut out ALL semester exams and students are graded on the work done throughout each semester and school year — this cuts out the anxiety of exams and has increased performance. They are ahead of the game here, because students feel less pressure on exams and focus more in classes to get through, actually learning the subject and taking it in, with no pressure to just regurgitate!
6. Even troubled students who have dropped out are taken back and given another chance to graduate … I saw two such males who graduated come over to embrace and thank Principal Longsworth … that they had finally graduated. Those young men were so grateful and proud … I could see it, and this accomplishment will definitely make a difference in their life.
7. They have a musical band and a drumming band that have been two-time champions of the Battle of the Drums competition!
I found rather interesting the story of a graduate, who had his arms covered with tattoos, which is against the rules of the school. Tattoos cannot be removed, unless of course you have the very high- privileged luxury to do so. This, however, was not the case for this young man and thus the administration had to choose between denying him an education for the tattoos he had, or allowing him to study despite the tattoos. They opted that instead of kicking him out, they would allow him to go to school, providing that he attended school with a long-sleeved shirt. For him getting an education was more important than the ink on his skin. Now that is truly seeking to keep every child in school, because we all know it is a necessity to fend for yourself in the real world.
To me it’s as if the school understands the background and culture and dynamics of the society these kids are coming from and seek to balance all matters with the focus of keeping students in school and helping them through with an education. Their principal, Omar Longsworth, exudes a calmness, but a great resolve that each child must be allowed an education, and he seems keen in ensuring his teachers have that same disposition. I think that is one educator who will find simple ways to ensure the communities IHS serves, are filled with citizens proud of obtaining at least a basic education. To me it’s a school of second chances, and the story of the ACE graduate Simeone Ortiz was very telling.
Then in comparison there is the saga at mostly the “church” schools, where every opportunity is taken to either deny a child an education or humiliate them into submission or punish them excessively, leaving them with scars about the horrors of education rather than the joys.
Well-known media personality Sharon Marin-Lewis went public about one such saga when she wrote on her Facebook page the following “WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE:
I do not understand how SCA is excluding my daughter from marching up. My daughter who has not brought the school into disrepute. I see young girls being allowed to march up at SCA — children were seen drinking on camera, who had nudes of themselves floating around. But, I am not a rich woman and I do not donate to SCA more than the $50 or $25 they ask for in their regular fundraising…. My child got suspended for racking up demerits for allegedly disrespecting teachers. What I found was that my child had issues at the school with authority and unwittingly brought a spotlight onto herself so that everything she did was under that spotlight. The last suspension came as a result of her walking into a club situated near BTL Park – – she had permission to go to the park, not the club. Her sister was in the club and she went in to call her so they could go home. She was seen by a teacher and was therefore suspended. The teacher confirmed that my daughter was not in the club but had come in and she (the teacher) had given her the eye. My child knew better but didn’t (sic) do better and should be punished for that. That incident led to the final suspension and decision to exclude her. She was excluded before that incident for being suspended. She was kicked off the cheerleading team and not allowed to participate in any school activity. I did not contest that, she was being punished at school, and at home I talked to her about how to adjust in high school. She has always been enthusiastic about learning and doing exceptional in school but I advised her not to take her grades so seriously and use the channels available when she had an issue. I could agree with her being excluded from prom but excluded from WALKING UP is cruel and unusual punishment by SCA and its BOARD. Despite meeting with The Principal and a nun and counsellors of the school – – we were turned down. My child who has consistently been on honor roll since first form did not make honor roll for 4th form. She has been strong and I will see her through this dark period but SCA and all other schools need to understand that when you exclude a child from prom that is punishment to the child but when you exclude them from graduation you can only be described as spiteful.”
I think her writing shows how devious and degrading a punishment could be when the school punishes to the extent that they take away that one moment that will never come back and deny a child the chance to walk up for graduation, not because of bad grades, but because she/he has not been able to fit in the box.
Oftentimes these schools don’t understand the traumas of life these kids deal with, the dysfunctions in homes, the peer pressures, or just the “wild” and inquisitive spirits that these kids have, that is not bad, just different. This child would not have suffered like this at a school that sees her as an emerging adult and leader, who deserves empathy and not punishment. A child can use this as a learning moment, not a painful moment. Always interesting, however, is that it is the “Christian” schools, who are so pious in their ways that they make these discriminatory decisions, forgetting their own sins and scarring a child for life. I am proud of Sharon for standing up for her child; it’s a pity she did not access the court system, which views these acts with disdain.
These kinds of disappointments can hurt a child so much that it later affects their accomplishments. At Independence High School, the principal showed me two boys who graduated. They took them back into school after they left for all kinds of horrific problems. But this principal was hell-bent on seeing them succeed and he had teachers work with them. When I saw those two boys walk off the stage and embrace their principal I knew he already made a magnificent difference in the lives of these two boys, now men! This is what education should do!
Belize, we must do better!