Holistic approach to teaching students
Sunday, July 15 2012
Currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, Atwell-Koo said the school, with its staff of 33 teachers and 400 students, has already held several activities to commemorate the milestone.
Last September, observances began with a thanksgiving service at the school’s compound in which close to $3,000 was raised and later donated to the Kistow Home for abandoned and abused children in Malabar, Arima. This was followed by a cook-out and car rally in October.
A dinner and awards ceremony honouring teachers who have taught at the institution for more than five years, was also held earlier this year at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Port-of-Spain.
Atwell-Koo said special tributes were paid to Reynold Cooper, permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, former Solid Waste Management Company Limited (SWMCOL) boss Ray Braithwaite and a dear friend of Atwell’s, Lisa Ghany-Weekes, formerly of Home Construction Limited.
Since the news of its stellar performance in this year’s SEA began circulating, Atwell’s Educational Institute has, again, been inundated with telephone calls from eager parents desirous of having their children attend the school come September.
But Atwell-Koo, who also teaches the Prep Five class, warned that the school does not compromise on its standards.
She told Sunday Newsday, “Many of the parents choose the school because of our values, holistic approach to education, extra-curricular activities and high academic rate. We tell them what we offer and if they do not like it they have other choices. They do not have to stay here.”
She said at Atwell’s, non-academic activities are fully integrated into the syllabus, but the school day begins and ends with worship.
“That is important for them to have a sense of something superior in their lives. So we start the day with that and at worship we talk about spiritual values,” Atwell-Koo said.
“On every given day, throughout the day and after they have a structure for the classes. Those SEA children that have achieved were part of the Music Festival choir. We came third. Shemiah was in the choir. She was a soloist.”
There is also an active 4-H club and students participate in beach clean-ups, turtle-watching expeditions and other field trips.
“We must make the children more aware of the environment to help them to enjoy science a lot more, because science basically is a lot of theory and not really enjoyable for them. So what we have been doing is to try to get it more practical, more hands-on,” said Atwell-Koo.
Saying she was from the “old school,” Atwell-Koo told Sunday Newsday she has seen the need to “modernise” certain aspects of the school’s operations, adding, however, that the use of cellular phones during school hours is strictly forbidden.“We have incorporated modernism with some old school principles, but cellphones are not allowed. If a student brings them, they have to lodge them and we tag and return them, because we do not want that influence. We monitor that,” she said.
Students, she said, are also taught basic manners, etiquette and simple expressions like “Excuse me,” and “I beg your pardon.” However, she insisted that parents must also play their part.
“We need the co-operation of parents,” Atwell-Koo admitted.
“We have a lot of modern parents, a lot of psychologists, but we have the co-operation of the majority of them. It is a challenge with all the various influences, but the parents know what we stand for. So certain behaviours are acceptable and certain behaviours are not acceptable.”
Atwell’s Educational Institute is not insulated from the social problems faced by many other schools in the country. However, the principal said she has observed that students with stay-at- home mothers perform better in school.
“One trend I have particularly observed, and I might get bashed for that, is that children who have mummies at home, they produce very well,” she said.
“Females may not like that, but I have noticed that where mummies are at home, the children are sound and you can see a difference in their performance. So I usually tell moms that if they can do it, if the daddies can support you, stay at home.”
In cases of single-parenting, she said attempts were often made to create wholesome individuals both in the home and school.
“They (single parents) usually have some sort of agreement and it minimises the effect on the children. We do have one or two cases where it can be traumatic, but we try to buffer that because we fulfil a role in the absence of their parents,” Atwell-Koo said.
Pleased with the strides the school has made since its inception, Atwell-Koo said Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh’s thrust in promoting the all-round development of students, through the proposed implementation of the Continuous Assessment Component (CAC) of the SEA, next term, was nothing new to Atwell’s.
“We have been doing that from time immemorial. It was not testable but this is what we have been doing all the time. Now it has to be tested,” she said.
“My only concern is the haste with which it has to be implemented. I thought it should have been a pilot project because it is what we at Atwell’s do anyway, only it was not tested. Now that it is a test, you have to get marks and that takes away some of the enjoyment.”
Pleased with the strides the school has made since its inception, Atwell-Koo said she is intent on churning out students of the highest calibre in all spheres of school life. “At the end of the day we hope to have an accomplished child to go out there and make a difference even in the high schools, in spite of what is happening, and make a difference. And they must stand up even though their peers want to shift them this way or that,” she said.
If Atwell-Koo has her way, education would be a hands-on process. “There would be a lot more outdoor things, a lot more talking, a lot more interacting, not so many exams and tests,” she said.
“As the Prep Five teacher, there is so much that the students want to tell you, but you are within a system in which there is a time schedule with exams. We have the syllabi, we have the time limits, so you always have to go back there.”
Generally, Atwell-Koo said structures should be developed to absorb students who have performed poorly in the SEA.
“Those who fall below the 30 per cent should not be forced to go into the normal stream of things (in the secondary school system) and should be given programmes based on their aptitudes. In addition, all schools must be made prestige schools,” she added.