Soca artiste and YMCA youth ambassador Akeem "Preedy" Chance intends to use his popularity with the youths in his hometown of Maloney to save their lives.
On June 4, Chance will launch SPYTES (Strategically Propelling Youths Towards Excellence and Success) at his alma mater of Maloney Government Primary School. The programme is geared towards finding and nurturing students’ natural talents in culture, arts and sport, and guiding them towards careers in these fields.
“It’s a life-saving programme initially focussed on the youth of Maloney, trying to steer them away from crime and give them more options in life. For me personally, I’ve seen a lot of murders happen and either the victims or the perpetrators used to attend the school. I know not everyone is born into hate, self-hate or crime so, at this present time, my personal life mission is to try and affect change in the school, be a beacon of hope, and also physically be there to coach as many kids, and turn as many of them as possible to positivity with my knowledge.”
Najja Cooper, assistant director and PRO of SPYTES, and a teacher at Maloney Government said the point of the programme was to show children of the area that there were other options, that they did not have to turn to violence and crime.
She explained that training for the children would include life skills coaching and classes in various visual and performing arts. There would also be a big brother/big sister element with artistes, sports representatives, business people, and others from different fields to guide the students, as well as workshops by professionals to explain the business side of things.
“It’s about us really building them as an individual, motivating them and showing them how they can use their talents to best suit them and where they can go with it and have fun with it while earning money,” she said.
Chance said he wanted doctors, lawyers, musicians, sportsmen and others who once attended the school to return to tell the children how they succeeded, and give details about the hard work, the financials, the mindset they need to have, and the paths they could take.
He added that he had a God-given talent and to him using it was much easier than mathematical calculations. He said it was similar with many who were skilled in other areas but not academically oriented. Because a formal education was important, in addition to honing their natural talents, the programme would involve extra lessons for those who need it with the help of teachers at the school.
“A lot of athletes are not mentally capable of dealing with the pressure of academics, so we gave them more attention in academics while letting them know it’s okay to not know something or to feel stupid sometimes. When we look at some presidents internationally, they are not smart but they are still presidents. That should give them hope because literally anything is possible.”
Cooper said many of her fellow teachers already showed interest in, or agreed to participate, in the programme. Those involved would be asked to participate in workshops to assist them in identifying children gifted in the arts and sports.
“We will show them that the child that might always be talkative, active and moving, and just can’t sit still, they might be creative. We want to change those attitudes of thinking of those children as disruptive or in a negative manner. We can develop those things into something positive, into a career path. Maybe they could be a comedian or a DJ.”
In addition, she said the new school curriculum included visual and performing arts for which teachers attended a one-day workshop with the Ministry of Education. The programme intended to align the work of SPYTES coaches with the school’s arts curriculum to support the teachers.
“That (ministry workshop) still does not equip us to carry that through the curriculum as some of us did not study the arts and some are not artistically inclined. With this (SPYTES) programme the students would be doing dance, music, drumology, vocals, pan, songwriting, DJ-ing, poetry, journalism, broadcasting, hosting, how to use social media properly and so on. So it will aid the teacher within the classroom in carrying out those areas.”
The programme also extends assistance and support to parents of students. “We will be starting with certain parents on the PTA. Those would be those who are seriously impoverished or they can’t meet certain financial obligations. We would help with that but they must make sure they are always on the PTA, that they are performing and that their children are performing as well. So we want to bridge the gap between home and school.”
Cooper said they were hoping to expand the programme to secondary schools to ensure the children’s abilities were continually being fostered, as well as to help align the students with secondary schools with programmes in the children’s areas of interests. They also hope to carry SPYTES throughout TT and the wider Caribbean.
Chance said, “Some of the students are hopeless. You see hopelessness on their faces and it’s really sad. The environment is a hopeless environment. Teachers told me during Saturday morning lessons they hear gunshots and the school is opposite a police station. Students are coming into school excited saying that they saw a dead body. It’s a really good school and I want to see it breed more winners than losers. We see little glimmers of hope but they slip through the cracks because there’s not enough support, either mental or financial.”
He said one of the reasons the children had no signs of hope was because no one who came from similar situations returned to let them know how they could achieve their dreams, and he wanted to remedy that.