SINCE opening its doors in January, the Learning Enrichment Centre, Tobago, has been steadily impacting the lives of its students.
Located at Hope Farm Road, Hope, on a hill overlooking the Windward Road, the centre is the brainchild of Chief Secretary and Secretary for Education, Innovation and Energy Kelvin Charles.
It was established as a pilot project for students of ages 13 to 15 who have been suspended from school for indiscipline.
“It is an out of school learning centre where students, instead of staying at home, as has previously been the case, would come to the centre and be engaged in the academics and a variety of other courses,” manager Suzette Woods-James said in a Newsday interview.
Woods-James said suspension can range from seven days for minor incidents to an additional 21 days for students requiring special attention to get back on track.
Stressing the centre is not the final stop for indisciplined youngsters, Woods-James said the students, on completing the programme, are required to return to their respective schools. She said since its establishment, the centre’s enrolment has not exceeded 16 students.
According to Woods-James, the centre, which is funded by the Division of Education, Innovation and Energy, enjoys a non-recidivism rate of 92 per cent and also has seen a 50 per cent drop in intake within the last quarter.
“The students are aware they will be sent here if they are suspended. If they are here, there is no fun or play time,” she said of the marked decline in intake.
Absenteeism, she said, also is not a problem. Woods-James attributed the centre’s success thus far to its committed staff and facilitators, all of whom, she said, contribute to the holistic development of the students.
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Apart from the academics – English language, mathematics and science – the students are also exposed to motivational lectures, life skills, career guidance workshops, religious instruction and training in conflict resolution, decision-making and conflict management.
Sessions in child abuse and neglect, crime and its consequences, social etiquette and personal hygiene are also taught at the facility.
Woods-James said morning periods, from 8.30 am to 12 pm, are reserved for the academics, while the afternoons are designated for group activities. Fridays are usually left open for field trips.
Woods-James said the students visited the MIC in Canaan as part of a group activity and were excited about its crop production programme. That eagerness led to an expansion of the centre’s agricultural programme.
With the help of Maxwell Roberts, a University of TT agricultural science lecturer, the students were taught crop production, not only for food consumption, but also as a sustainable economic activity.
The students are cultivating a range of short-term crops such as lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant, sweet peppers, patchoi and cauliflower. Long term crops include pigeon peas, sorrel and cassava.
Woods-James said some of the harvested crops were given to the students while the remainder was sold at Double D Enterprises, Government House Road, Scarborough.
Patterned after the national school code of conduct “with some additions,” Woods-James said the centre maintains a structured, uncompromising agenda by which both students and parents must abide, Woods-James said.
She said during orientation, parents are required to accompany the students.
“As part of the orientation process, the parent and the child must sign what is called a coordinated behaviour plan. This document outlines the behaviour that is expected of the child whilst they are at the centre and also upon return to their respective secondary schools.”
The manager said the students are then assessed individually by a child therapist from the Student Support Services Unit of the Ministry of Education.
“The therapist would sit with that child and do an assessment to find out what is happening, even at home and in the school and structure a programme to assist the individual child.
“For instance, with some of the children, we have follow-ups with them after they have returned to their schools in which case the dean or the guidance counsellor is going to continue working with them.”
“This is where the parent ensures that the child does whatever assignment is given to them and returns with the assignment the following day. The parents may also tell the centre about any medical complaints the child may have. So, in that way, everybody is on board and working for the same vision.”
Woods-James said the centre also has a strict cellphone use policy.
“The students can bring their cellphones but it cannot be used during the course of the day. It is handed over to the security and when they are about to leave in the afternoon, they would get back their cellphones.”
The centre also maintains a zero tolerance stance on cursing and stealing.
From her observation, Woods-James said peer pressure and a need to mirror what is happening in the society are the root causes of the students’ indiscipline.
She cited music as an example.
“They feel that they need to dress a particular way. Let me use the example of the song of the zesser. When they come here they tell themselves they have to be a zesser. But we say, ‘No, you have to be a good student.’
“So, society has influences on these students because it is about showing their peers they could be in the game.”