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Sunday 15 September 2019
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Mr Singh’s lessons

Poet uses radio drama to look at education

The Quays Foundation founder Derron Sandy (seated centre), US Embassy public affairs officer AJ Jagleski and teacher Najja Cooper with other members of the foundation at the launch of Little Fire project at the Maloney Public Library on June 17, 2018. FILE PHOTO
The Quays Foundation founder Derron Sandy (seated centre), US Embassy public affairs officer AJ Jagleski and teacher Najja Cooper with other members of the foundation at the launch of Little Fire project at the Maloney Public Library on June 17, 2018. FILE PHOTO

The TT school system is not designed to reach every child so teachers need to be flexible in their methods in order to connect to and educate children of different circumstances and abilities.

That is the main message behind the radio drama written by local performance poet Derron Sandy which will premiere on Festival Radio for Carifesta XVI and broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

Sandy, 32, explained that earlier this year there was a call for submissions for radio dramas and Ardene Sirjoo, of local media company Trini Good Media, suggested he submit a concept. His work as well as those of Elisha Efua Bartels and Kyle Hernandez were selected. The three then attended several workshops hosted by English production company, Sparklab Production, which directed them as to the requirements of radio dramas. He described it as a rewarding learning experience that he values highly.

Performance poet and founder of The Quays Foundation, Derron Sandy. PHOTOS COURTESY DERRON SANDY.

His radio drama, Mr Singh, looks at some of the challenges in the education system, especially in lower income communities with troublesome students. He said the teachers in the play use aggression and are rough when dealing with the children. But the main character, a new teacher, Mr Singh, has a philosophy of peace and patience based on Buddhist principles. He said people do not have confidence in Singh’s contrasting belief system and it is frowned upon, but he is persistent in trying to bring discipline to the students.

“Eventually he succeeds in some sort of way, illustrating that sometimes we just need different methods to deal with children coming from different homes with different challenges and bringing all that emotional baggage into school.”

He told Sunday Newsday Mr Singh was the result of merging his experiences working with children as well as an interest in Buddhism. The idea came about a while ago when he saw some Buddhist quotes. He was intrigued and did some research on the principles of Buddhism and wrote the short story which he reworked into a radio play.

Sandy has been actively working with children and youths since 2010, when the idea of the Quays Foundation, his NGO in which theatre and performance are used to reach children, was initiated. He was also a secondary school teacher at Bates Memorial High School of SDA in Sangre Grande for two years, lives in Maloney, and works with the children of Maloney and Five Rivers through his foundation.

Derron Sandy speaking to some of the young cast of Mr Singh before recording a schoolyard scene.

He recalled doing a programme called Little Fire with children who had discipline issues at Maloney Government Primary School. “I remember at the start of the programme they were very restless and the disturbances were high. We continued using theatre and different games to engage them on different topics and as time passed we saw a lot of improvement in the behaviour of the children. So I definitely know for sure that different methods outside of just raw aggression could be very successful in these environments.”

His first involvement in theatre was in 2006 when he directed a play in form six at St Mary’s College. Drawn to the literary arts, he attended the University of the West Indies and studied for a degree in English Language and literature, as well as a masters in literature. In 2012, he joined The 2 Cents Movement, a spoken word and performance art NGO where he is now an artistic director.

“When Mr Singh was chosen I was very grateful for the opportunity but I did not really recognise the magnitude of it until I got the first call from Mel Harris (the director) from Sparklab. She told me it would air on BBC Radio and how big radio dramas are in England. Then I was surprised and excited.”

Sandy got to select his own cast, which Harris vetted. He said Harris was only in TT for a short period of time and the recording process was long, so the children got tired and restless and it was a challenge. However, he was confident in everyone’s abilities and it worked out well.

“I want to see how the audience would receive it. They warned us to write stories that would be accessible to a wider audience but they also wanted it to have a strong Caribbean narrative. I think I balanced it fairly well so I’m just waiting to hear how the UK audience responds to it.”

The radio plays will premiere on Festival Radio from August 18 to 20 and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 a month later.

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