Last update: 08-Dec-2013 4:55 am
Sunday, December 08, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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SAGHS is no paradise
It’s a tradition at St Augustine Girls’ High School (SAGHS) to receive national scholarships each year. Success is not at all a stranger to this “prestige” school. Girls enter school highly motivated, and the staff simply ensure that level of motivation is maintained throughout their seven years. SAGHS is one of five Presbyterian schools renowned for its pursuit in academic excellence. News reports would have stated the school received 18 open and 19 additional schols.
However, during an interview with principal Joanne Mahadeo on Friday, she paused to take a phone call from an official from the Ministry of Education. There was a correction, Sherise Chattoo had in fact been awarded an open scholarship and not an additional. So, SAGHS would have received 19 open scholarships— the highest number in the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE). But what differentiates between an open and additional schol?
Mahadeo said an open meant all grade ones with A profiles. She was beaming with pride. Her girls had done it again. Mahadeo, herself a former student of the school and teacher there since 1995 said she was extremely delighted and elated over the accomplishments. “We do get some of the best students from the SEA exam. “We get the top five per cent from the SEA,” she said. For the period 2009 to 2013, SAGHS has received 159 scholarships, 62 were open.
Last year, 36 girls were awarded scholarships, with 17 receiving open. To coincide with the CAPE results which were announced by Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh on Thursday, the school celebrated its 63rd Founder’s Day.
Girls aren’t targeted to win
Mahadeo took the helm about two years ago. Kathleen Anderson served for 16 years, and the longest-serving principal was Anna Mahase who served for over 30 years. Mahadeo said Mahase was an influential leader who had introduced extra and co-curricular activities, a house system, music and other opportunities for the girls to develop their abilities. She said Mahase was still very interested in the progress of the school. She was one of the first people to call and congratulate the school.
So how do the girls manage to do it each year? Mahadeo had this explanation. “We do not train our students for scholarships. “We teach everyone, and we just provide them with the educational opportunities to enable them to achieve their full potential.” She said the school had a tradition of winning scholarships, and the feeling was one of joy and satisfaction knowing that something along the way was done to contribute to their lives and to make them realise their potential. “That’s what we are here for really,” she said.
Mahadeo said generally the girls were all-round students. “We insist from the time they enter school that they participate in co and extracurricular activities. “We have badminton, tennis, hockey, volleyball, public speaking, outreach programmes and swimming.” She said the girls are encouraged to take part in at least one activity. There’s also Scrabble and chess, a history club and a bio-chemics club.
As for the role of parents, she said they ensured their daughters got all that was needed and that they played an active role, which goes a long way towards their girls’ successes. Mahadeo said, “Girls come here because they want to and they know what to expect.” She said the scholarship winners distinguished themselves by displaying leadership qualities and having that extra determination and drive to succeed.
“A lot of them who got open schols were the ones who took part in almost everything,” Mahadeo said. It cannot be academics alone, she said.
SAGHS facing challenges
The most number of schols were given to girls in the sciences. Others were from languages, business, modern studies and math. Mahadeo said about 25 students were from the science category. But it isn’t smooth sailing for these students. A major challenge is infrastructure.
Mahadeo said, “People pass around and they see lovely grounds and they figure this is a paradise here, but when you come in our classrooms... they are small and cramped and we don’t have the kind of facilities that we really need to be the best that we can.” She said the science labs were the same ones that she used when she attended the school. She said the labs were inadequate. “We have an A-level chemistry lab that was built for 12 students, our chemistry class is about 50.
“We have to split it up.” Another problem was using the laptops distributed by the Government. Mahadeo said, “The use of the laptop is just not the best that it can be because the infrastructure just cannot accommodate it. “For instance, an entire class cannot use their laptops at the same time because of the bandwidth.” She also said getting interactive whiteboards would be “nice” in every classroom. Right now, there are three. However, the girls have learned to adapt despite their challenges.
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