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Getting to classes just as risky

Published: 
Friday, March 4, 2016
Principals on school violence:
Principal of Barataria South Secondary School, Sharlene Hicks-Raeburn, right, addresses participants during yesterday’s panel discussion, titled Women Managing Education in Vulnerable Communities at the School of Education’s auditorium, UWI, St Augustine. At left, is discussion moderator Dr Fredy James. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ

Students from some crime hotspots risk their lives just to get to school and are also faced with gang culture at school.

So said the principal of Barataria South Secondary School, Sharlene Hicks-Raeburn, who added it was not realistic to expect some of her students to report to school on time.

She classified that as a “life or death situation for some just to leave their home to come here.”

Hicks-Raeburn was speaking yesterday at a symposium, titled Women Managing Education in Vulnerable Communities, at the School of Education, St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies.  

Hicks-Raeburn said many children today viewed school as a safe haven from the dangers that lurk outside the school walls and a place where they could seek refuge from home without participating in classes.

This view was strongly supported by principal of the Success/Laventille Secondary School, Hamida Baksh, who acknowledged the loss of several students within the last two years.

Yesterday’s discussion was dedicated to the memories of students—Mark Richards and Deneilson Smith—who were both dragged from a taxi and shot dead on January 21 as they made their way home. 

Another student, Salim Dalzell was also gunned down outside the school gate in November 2014. The three had been students of the Success/Laventille Secondary School.

Referring to the “gang elements” which the two officials agreed had crept into school halls, Hicks-Raeburn said the safety concerns by students interested in learning were yet another problem they had to grapple with daily.

She revealed that last week, a student was caught with a knife and cutlass in his bag, which he claimed he had to use for his own protection in school.

Remembering the students whose lives were lost in violent circumstances during the past two years, principal of Success/Laventille Secondary School, Hamida Baksh revealed the personal and professional transformation she had undergone as a result.

Commenting on the role of the parent, Baksh said that schools along the East/West Corridor were under “pressure.” 

She said as many parents struggled to survive daily, there was often little time or interest paid to the child’s school progress and even slimmer attention towards homework and revision.

Referring to gang violence as the most urgent “real problem” facing the authorities now, Baksh said students were constantly battling peer pressure, violence and gang leaders.

She said teachers were finding it increasingly difficult to “sell” the education in the face of these factors and that some parents seized the opportunity to send their children to school so they could remain “safe.”

Presenting her changed mindset and how she interacted with her students, Baksh said she was grateful everyday when students turned up at school.

However, officials from secondary schools in Port-of-Spain, Barataria and Cunupia yesterday said that it was an uphill task as the “curriculum of the street” seemed to be wielding more influence among their students.