With a spate of incidents dominating the news involving children in acts of school violence, fights, attacks on teachers, vandalism and promiscuity in the blackboard jungle, actress, director, producer, teacher, mother and activist Penelope Spencer is appealing to the public and influential people who young people look up to in society to give of their time and adopt a class.
She said they may not reap the results right away, but they will set in motion the process of producing the next model citizens, making a positive contribution in their chosen field and for the betterment of the country. Spencer said with the proper time, mentorship and guidance the next entrepreneur, Peter Minshall or soca superstar may emerge.
Speaking to Guardian Media Spencer said "I was really upset and worried about the crime situation that is going on in T&T. I've been tossing and turning asking myself what can I do.
"I can't march any more around the Red House or do any kind of marching because that doesn't work; no one listens.
"I thought to myself what do all these murderers, abusers and negative persons have in common? They all went to school at some point in their lives.
"I thought tackling and getting in the school system would be an ideal way to start to work with children. A lot of children don't get the opportunity to speak in school and at home."
She said if they could get people like herself to go out to the schools to talk to children about different topics, read stories, teach them about good moral values, this would take away some of the pressure and stress from the teachers for a short while.
Spencer said she started working with one class at Point Cumana Government Primary School, Standard One. When she first visited, she realised many of the children were at-risk and some needed special attention, so she decided to assist wherever she could.
She said January 31 was the first day with her class of 16 children, but on that day only 13 came out. Their teacher, Kyna Pedro-Guevara, was exceptional and a great help, she said.
Spencer said she laid down her rules about discipline, manners and respect; if they cannot abide then consequences will be put in place and they understood.
She said she told a story and asked questions after, she hugged and loved them up, she tried to focus on the trouble makers without making it look too obvious and they seemed to enjoy the session.
Spencer is so good at what she does, the school wanted her to tell stories to other classes.
Spencer said if everyone helped the young children, they could help change their minds, let them know there were other avenues.
She said there were children in society who were not getting the proper guidance or understood moral values, choices, and consequences.
Spencer said nobody was taking time to teach them, to understand freedom and value it, many children didn't understand friendship and love, how a boy was supposed to treat a girl, how girls were supposed to speak to boys.
She said many of them never heard Aesop's Fables, or given positive reinforcements and modern stories. Children need to be given a hearing to tell their stories and given a chance to express themselves, she said.
Spencer encouraged volunteers to tell a story about friendship, bring a fruit the next time and teach them about sharing.
She said they can also bring someone to teach them how to play football. More men need to come into some of the children's lives, she said, as they didn't have enough male figures or father figures around to understand that bonding.
Spencer suggested that they can take children to plays and know-your-country tours.
She is hoping that next year the relevant authorities like the Children's Authority, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Social Development can help provide psychiatric counselling and help, since some children may have been abused and need to regain trust. She said some children faced various challenges from being dyslexic, to hunger and can't concentrate.
Spencer said her class at Point Cumana Government Primary School had a lovely field with playground equipment, but it was right next to a large drain with no barrier that posed a safety risk to the children. She appealed to those in authority to have it fixed.
She said she would love to see parents and guardians get report cards and graded on attendance at PTA meetings, participation in school activities, and overall attention to their child and perhaps they would be more responsible parents.
She said it would be wonderful if local celebrities can adopt a class in schools that were not "privileged" such as Pinto Road, Arima, Maloney, and San Francique.
Spencer encouraged them to come out and support a worthy cause—some may not be able to teach, but can be motivators, play games with the children.