WHEN asked what he would like to be when he grows up, FOCUS student Caleb Mahalland doesn’t miss a beat: “I want to be the Prime Minister. FOCUS will help me reach my goal.”
Clearly, big dreams are brewing among the young participants of the Lyford Cay Foundation’s newest education initiative. Launched in 2011, FOCUS (Forward and Onward to College. Upward to Success) is a tuition-free school enrichment programme that targets grade four public school students and sets them on an eight-year path to college and career success.
During the ‘Summer Slam’ Open House, family members of current and prospective pupils and supporters of the programme all gathered at the College of the Bahamas to find out more about how FOCUS is helping to shape the young minds of today — and the potential Prime Ministers of tomorrow.
After a rousing morning rally during which the students danced and sang about the selected word of the day, math problem of the day and ‘SIP SIP’ (“say it properly”) exercise, some of them talked about their favourite activities and how they feel the programme will assist them in meeting their long-term goals.
“FOCUS has taught me how to work together, not to be a bully, and to treat others as I’d like to be treated,” said fifth grader Rashawna Rolle. “I like how the teachers never give up and love us.”
Another fifth grader, Harold Chipman, added: “I like how the teachers help us in life. I would recommend the programme because some children will not be able to get into college and succeed in life, and FOCUS will help them.”
The majority of the students who successfully complete the rigorous FOCUS curriculum — which is offered for six weeks in the summer and 15 Saturdays throughout the academic year — will be the first in their families to go to college.
The programme’s project-based learning approach includes many creative and hands-on activities that keep the students engaged and make the classes fun. This summer, for example, the pupils are exploring themes of music and invention. During a tour of the classrooms, some youngsters eagerly shared the items they devised to solve everyday problems around the house, as well as musical instruments they made from recycled household products.
Meanwhile, posters and charts along the walls celebrated individual student achievements in mathematics and reading challenges. This year, FOCUS has also added a new speech challenge which will culminate in a contest later this summer.
Each activity in the curriculum, said programme director Felicity Humblestone, combines creativity and academics to increase the students’ self-esteem and encourage them to take charge of their learning experience.
“The learning groups are boosting their confidence in other areas — it’s taking learning from just sitting in with your classroom teacher to learning for learning’s sake, because even though we call some things competitions, the children motivate themselves to do their best,” she said. “I think students, particularly at this age, are inclined to move around and talk anyway, and it’s going to foster and facilitate their learning better if you create avenues to do that — whether in rallies or group work in class.”
The programme had a 97 per cent attendance rate in its first year, and the students have shown remarkable progress not only in their academic lives but also in their interpersonal skills.
FOCUS started last year with one cohort of 30 children (the class of 2019), and added 40 more pupils this summer (the class of 2020). The programme will continue to add a class of 50 students each year until it reaches full capacity in 2018, when it will serve close to 400 youngsters in grades five through 12. At present, for logistical reasons, FOCUS is only available to students from the northwestern public school district. Admission is by application.
The curriculum is facilitated by college students, under the guidance of experienced educators. Therefore, it provides a unique internship opportunity to aspiring teachers who feel that their lives are being transformed just as much as those of their young pupils.
“One of the most valuable aspects of working with FOCUS is seeing kids in public schools just like me grow,” said intern teacher O’Niel Bain, an English Studies major at COB. “I think it’s very valuable to work with local kids to help them get on track to college. It’s been great working with them this summer, seeing them learn and absorb what we teach them, and knowing that this is going to help them later on in life and that I’m impacting them in this way.”
Photos by Bahamas Visual Services.
During a recent ‘Summer Slam’ Open House, family members of current and prospective pupils and supporters of FOCUS, the Lyford Cay Foundation’s newest education initiative, gathered at the College of the Bahamas to find out more about how the programme is helping to shape the minds of its young participants.