FOCUS (Forward and Onward to College Upward to Success) is a college access programme of Lyford Cay Foundations, made possible by the generosity of donors. This year the very first cohort of students completes high school and moves forward to college. This is their story.
“I started this programme as an only child but I’m leaving with over 20 brothers and sisters,” said Lavano Sands, FOCUS Class of 2019.
In June 2011, just after completing grade four, 30 shy and tentative students were wide-eyed about their future, with a relatively narrow scope of careers, but a common dream to move on to post-secondary education after grade 12. Fast forward to June 2019 and 23 of the original 30 FOCUS students remain and are poised to do just that.
FOCUS Class of 2019 comprises a diverse group of young, confident and caring students, who plan to explore a broad spectrum of career fields and post-secondary options. Ninety percent of the Class of 2019 applied to national colleges like the University of The Bahamas (UB), The Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI), Bahamas Agriculture & Marine Science Institute (BAMSI), and LJM Maritime Academy. An overlapping 25 percent have additionally applied to a host of international colleges and post-secondary options.
This was the goal all along. But how did they get there?
FOCUS starts with six-week summers of enrichment learning at UB, the programme’s site host partner since inception. Students engage in project-based learning (PBL), showcase their projects and talents, learn to swim, play soccer and other sports, enjoy experiential learning field trips, and receive mentorship and encouragement along the way from expert guest speakers. These key ingredients are applied consistently during the school year for 15 Saturdays a year.
PBL, a form of hands-on learning, tackling real life problems, is the hallmark of summer learning for FOCUS students in grades 5 through 9. By the time the Class of 2019 completed junior high school, they already completed a myriad of projects from making musical instruments from everyday objects, creating a documentary film comparing life in Nassau at the time of independence to the year 2013, using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology to create a unique bus route for FOCUS students, and producing radio/television broadcasts and a newspaper publication featuring news and topics of their choice.
In the summer before grade 10, the Class of 2019 was prepared for the demands of senior high school, learned how to navigate personal and emotional transitions, and supported in envisioning who they wanted to be, while navigating the road to accessing a college education. During On Course to College (OCTC) - the final stage of FOCUS - these driven students were given tailored college specific information and preparation. Each enthusiastically delved into researching colleges and scholarships, understanding college application processes, sitting the necessary college entrance exams and focused on meeting the requirements to receive a national high school diploma. Greater responsibilities were placed on each student with increased individual support from the Programme Coordinator, Karen McCartney and programme interns. OCTC took students through the rigorous process of college prep in a tailored and student-centred way.
For many, grade 12 - the final year of OCTC - was both stressful and rewarding for students and programme staff alike. Saturday seminars focused on preparation for life after high school and going to college. Supreme emphasis was placed on college and scholarship applications and students received individualized support. Karen McCartney said: “FOCUS was designed to be impactful and transformational for our students and their families, but these students have been equally as impactful to us, well certainly for me.”
FOCUS has the goal of achieving high school graduation and/or direct enrolment into a college, a technical/vocational school, or into a structured gap year activity placement for all of its students. FOCUS develops not only its students’ academic skills, but ever important soft skills, and the resilience to foster their success through tertiary education and beyond. FOCUS staff worked towards these goals by nurturing youth voice/agency, their sense of identity, their holistic development and a sense of community belonging.
In Their Own Words, FOCUS Class of 2019:
“FOCUS has taught me the importance of discipline, education, and family.” Berkell Sturrup
“FOCUS has made me into a better person by teaching me life lessons and how I should deal with many different situations.” Decordre Johnson
“It changed my mindset towards life and how I think about applying for college.” Jermaine Bannister
“FOCUS has made me mature to the point where I’m able to make wise choices. From a very young age I had already known my future goals and plan for my life.” Rashawna Rolle
“FOCUS has had a major impact on my life, mainly with math, language, and social skills.” Cierra Barr
“FOCUS, from the very first moment, has encouraged me to be grateful at all times. Everything FOCUS has done for me will not be in vain. I have to make them proud because they saw the best in me when I couldn’t even see it in myself.” Shanquell Clarke
“FOCUS has given me a head way and a guiding hand that helped me with things that I was clueless about. It’s given me a future and inspires me.” Ishmael Gibson
“Being in FOCUS not only gave me the knowledge to apply to my school work but also the experience of having a family working towards one goal and helping each other along the way.” Edwin Simmons
“An impact FOCUS has made in my life is being able to be the first college student in my family.” Jenny Gaspard