By Lara Pickford-Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s Wednesday May 23 and Standard Five pupils of Nelson Street Girls’ RC are having a buffet lunch in the school’s post-primary centre. There is some nervousness in using the cutlery but they are putting into practise what they have learnt from their mentors, alumni of St Joseph’s Convent (SJC), Port of Spain. This exercise prepared them for their upcoming graduation dinner.
A few members of the past pupils’ association have been mentoring Standard One and Five pupils with the aim of exposing them to attitudes and practices which will serve them throughout their life.
In an interview at the school, Halcyon Yorke-Young, master of the Children’s Court, who has done personal development with students of St Joseph’s Convent said the group of seven mentors felt they
could make a difference in a child’s life and not just focus on SJC students.
“We don’t live in isolation; we need to go out there and we wanted to start an outreach programme,” she said.
The six mentors were: Yorke-Young, Cherrie Charles (business background), Allyson Smart-Cooper (chartered accountant), Theresa Yorke Metzger (dentist) and coordinator of the mentorship programme, Denise Gilbert (teacher) and Claire Eunice Gittens, social worker, former director of National Family Services.
The Catholic Education Board of Management was contacted about which schools they thought could benefit from what they had to offer and several schools were proposed but the group wanted to focus on a Port of Spain school. Nelson Street Girls’ was one so they subsequently contacted Ag Principal Lisa Hinds-Lynch.
In the initial meeting with Hinds-Lynch, they shared ideas about reducing conflict in the school, anger management, etiquette and personal development. Hinds-Lynch was asked if there were other things she wanted them to focus on. Yorke-Young said, “We felt education gives you choices and the principal felt this should be the name of the programme ‘Education gives you choices’.”
“We went through the programme we wanted to do. We wanted to do it with Standard Ones first and she suggested we do it with Fives. We decided to do it with both Ones and Fives because we were thinking they were in Standard Five and preparing for SEA and maybe they don’t have time but she said it was so important for them to have it because they were leaving”.
Hinds-Lynch stressed the need for etiquette preparation before the girls had their graduation and dinner at the Cascadia Hotel on June 1.
“So they would learn about table setting, how to use the different cutlery, posture —sit up straight… We firmly believe when we teach the child, we teaching the family because they going home and sharing everything they have learnt,” Yorke-Young said. Hinds-Lynch emphasised her wanting her charges to be “fine young ladies” going out into society.
Before starting in January, there was a meeting with parents to empower them and get them on board with the idea. Some parents voiced their disappointment other classes were not being mentored.
Before each session with the mentors, the school song was sung, and the girls were encouraged to wear their full school uniform with pride, walk erectly and speak with confidence. “Girls from Nelson Street must stand out. When they [are] walking on the street they must stand out. People must say those are fine young ladies from Nelson Street: that is what we are trying to do.”
Yorke-Young said the mentors want to create a manual which could be used at the school after they left. She added, “Perhaps the whole idea would spread to other schools. We are hoping it will be bigger than Nelson Street, bigger than the past pupils’ association and other schools take up the challenge to do it with another school.”
Another aspect of the mentorship is helping the girls inspire and mentor their peers. Earlier this year, Charles participated in a life-coaching course in the UK offered by Dr David Clutterbuck and was so impressed, she hoped to use what she learnt to help the girls at Nelson Street.
Charles said, “It was so exciting…Particularly the older girls, they are so hungry for what we are teaching. They’re excited and seeing themselves in a different role, being more responsible.”
A greater sense of self, respect for self and for authority, to be more caring, understanding, tolerant of
each other, and “less angry” are other effects the mentors hope to instil.
“Whereas life coaching comes from the perspective of a senior experienced person coaching a less-than- experienced and younger person, the whole concept behind this is teaching the girls to be coaches and mentors to their friends or to be coaches and mentors to younger children,” Charles clarified.
She referred to research which found that children from troubled backgrounds or affected by life tragedies—loss of a parent or tragic circumstances, placed in a position to mentor someone else who is troubled and thus stop focusing on their own particular issue. This built their self-esteem and helped them recover from their own tragedy.
Hinds-Lynch said tears came to her eyes when she saw the girls during the luncheon as they tried “so hard to be fine young ladies, to be perfectly proper”.
She felt the programme was helping the children bloom in a “rocky environment” and bring out the beautiful children they are. “That is what this mentorship programme is doing,” she said with satisfaction.