Lara Pickford-Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) hopes to implement an initiative to enlist volunteers from parishes to assist with uplifting the performance of students in Catholic primary schools.
The Catholic News editorial July 22 stated there were persons in communities including experts in special education and therapists/counsellors to deal with trauma, who can work with schools. It commented, “There is little interaction between parish and school on these matters”. Responding to the suggestion Chief Executive of CEBM Sharon Mangroo said: “I am aware parishes say they have people interested in helping, of course all this has to be vetted carefully, [and] properly organised because the safety of the children is always the first consideration. They have to always be monitored.” The CEBM schools can “link” with parishes to “to look for volunteers who will assist the teacher”. She said this is done in other countries where “the volunteers come in, the teacher sets the work, the volunteer can manage part of a class while the teacher gives individual attention to a few other pupils.” Volunteers will be under the supervision of the principal.
Mangroo said the CEBM will have to work “hand in hand” on this idea with the Ministry of Education because the Education Minister has oversight for all schools in the country.
Boosting schools’ performance
The proceeds of the 2018 Priests Can Cook fundraiser on September 28 will give financial assistance to a few of the schools on ‘academic watch’. More than 20 Catholic RC primary schools were placed on ‘Academic Watch’ after results of the 2016 National Tests from Mathematics and Language Arts. Standards One and Three were used to come up with a score on the Academic Performance Index (API).
The index is designed to provide an indicator of a school’s performance level, and is calculated annually by the Ministry of Education’s Division of Educational Research and Evaluation in consultation with Dr Jerome De Lisle of UWI. Performance of students is rated as follows: ‘Meets Standards’, ‘Exceeds Standards’, ‘Nearly Meets Standards’, ‘Well Below Standards’. Schools will have a better performance on the API if there is a higher proportion of students in the ‘Meets Standards’ group.
Mangroo said there were improvements in the 2016 API. “Some schools while still on academic watch had improved scores, 11 schools moved out of academic watch from the year before so there has been a gradual improvement and we expect that improvement to continue.”
She disclosed that about 14 of the schools on ‘academic watch’ were in the Port of Spain area, in communities impacted by crime, drugs and violence. Mangroo said: “The principals have a very difficult time. The reality is schools have to provide an education to some children who go through trauma such as fathers, brothers being murdered…Those children, they are not 100 per cent present even if they are physically present; there are also children who are actively involved in criminal activity even at primary level.” Principals spend a lot of time alert to keep crime at bay, for example Mangroo said they checked to ensure drugs are not hidden on the school compound.
RC schools have seen positive outcomes from participation in ‘Leading for Literacy Now!’. The project, co-ordinated by the TT National Commission for UNESCO, aims to improve literacy and academic performance. It has been rolled out in phases since 2013. The 2016–2017 phase of the project was conducted in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, the National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS) and the Franciscan Institute. It is sponsored by Republic Bank Ltd ‘Power to Make a Difference’ programme, and under the direction of The School Leadership Centre of Trinidad and Tobago.
Mangroo said 36 schools benefitted and 13 are currently taking part. The project focuses on teacher training, monitoring, learning environment, resources, leadership training, parenting for literacy training. The National Library Information System ensures students have a library card to visit their community library. Sessions were held during the July–August vacation and there will be “some work” during the year. Mangroo said literacy inclusive of Math is “at the heart of learning difficulty” for many children. Feedback from schools on the programme has been positive however, the “biggest challenge” for teachers is class size.
The CEBM introduced a Quality Assurance System in 2013 which seeks to encourage principals and staff to look critically at all aspects of their operations, including relationships, and make decisions which will lead to overall school improvement and increased student achievement. This has resulted in improved academic performance and school environment. “This year we had several principals very happy with their Secondary Entrance Assessment results and they say it is the result of the combination of things we’ve been doing,” Mangroo said.
In 2013, a series of workshops on teaching mathematics was conducted which helped teachers get a better understanding of the concepts they taught. The facilitator utilised manipulatives which could easily be made in the classroom, for example cardboard cutouts to teach fractions.
Mangroo said, “The children those teachers taught would have done the SEA and the teachers say they saw an improvement so we expect a greater improvement next year.”