Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ashani's School Orientation

Tomorrow Ashani and her classmates start secondary school at the Institute for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (IT-VET). But before hitting the books, the students were requested to attend an orientation program, which was held on Friday. 

Cathie Kelly, the woman who was so instrumental in getting Ashani involved with our Arts Festival to raise education monies, and I also were given the opportunity to attend. 

Upon arriving at the Corozal campus, I was struck by how open and clean the whole place is. 

It was also interesting that the kids who had already arrived were pretty low key. Yes, there was a bunch of chatter, but none of the horseplay one might expect when a bunch of teens are together.

At the designated time, everyone – students, teachers, and visitors – made their way to the classroom where the Orientation would be held. The first sign that this would shape up to be an interesting morning occurred when everyone was asked to stand and sing the national anthem. Before getting through the first stanza, one of the stray dogs who was moseying around the school grounds decided to pay a visit. So here everyone was singing away, and the dog meanders in the front door of the classroom and makes his rounds. Waves of giggles came from just about everyone, but the singing continued. Once the dog worked his way through the class, he was satisfied and proceeded out the back door.

With the anthem done, a short prayer was delivered, then each student was called to the front of the room to receive a packet containing their individual class schedule, a student-parent handbook, a one page list of school rules, and a demerit card. I’ll get into the demerit card in just a moment. All in all, I would estimate the entire student body consists of about 40-45 kids between the ages of 14 - 17.

Once the folders were distributed, one of the instructors started a PowerPoint presentation that provided us with an overview of the mission/goals/philosophy of the school, as well as the areas of study for pre-vocational and trade areas. At present, this campus offers training in four trade areas: Building and Ground Maintenance, Cosmetology, Food Preparation, and Ornamental Horticulture. In the future, the campus will offer courses in poultry and pig production.

As the presentation moved on, it was very clear that the school is focused getting the students prepared to ultimately enter the workforce. They want the children to understand that the rules they need to follow while attending school are not that much different from when they become employees.

Which brings us back to the demerit card. Every student must bring their demerit card to school every day. If they can’t produce it, they will receive demerits. They will also be given demerits for breaking any of the following rules:

  • Wearing an incomplete uniform, or arriving in no uniform
  • Coming to school without their books, equipment, or pertinent materials
  • Displays of rudeness
  • Disrupting class (talking/playing)
  • Disobedience
  • Neglect of duty
  • Not turning in assignments
  • Any other infraction that the instructors may observe

Once a student receives five demerits, they will be assigned one full day of community service. At first I thought they meant the kids would go out into the community to do something, but it turns out the service will be done on the campus, such as helping an instructor make copies of schoolwork or cleaning up a classroom. 

After accumulating 10 demerits, the offender will receive two full days of community service. At 15 demerits the penalty is one full week of working suspension and at 20 demerits the student will be expelled from the school.

Once 5, 10, or 15 demerits are accumulated, the student will be called in for a meeting with their parents and teachers, and be required to attend a counseling session. For the instances that a student needs to complete a full day of service, he/she will receive a zero for their class work that day and must take responsibility to obtain whatever homework assignments were given and to complete them in a timely manner.

But that’s not all. Demerits will also be given if you are late arriving to school, for horseplay, loitering, eating/drinking in class, as well as for littering.

And speaking about arriving at school, each student must go through the security checkpoint at the school’s entrance. No student is allowed to leave the campus during school hours, without prior permission. Students may bring their lunch or purchase lunch at the school’s cafeteria. 

All bags may be searched at any given time. No electronic devices or ball caps are allowed on campus. If they bring a cell phone or some other device, the student must turn it in upon arriving and pick up the devices at the end of the day.

In the event a student doesn’t declare banned items, and any are found in their possession, they will be confiscated. The first time it happens, the student must pay $25 per item. Providing they can pay, the confiscated item(s) are returned the same day. If it happens a second time, the student still must pay $25 per item, but they won’t get their items back until the end of the semester.

If any of the students are found with drugs, any intoxicants, or weapons, the police will be immediately notified.

Another key message during the orientation was that the students are expected to be on their best behavior, not just while on campus, but outside of campus as well. If a student is observed engaging in the following misbehaviors, it will be considered Serious Misconduct. As a result, they will be subject to demerits, community service, and/or expulsion.

  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages
  • Use or sale of illegal drugs
  • Insubordination/defiance of authority
  • Physical threats or attacks or inflicting a wound with any object
  • Use of obscene language or indecent behavior
  • Vandalism (this transgression will result in automatic suspension and the student must pay for repairs)
  • Theft
  • Truancy
  • Cheating
  • Skipping class or community service
  • Unauthorized use of radios, cassette recorders, electronics or other types of toys during school hours
  • Membership in gangs/display of gang symbolism of any kind
  • Wearing of tattoos

After this portion of the Orientation was over, the topic moved to Appearance and Personal Hygiene, which was given by one of the male teachers.

I already mentioned that the students must wear their complete uniform, but there are a few more rules they need to follow, including:

  • The school badge and ID card are part of the uniform and must be worn at all times,
  • Students must wear either black or brown closed-toe shoes or tennis shoes, with appropriate socks. Shoes with laces, must be laced. All shoes need to be clean.
  • Only brown or black belts can be worn.
  • Plain white undergarments – without designs or writing – must be worn beneath the uniform shirt/blouse.
  • No excessive jewelry may be worn by the female students. Male students should not wear earrings when on campus or at any school function
  • No hair extensions or extreme hairdos are allowed. 
  • All students are expected to bathe and brush their teeth before coming to school.

To help illustrate the point, a series of photos were displayed. The first showed a girl with no make-up, and hair pulled back in a ponytail. The next shot showed a teenage girl in full make-up and coiffed hair. The question was posed to the students, “Which girl would you want to be with?” The second photo was the winner. 

Another series of photos showed examples of inappropriate dress, including a young woman in a very, very short dress and stilettos, posed in a sultry position on a stool. With this shot, the presenter said, “What would you think if our school’s secretary dressed like this?” My guess is that most of the guys wouldn’t be that upset, but I can only imagine what the secretary – who was in the room – was thinking. 

Other pictures showed examples of unacceptable hair styles. It was at this point that one of the instructors let the students know that if they came to school with any unacceptable hair, the Cosmetology department would remedy the situation and cut the offending hair off to a style that was acceptable to school standards.

Now all that being said, the school does allow the students to come in casual clothes twice a month, but they need to pay $1 BZD. Money collected for casual days go into a fundraising kitty to help pay for school trips. Other fund raisers include things like raffles. It’s mandatory that every student participate in fund raisers.

After reviewing all the rules and regs for the school, the presentation moved on to the rights of the students and the procedures to lodge a grievance, should a student feel their rights have been violated.

The final element of the Orientation focused on the school’s library. The presenter shared that the library has an assortment of books, papers, magazines, and brochures available for loan to the students. All materials are filed using the Dewey Decimal system. Students may obtain materials themselves or ask the library staff to retrieve materials for them. All items that are borrowed need to have a library slip filled out manually that details the items on loan and pertinent student information.

Study areas are also available at the library, and students must obey library rules for respectful behavior, including "no courting" in the library areas.

With the PowerPoint presentation at a close, the students were divided into their respective classes and sent off to meet with their instructors, get their books, and find their homeroom.

I have to admit that at this point, my brain was about ready to implode. If these are the rules for a public school, I can only imagine what is required for a private institution. I also cringed inwardly wondering how many demerits I would rack up if I was a student.

But at the end of the day, I believe the school is trying to instill structure and discipline to ensure these students stand a better chance of success. It won’t be easy. I think the small student body speaks to the fact that education at this level is truly a luxury. The students have to take their education as seriously as the instructors do who will be their career guides in the coming weeks and months.

Speaking for myself, I wish Ashani all the best as she starts this next chapter of her life. She's worked hard to get to this point and there's every indication that she'll do well. In future posts, I'll be sure to keep you up-to-date on her progress.

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