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Community brainstorms education solutions

Antiquated facilities, violence, increased drug use, politics and a lack of trust are some of the things holding back Bermuda’s public schools.

More collaboration and community investment, improved infrastructure and maintenance, culturally relevant pedagogy and a pushback on standardised testing could help them succeed.

These are some of the ideas discussed by the 14 educators, parents and concerned community members who attended the first of several “community conversations” being held to help develop a strategic plan for public education in Bermuda.

“This was such a rich conversation for a small amount of people,” Lisa Smith, policy and project officer with the Ministry of Education, said of the event.

She added that she was not discouraged by the small number of participants, noting that “it’s the quality of engagement, not the quantity of people, that matters”.

The meeting at TN Tatem Middle School was facilitated by teacher Carmen Jones and participants were asked questions including what they would want for the island’s public schools and what is keeping them from achieving these goals.

Jahni Smith, who did her doctorate in urban education policy, spoke about the need for culturally relevant pedagogy, which centres on Bermuda and what it means to be Bermudian.

“It uses that as a central theme for teaching them everything else,” Dr Smith said. “Ultimately, in order to be invested in the country, you have to know about it and have some interest.

“I don’t think it’s possible to cultivate that without a pedagogical style that centres on who you are as a Bermudian first.”

Christopher Douglas, big brother to an M2 student, suggested that middle schools “need to be revisited and possibly scrapped”.

He proposed “something more in line with the UK system, whereas it’s primary, secondary, further, then higher”.

Malcolm Kirkland, one of the founders of the Bermuda Sloop Foundation, said he would like to see “children achieve knowledge in school but that they also develop social and emotional faculties”.

And Shangri-La Durham-Thompson, who has worked in education since 1976, added: “I’d like to see a system designed to help every child reach their individual potential.”

Ms Smith explained that the ideas will be submitted to the consulting firm that has been hired to work on the strategic plan. Common themes will become evident as more meetings are held and feedback is sought from every segment of the island’s community, she said. Ms Smith also noted that a survey, found at www.moed.bm, is being conducted as part of the three stages leading up to the plan, along with the establishment of an ambassador design team: a diverse group of strategic planning writers.

The next meeting will be held at Dellwood Middle School today and Clearwater Middle School will host Monday’s meeting.

Tuesday’s meeting takes place at Sandys Seconday Middle School and the final event at Whitney Institute on Wednesday. Meetings run from 5.45pm to 7.30pm.