The light shone on the abilities, and not the disabilities, of eight students of the Beacon School when they became the first group of special needs students to receive Bronze Awards from the Governor General’s Youth Award programme.
“Our students always rise to challenges and supersede our expectations,” said Beacon teacher and GGYA unit leader, Titi McKenzie-Moss. “There are many myths and preconceived notions about persons with special needs, but students at the Beacon School are all about dispelling myths, overcoming barriers and changing misconceptions.”
Fourteen students from the school took part in the programme this year. Eight qualified for an Award: Floyd Bain, Mercedes Smith, Rycardra Walks, Royal Hamilton, Lathario Greene, Benjamin Clarke, Phillip Major-Jones and Dan Ferguson.
At the beginning of the school year each teacher was urged to “do a new thing” with their students.
Mr. McKenzie-Moss took up the challenge and signed her group up as participants of the GGYA, an internationally backed award programme whereby participants develop important skills, contribute valuable service to the community, participate in physical recreation activities and embark upon adventurous journeys – all in hope of achieving a Bronze, Silver or Gold Award.
“There are a number of our students that have the potential to go further. We don’t like to put limits on our children,” said Mrs. McKenzie-Moss, a one-time participant while a high school student at St Augustine’s College (SAC).
“The sky is their limit. We are all about exposing them. One of our favourites scriptures at the Beacon School is, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ Once they believe that, they have the ability to achieve and succeed at whatever they put their minds to,” said the unit leader.
To earn the Bronze Award Beacon students spent three months participating in community and beach clean-ups, visiting the elderly at senior citizens home and walking in a youth empowerment march.
Still, there was more to do. Bronze recipients also had to invest three months into learning a skill. Students took up Spanish and eagerly learnt how to paste, construct and decorate costumes.
Additionally, Beacon students fulfilled physical recreation requirements through their participation in Special Olympics every Saturday morning. Finally, they participated in first a practice, then a qualifying adventurous journey (a back-packing expedition).
For 16-year-old Rycardra Walks, achieving the Bronze Award was an extremely special accomplishment.
“I was the only girl in the programme. At first, I was a little concerned since the other girls had dropped out, but I am happy that I made it through to the end,” she said. “I am excited about my Bronze medal.”
Eighteen year-old Floyd Bain, a graduating senior, was just as excited that his tenacity paid off.
“I was happy to be a part of this programme before I graduated. Not only will I graduate but I will graduate with a Bronze medal from the GGYA programme,” he said. “This makes me proud and it makes my family proud. I liked working with the team. Team work is going to be very important in my life after school. Thanks GGYA.”
Another Bronze recipient, Mercedes Smith, 16, said the GGYA has left an indelible mark on his life.
“I enjoyed this programme and I am happy to know that I was able to make it to the end. I learned many interesting things about my island and more importantly how to survive if necessary,” he said. “I am happy to be one of the first persons in my school to earn a Bronze medal for my hard work. I will encourage others to join.”
According to Beacon School principal, Sheryl Wood, the GGYA programme was a “most enriching experience” for students. Administration and staff threw their support behind it as the youth programme reflects the goals and objectives of the school; particularly those objectives related to development of discipline, self-esteem in students, collaborative team spirit and good work ethics.
“We would definitely encourage other students to participate in this programme. The pilot group of students has been excellent role models and because of their enthusiasm other students are excited and interested in the programme,” said the principal. “We certainly hope our involvement in this programme will bring some awareness and sensitization about the abilities of special [needs] children, not only in the educational community but also in society on the whole. We look for the continued support from GGYA trainers and entreat them to continue to assist our students as they move from one level to the greatest level.”
In 2010, the government entered into a partnership with the GGYA programme through the G.O.L.D. Initiative. G.O.L.D. is an acronym for what the ministry seeks to do with the nation’s youths – instill greatness, provide opportunities, develop leadership and support development.
The initiative aims to make the GGYA truly national in scope, making it more accessible to youths – ages 14 to 25 – regardless of their physical and mental capabilities.
In line with the government’s youth development strategy, the GGYA received $200,000 in grant money last year. Those funds helped to sustain existing unit and launch new ones.
Presently there are units up and running in New Providence, Grand Bahama, Acklins, Abaco, Cat Island, Crooked Island, Eleuthera, Exuma and Long Island.