Closing the divide: Education programme expands into West Bay

ARK programme doubles in size

Tara Nielsen, bottom left, of ARK and representatives from some of its sponsors with Kelana Cousins, Liani Heslop and Darianna Frederick, the first students involved in ARK’s education campaign at the launch in 2018.

An innovative education programme that provides intensive extra tutoring for children from underprivileged backgrounds is expanding into West Bay.

The Mentor Educate Reinforce programme links businesses and private sector sponsors with children who are struggling in school and provides them with a support network to help them to catch up.

Launched in George Town in 2018, the programme, which is organised by non-profit Acts of Random Kindness, initially involved 12 youngsters aged between seven and 10.

They receive specialist tutoring five times a week in small groups, as well as mentoring and other activities with adult sponsors.

Tara Nielsen, of ARK, said many of the children came from difficult backgrounds and were known to the charity through its work in the community, particularly to help rebuild homes in disrepair.

She said there was a risk that they would be left behind in school, without the help of the MER programme, which partners with the Cayman Learning Centre to provide support to the children.

Now it is expanding to provide similar help to 12 children in West Bay.

Nielsen said the charity has sponsorship for the next phase and is working with education authorities to identify the kids most in need of support.

She believes the programme has the capacity to make a huge long-term difference in the lives of the children involved and help break the generational cycle of poverty that impacts some families.

Nielsen acknowledged that there were many more children in need of help. And she said ARK and its partners were focussing first on those who lacked the financial means or the home environment necessary to excel in school.

She said problems on the home front are frequently linked to learning difficulties.

“Sometimes when we go to people’s homes, we find they don’t have power or water and in some cases the house is full of mould,” she said.

It is difficult, in those circumstances, for a child to even think about learning.

The MER programme seeks to provide the environment and the support that other children would get at home.

Some of the children involved have advanced several years in terms of their reading and writing age-level over the past 12 months, says Nielsen. For others, learning difficulties, that require specialist support, have been identified.

ARK believes its programme can help expand the horizons of the children involved and help them have opportunities their parents never did.

“We have already lost generations of kids,” says Nielsen.

She believes the MER programme provides a bridge for the business community to play a part in dealing with education inequality at the source.

The expansion into West Bay is the next step, but longer term, she hopes to be able to support more children across the Cayman Islands.

“There are hundreds of children that need this kind of support,” she added.

“We want every bank and every office to have a photo of the child they are sponsoring along with a report card that shows the difference the programme is making.

“We want to catch these children early enough, so they can have the education and the lives they deserve and they are not requiring support from ARK and other organisations when they are older.

“I can’t think of anything more important for people to invest in.”

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