MADAME ESTATE–The hearty laughter and giggles of happy children that permeated the air at #3 Guadeloupe Road in Madame Estate over the years are no more.
Pupils enjoyed their last day of play and learning at the location which housed Excellence Learning Academy (ELA) – a place that more than a dozen special-needs pupils called their home away from home and which was their safe place for the past half a decade.
Mounting financial issues forced the school to fold its operations and close its doors on Tuesday, the last day of January as was earlier indicated by Director Alisha Brookes.
“Closure is still happening,” Brookes told this newspaper. Last-minute efforts to keep the doors open were not fruitful.
Brookes had met with Minister of Education, Culture Youth and Sport (ECYS) Rodolphe Samuel two Mondays ago regarding his proposed solution for the special needs pupils at the school. Brookes said at the time that Samuel’s proposal was not a real solution for the pupils. “His only solution is to move the students back into the mainstream schooling system and, if possible, take the staff also. However, there was no real solution after that for the students,” Brookes had told The Daily Herald last week.
The Minister’s recommendation entailed moving pupils into mainstream education at Prins Willem Alexander School (PWAS) and St. Maarten Vocational Training School (SMVTS). However, Prins Willem Alexander School does not admit pupils under the age of seven or eight and the children have to be potty trained. A number of the Excellence Learning Academy pupils are not yet potty trained, as this is a challenge for many special needs children, and some are under the age of eight.
“So, some students from kindergarten will still have no placement,” Brookes had explained at the time. “We [Brookes and Samuel – Ed.] spoke for about an hour, but in the end the solution doesn’t work for the majority of ELA kids,” she said. “I explained to the minister that it doesn’t work for the majority of our students.
“I listed some of the challenges and explained the reason parents chose ELA, and putting students back in mainstream doesn’t support the students’ well-being, but that’s all the ministry could propose because there were no other places.”
Another challenge with the proposed solution is that while SMVTS admits special needs students, ELA’s students, like many special needs children, are not able to function in such large settings.
“I did remind him of the compulsory education law – that once they are [the age of] four, potty trained or not, government needs to provide a space in education for the students,” Brookes had indicated at the time.
For now, another non-profit organisation will be taking over the staff and pupils whose parents are willing to have their children move over to that foundation. The solution is just temporary and will be until June of this year. What will happen to the pupils after this time remains to be seen. Brookes said: “Some [parents] have started looking for alternatives, others are going with the new organisation.”
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/excellence-learning-academy-is-no-more-doors-officially-closed