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Saint Francis Senior - Vibrance in diversity

Jan 28, 2010, 2:29 PM | Article By: Augustine Kanjia

Saint Francis Senior Secondary School at Kunkujang Mariama headed by Therese Mendy is one of the schools away from the bustling areas in The Gambia. Though away from the city, the school has not been left behind in progress registered in the educational arena. The principal and staff have always worked relentlessly to produce good future leaders for society, and have enhanced discipline and allowed children to find their level in society. The school has been recognised as one of the best schools in the country, despite its location.

Society and Development finds out about the academic performance, mobility and discipline issues, agricultural activities, the extra curricular activities, sports and the many challenges the school faces.

The school, termed by the principal as 'an embryonic but fast-growing school,' witnessed the appointment of Paul L. Mendy as vice principal with new teachers. A bursar was also recruited. The school has a staff of 22 including a secretary, librarian, caretaker, night watchman and a cleaner.

According to Therese Mendy, the principal, the school's priority is on fostering the academic excellence of students backed by a unique sense of determination and hard work to always improve on their last exams results.

In comparing the last results of the school compared to other schools in the country, the principal acknowledged their poor performance and called it "unimpressive."

She announced that "84 students registered for the WASSCE examination, and only four obtained six credits. In our effort to turn the situation, the administration engaged parents in discussions with a view to introducing extra-classes for students, especially in the core subject areas."

"Sponsors were consulted and to our delight it was agreed that study fees are paid for students. These allowances are transmitted directly to teachers as extra income," she revealed.

S&D: With all these modalities in place, do you have any criteria for promoting these children?

Principal Therese Mendy: Yes, sir! The school has set 5 Credits including English Language and a pass in Mathematics as minimum grades for promotion, and we shall not relent on these for any reason. Parents and guardians are urged to monitor their children's academic performance closely, especially in the core subjects.

S&D: Any motivation for teachers and students?

Principal Therese Mendy: Yes! We have always motivated our teachers and students, and we shall continue to motivate them from within and without, thereby building interest in all important areas. This includes giving prizes to deserving students that excel in the core subjects.

S&D: Is there any problem you face with mobility?

Principal Therese Mendy: All but five members of staff commute daily to school. Due to the bad roads in the rainy season, within the period of September 2008 to March 2009, our only small vehicle had a major breakdown and was grounded, as the cost of maintenance became unbearable.

S&D: Did you have a way out?

Principal Therese Mendy: Thanks to the intervention of Rev. Fr. Sharpe CSSp. He bought a 32-seater Coaster bus for the school. We are very thankful to Fr. Sharpe and his sponsors for that worthwhile and timely intervention. Without such a gift the school could have come to a complete halt.

S&D: Is there any problem with discipline in your school?

Principal Therese Mendy: We have continued to witness increasing decline in parents' ability to show their children the right way forward. We have and shall maintain our unwavering stance against the menace of indiscipline, in order to produce a highly disciplined work force, that would be able to contribute effectively towards the socio-economic advancement of this country. We shall continue to stand our ground and, even where we may not be able to directly curb instances of indicipline at home, we would do all that it takes at the school level to ensure that we release into society law-abiding citizens. We shall continue to show zero tolerance for indiscipline, because an indisciplined work force is always unproductive.

S&D: Your school is found in an agricultural area, do you engage in any farming or gardening, as a school?

Principal Therese Mendy: Agriculture is the sustainable backbone of our country's economy. Having good grades in Agricultural Science without being able to practically apply basic skills in agriculture is meaningless. With the abundant rainfall, we were able to harvest five bags of beans. From that experience, we would be able to increase the farm size and engage in mixed cropping as this variety of beans can accommodate different crops. The school's vegetable garden is also improving and students are encouraged to grow different varieties of crops. Garden beds are assessed regularly, and the marks earned would form an integral part of their assessment for promotion. We, therefore, intend to make this activity an all-year-round process, and proceeds generated from the sales of the harvest would be used to boost the school's financial resource base. We are big about farming!

S&D: With the above would the children have any extra curricular activities?

Principal Therese Mendy: The old adage that "All work without play makes Jack a dull boy" is firmly held in this school. We seek to encourage our students to take part in extra curricular activities, to enable them realise their full potentials. We have formed a Press Club. Since then students write news items and read them out during Monday assembly. All students are involved as classes prepare their news. Students have acquired reporting skills, and have now started a school magazine.

S&D: What about sports?

Principal Therese Mendy: We believe in the Latin adage, "Mens sana incorpora sanu," meaning a healthy mind in a healthy body; it is indisputable. We are in the process of establishing strong teams for football and volleyball. We have gone far. We organised inter house sports in athletics, volleyball and football, thus enabling us to form a formidable school team.

S&D: What is your goal then?

Principal Therese Mendy: Our goal is not to clinch the coveted trophy, but to introduce our new crop of talents to the competition. Despite being their first participation in the competition, they put up a very good performance, and we can now boast of a champion in long distance running.

S&D: Did your new crop of talents win any race?

Principal Therese Mendy: Oh yes! We won a very tough race. We won the 5000m open. In order to motivate and keep our prized assets, the school has awarded full scholarships to the outstanding students in sports.

S&D: Running a school like this where you would want to maintain the best - Are you faced with challenges?

Principal Therese Mendy: To employ and retain highly qualified staff remains a very daunting task. Four of our staff left for other jobs at one stage. It has always been difficult to fill these vacancies as incentives we could offer fall short of the bigger schools in town. We appreciate the loyalty of our present staff, and we are looking for ways of improving staff motivation so as to retain them. We are seeking funds for the renovation of the staff quarters to provide decent living conditions for them.

S&D: Where would you get this help?

Principal Therese Mendy: We are soliciting help from government and philanthropists. We are still waiting for responses from organisations we wrote to.

S&D: What is the biggest challenge coming to your school?

Principal Therese Mendy: Our biggest problem is the road from Tujereng to Kunkujang, and it continues to be our cry. This community and our school are cut off during the rainy season in terms of transportation. This has caused great damage to our staff vehicle, and put a burden on us. A better road would, therefore, ease our transportation constraints and enable staff to travel easily to and from school. If the situation is not addressed, then the life of our new bus will be quite short.

Our other challenges include getting a school hall, better toilets for the students and, above all, a perimeter fence remain our concern. The school needs protection and a proper road to encourage our staff to continue coming to work. Our vision is: "The best in everything we do."

S&D: Have you anything to share with our readers, that we have not talked about?

Principal Therese Mendy: I will only talk to parents to encourage their children to study at home, and make their books their friends. The parents are my first partners in development. Your children's educational success does not depend on the school alone; it is your prime obligation to educate your children. A great amount of effort is needed. It is in your best interest now to invest in your children rather than to face a situation later where your children would leave school and have no certificate to qualify them for a respectable job. Children continue to come late to school, absent themselves from school and to engage in many things parents are not aware of. Some children absent themselves unceremoniously. Parents should watch their children constantly for their progress. I urge you to launch “"No Compromise" towards the education of your children for a better society. My message to the children is: "Obey your parents."

S&D: Thanks a lot for the interview.

Principal Therese Mendy: You're welcome, and thanks as well for your efforts.