MARIGOT--French Minister for Educational Success George Pau-Langevin agreed more bilingual classes, assistant teachers and "Classe Relais" – special classes for problem or backward children – are needed in St. Martin, but stopped short of announcing any concrete action in this regard from her ministry directly.
She did say that French Quarter, which is a designated priority education zone, would receive 10 per cent more in its budget as of September.
The Guadeloupe-born Minister, in her first official visit since being appointed in President François Hollande's government, appeared to be using the visit to observe and listen to the difficulties St. Martin faces in education, rather than coming out with any instant decisions. Any actions she recommended were referred for follow-up to Recteur of Guadeloupe Stéphane Martens, who was in the delegation.
The Minister and her entourage were welcomed to St. Martin by Préfet Philippe Chopin, Préfète of Guadeloupe Marcelle Pierrot, St. Martin President Aline Hanson and Vice-Presidents Guillaume Arnell and Ramona Connor at Grand Case Airport, where she disembarked from an Air Caraïbes flight from Guadeloupe.
She went straight from there to Sandy Ground Elementary School, where she observed an arithmetic class in progress that was conducted in French and English. That was followed by a presentation by another class on the theme of UNESCO projects the children are undertaking. Sandy Ground School is a UNESCO-affiliated school.
Teacher Regis Hurtis told the Minister the school had chosen to work with two other UNESCO schools in Paris and Grenoble on a flora and fauna project. Another project is with Ivory Coast for an experimental agriculture project whereby the school will be receiving seeds to see if plants from that part of the world will grow in St. Martin.
There are also other agreements for scholastic exchanges on the environment and peace with a Spanish-speaking school in Argentina, an English-speaking one in Paris and a Creole-speaking school in Reunion Island.
The children read out UNESCO affirmations and informed the Minister of their own aspirations. They said they had created themed games on general knowledge of St. Martin that they wanted to sell in the shops. At the end of the session some of the children presented their projects to the Minister and asked her to sign their caps.
The delegation then moved on to Nina Duverly School where the Minister observed an autistic art class in progress. Assistant Teacher Janice Choisy-Wever explained some of the challenges and issues the teachers face, such as the need for special training for the staff.
The class has eight children ages 6-12 afflicted with autism to various degrees. Two children do not speak, but in the last two months they have begun to say their names.
"Puzzles were very complicated at first, but they are now getting used to it," Choisy-Wever said. "They've shown a lot of improvement."
The delegation then looked at the school canteen and chatted with some of the children having lunch.
Next stop was at a refuge for teenagers (maison des adolescents) managed by Liasions Dangereuses, which created the institution. A "classe relais" from Collège Mont des Accords was present with its teachers.
Liasions Dangereuses President Ketty Karam gave the Minister an overview. Director Didier Witczak said the establishment caters to teenagers 11-20 years. Entry is free and teenagers who use the facility either have some problems or no problems, but are just finding themselves.
"We have social workers here and psychologists," Witczak explained. "The kids can have problems at school, with violence, money, or problems at home with the family. We find that most of the problems stem from the relationship with their parents and we try to find solutions."
Following lunch at the Lycée, the Minister returned to Hotel de La Collectivité in the afternoon to meet the elected officials. Territorial Council President Aline Hanson in her introduction outlined the major issues facing education in St. Martin. Councillor Alain Gros-Desormeaux also made a presentation stressing the importance of sports in children's educational development.
The Minister said in her speech that she was very impressed with what she had seen during the school visits in the morning, noting the positivity expressed by teachers and pupils despite the difficulties. She acknowledged more teachers from St. Martin are needed, and ones who speak English. She called for more projects to be developed between State, Collectivité and Rectorat, and advocated school curricula should include more sports and activities.
The last point on the agenda was a roundtable discussion with teachers at the Préfecture on the theme of delinquency in the schools. This meeting was closed to the press.
The Minister will visit French Guiana this weekend before returning to Paris.