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Education minister praises teen author

The year just keeps getting better for new, young author Sierra Blair – her latest release appearing in the iconic Atlantis resort, a courtesy call with Governor General Dame Marguerite Pindling and now, days away from her 15th birthday, high praise from high-ranking education officials during a one-on-one sit down and courtesy call.

“It is more than exciting – it is impressive that we have such great young minds in our Bahamas as represented by Sierra and encouraged by her parents. Sierra is beautiful, very creative and also very courageous. I’m very impressed with the confidence that young people are expressing today and, in particular, a young woman like her who is still in the precocious years of her life and demonstrating a certain ingenuity with her writing skills,” said Minister of Education, Science and Technology Jeffrey Lloyd, who met with the young writer and her mother.

“I hope that through her writing we would be able to inspire and motivate the young people in our own school systems. One of our challenges is the capability within literacy and this is a clear demonstration that the gift is there, it’s only a matter of exploiting it and bringing it forth in our young people so I’m very impressed and I’m grateful to her parents for encouraging her and also taking this very important step of publishing.”

The young author captured media attention last year after launching her first book on Amazon. The work co-authored with her mom, Tosheena Robinson-Blair, is available in paperback and as an e-book.

Ideal for teaching the concept of complying with boundaries to children six and under, “Roman and His Mean Family” is a 25-page picture book that depicts the rambunctious Roman labelling his family as “mean” when he’s restrained from circumventing boundaries set for his own protection.

The newest and independently published children’s book “Roman and the Pink Flamingos” is a colorfully illustrated tale of an encounter with pink flamingos at a bird sanctuary. The children’s book series is inspired by Sierra’s three-year-old brother, Roman.

“It’s been an amazing journey with the book. It’s brought me so many different opportunities. The meeting with the minister feels like an early birthday gift. It went even better than I could imagine,” said the teen who celebrates her birthday on December 19.

“It’s scary to bring something to the public that you’ve put a lot of work into and someone could very easily tear it apart and say, ‘It’s not good enough.’ Although I have my family and others in my corner to meet persons in power and get a positive feedback from them makes me feel like I’m on the right path.”

Travelling fast and far in such a short space of time, education officials hope Sierra’s journey inspires other youths to leap into their full potential.

“Sierra is already exemplifying a level of confidence and leadership that is rare among young people. She has that gift and she needs to just continue to develop it,” said Lloyd.

“What I find really wonderful about the book is it utilizes the experiences of Sierra’s own life, capturing the vagaries of her, her brother and her family. We hope this would inspire others to share their story. This is beautiful. We are very, very proud of her. I certainly hope our Bahamian children would take advantage of this offering by this wonderful young lady.”

According to Sharon Poitier, acting deputy director of education, the books possess tie-ins with the Ministry of Education’s curriculum.

“We could use this to integrate so many things: language arts, the sciences and math in particular,” she said. “For our young people to see themselves in anyone’s writing is a wonderful opportunity.”

As Sierra further develops her series, the education minister challenged her to be an example for her peers. He urged the sophomore to be consistent, continuously press forward and not be distracted.

Prior to visiting the education minister, the Kingsway Academy 10th grade student had paid a courtesy call on the person who holds the highest office in the land, having been granted an audience with Governor General Dame Marguerite Pindling just days after releasing “Roman and the Pink Flamingos” at the iconic oceanside resort, Atlantis, and Ardastra Gardens, Zoo and Conservation Centre.

During the 20-minute visit to Government House, Sierra presented both books to the governor general in a meeting that left an indelible impression.

“To speak with Her Excellency – someone I had only read about in social studies text books – and to have her be interested in what I had to say was amazing. I saw a genuine love for the young people of this nation and that touched me, that she would actually take time out of her schedule to not only meet with me, but also inspire me,” said the 14-year-old who was greeted warmly by the Queen’s representative with a squeeze of the hand and later, an embrace upon her departure.

During the courtesy call, the governor general inquired about the book and creative process involved in bringing the series to life. She urged Sierra to not only write children’s fiction but to one day delve deeper into the fabric of the nation, documenting what she observed.

She noted, during her formative years, youths Sierra’s age were forced to leave school.

Bahamian law only required young persons to remain in school up to age 14, until 1996 when an amendment to the Education Act raised the school leaving age to 16.

“These students never had an amazing opportunity to become a published author at such a young age,” said Pindling, who shared stories of her own humble beginnings. “Imagine what they could have become if they were allowed to stay in school.”

According to the Governor General much has changed since her days spent working as a commercial photographer. Most notably, respect for creative arts, including writing, photography and illustrations have grown, becoming more recognized and appreciated, she said.

Sierra wasn’t the only one to be moved by the visit.

“I felt deeply honored to have the opportunity to meet and converse with the Governor General. It was a surreal experience to have such an influential public Bahamian figure discuss a project that I was a part of,” said illustrator and animator Lamaro Smith, a 31-year-old native of Grand Bahama.

“She reassured me and encouraged me in my creative pursuits and commended me for being independent in my professional development. I deeply enjoyed our conversation,” said Sierra.

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