St. Augustine’s College (SAC) has appointed two people to new positions within the institution. Samuel Heastie has been appointed dean of students; Francelia Outten is the new guidance counselor.
Prior to Heastie’s appointment, he taught social studies at the school for 41 years, more than half of which he served as head of department.
Outten previously served as a foreign language teacher for 36 years, the majority of which she served as head of department.
Heastie and Outten took on their new roles during a period when the delivery of education has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Online discipline is entirely different than when we meet face to face in the classroom,” said Heastie.
Having taught virtually for almost two years before stepping away from the classroom, Heastie experienced the challenges that arose on the platform.
“Although class disruptions have lessened due to teachers’ ability to control the microphone and camera, issues arise in determining student participation. Some students fall asleep during class, especially if they are unsupervised – there’s also the issue of students signing in late, or not showing up at all. Student honesty regarding the execution of exams is also a challenge,” he said.
Heastie, who spoke to his colleagues during a staff development seminar before the school year began, reminded them that the school has children from diverse backgrounds, and as such, they don’t necessarily know what the students are bringing to the table. He told them that sometimes the environment is conducive, and that sometimes it’s not, but the students still bring it to them. He reminded them of the importance of meeting students with clear rules, regulations and expectations when they return to campus.
The new dean said he believes that clarity will be the first step in addressing differences, and teaching students right from wrong as best they can, with calm words and actions.
Heastie assumes the deanship as SAC removes corporal punishment from its rule book. With that in mind, he stressed the importance of being consistent with punishment and reward. He said students prefer when educators are consistent and know what to expect from them. Moreover, he also said that it is crucial for teachers to follow through with punishment when necessary and also to explain to the student why they are being punished. This, he said, would help prevent small infractions from snowballing into more serious infractions that require intervention from the dean.
At the same token, he encouraged the staff to listen to children better.
“If you listen to people, you will understand what they are going through, and why some of their actions were committed.”
Heastie succeeds Reginald Forbes, who served as the dean for 33 years.
“My predecessor did a yeoman’s job at St. Augustine’s College for many years. My role is to continue the tradition of sound and firm leadership. I look forward to building and augmenting the policies and practices that have long been established. SAC has many time-honored traditions that have proved to be quite successful. Some of these policies and practices have been tweaked at many times since our formation. Change is natural and necessary, and SAC has always adapted to the changing environment of our Bahamaland. We realize that if our educational success is to continue, we must keep abreast of the educational trends and provide programs that are relevant to the times and society,” said Heastie.
Outten succeeds Marici Thompson, who will assume the principalship in January 2022.
“The promotion was unexpected,” said Outten. “I wanted to retire, but I felt God saying that my work at St. Augustine’s College was not complete. As guidance counselor, I hope to reach as many students as I can, both academically and spiritually. There’s a quote by the late Dr. Myles Munroe which says, ‘Your future is not ahead. It’s inside of you,’ and I want to help students find whatever path they are destined for by looking inside first.”
Outten, who has experience in offering counseling services, having served as a ninth-grade facilitator for over a decade, joins Stephen Walkin in the guidance counselor’s office.
She is faced with the challenge of fulfilling the mandate of the office, virtually, owing to the pandemic.
“To help students who have these specific issues, the guidance department has made a commitment to establishing a better connection between parents, teachers, and students.
“We have embraced the virtual platform and tailored our programs to it,” said Outten.
To help students adjust to what has now become the new normal, Outten and Walkin are meeting with each grade level to help students recognize their learning styles, and how that may indicate a future career path. They said students will also learn to create a study timetable, and how they ought to present themselves in the online environment. And that seminars will be held with 11th-grade students to discuss their expectations as a future senior, goal setting, and preparing for college.
According to Walkin, a major issue is the lack of personal contact.
“We’re so conditioned to connecting with the students in a much more personal way. It’s difficult to tap into the emotions, be able to relate them, and discern what they are feeling. When interacting in person, sometimes a student doesn’t even need to say anything. We can ascertain their mental state from their body language. A totally different skillset is necessary on the virtual platform.”
The guidance counselor’s office representatives said they are communicating with students who are repeating grade levels to assist them in staying on top of their school work.
“Grade seven is transitioning much better than the current grade eight did last year,” said Walkin. “This is because they were exposed to the online platform for at least a year in primary school, whereas their predecessors did not. That is not to say there are no challenges, because they are still faced with adjusting to new teachers, new rules and higher expectations.”
Seventh-grade students and new students engaged in in-person orientation to jumpstart the new school year. To further cement the line of communication, Outten and Walkin held virtual meet and greets for each class after school to make themselves available and correct technical issues that arose during the first week.
The guidance counselors say 12th-grade students will participate in seminars to address their graduation requirements and college applications, and engage in one-on-one college consultations.
An advantage the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about has been increased exposure to college and university presentations. Whereas colleges would visit the campus during school hours, which meant students missed classes to attend presentations, they are now able to attend virtual presentations hosted after school hours.
“Because the presentations are held at 6 p.m., parents can now be a part of the process and are privy to information they would have to rely on their children to relay. It’s actually more efficient,” said Walkin.
He said the virtual platform has allowed students exposure to more schools whose representatives would not visit The Bahamas under normal circumstances because of financial constraints or otherwise.
SAC students have received more than $2.5 million dollars in scholarships to schools in the United States, Canada, and Africa.
Walkin said schools “need to diversify their campus”, so they are still reaching out and are still giving need and merit-based, leadership, service, and athletic scholarships.
“Ultimately, the goal is to make sure that the learning experience is not lost, and that students are not disadvantaged due to the many changes we were forced to make because of the pandemic.”