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Cuban connection

JANELLE DE SOUZA Sunday, March 19 2017

The cultural exchange with Cuba and Success Laventille Secondary School has had numerous benefits, not only for the school, but for the students and nation as a whole.

It all began when the school became involved in a pilot music literacy programme supported by Pete the Panstick software where the children leaned to play the tenor pan as well as business and entrepreneur skills.

Success Laventille principal Hamida Baksh developed a relationship with Sanch Electronix Ltd, which provided the software, and she approached managing director Simeon Sandiford who had Cuban business connections.

She said in the past, students gained much out of performing in other countries __ they enjoyed being recognised as musicians and gave them a sense of pride and accomplishment, as well as a boost in confidence.

“Therefore, I was looking at ways for the students to get the experience of travelling and having cultural educational exchanges,” she said.

Eventually, the opportunity presented itself for the school’s steel orchestra, Success Stars Pan Sounds, to visit Cuba upon the invitation of the Cuban Government through the Cuban Institute of Music.

“With the pan being a percussion instrument and Cuba being well versed on the world scene with percussive instruments, we thought it would be a good way to showcase our students as well as gain from the Cuban musicians.” With the full support of then chairman of the local school board Robert Hernandez, various friends of the school, including project manager Nicholas Cumberbatch, as well as Cuban Ambassador to TT , Guillermo Vazquez Moreno, who was instrumental in facilitating the trip’s itinerary, the students visited Cuba for ten days in August 2015.

There, the children played in a number of public spaces, a senior citizens’s home, a church, and participated in workshops with local percussion groups. - it did not take long to understand and play.

“It was not difficult for them to catch the rhythm of the Cuban beat and they did extremely well.

That was a testament to the talent of our Success Stars Pan Sounds students because they are really good musicians,” said Hernandez.

On their return from Cuba, Baksh decided that it would be a good idea to bring a Cuban group here to share their experience.

“One of the reason I focussed on dance is I looked to see what Cuba could offer us in Trinidad and Tobago, what could resonate with the people of TT , and that we could appreciate and benefit from the different moves and techniques,” she said.

Therefore, from March 4 to 14, the El Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba dance group visited Trinidad and Tobago, hosting several workshops at the National Academy For The Performing Arts, The University of Trinidad and Tobago, The University of the West Indies in St Augustine, and Central Regional Indoor Sport Arena in Chaguanas. Students from secondary and tertiary schools as well as local dance groups throughout the country were invited to learn about Cuban dance techniques, and share their knowledge.

Baksh and Hernandez highlighted several benefits of both visits which included the acquisition of teachers and personal benefits to the students involved.

She told Sunday Newsday after the initial visit, the students had a better appreciation of themselves as students and musicians. They felt good about who they were and was proud to be instrumental in uplifting the community.

“Everywhere they went they represented Laventille as a community, as well as the school.

They were very disciplined in Cuba and it was even remarked upon. We have a perception of Laventille children being disorderly, but their positive behaviour promoted a positive image about Laventille and the school,” said Baksh.

In addition, because of the positive publicity from the first trip, the school received a second music teacher.

The visit also brought the school a refurbished music classroom with new furniture and equipment so that students were more eager to attend class. This year’s visit enabled them to get a dance teacher as well as facilities for teaching dance at the school.

Baksh noted that some of the students who went to Cuba left the school but maintained a relationship with the school and were now mentoring and coaching the new pan students.

Hernandez added that the students who experienced the trip returned with improved self esteem, and there was an improvement in discipline which translated to doing homework.

Success in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSE C) examinations increased from 60 percent to 100 percent and some students expressed the desire to pursue music at the tertiary level and as a profession.

To top it all off, the school was now in discussion with the Cuban Embassy about music scholarships to Cuba for Success Laventille students.

“We see ourselves as contributing to the development of the Arts industry in TT . Where performers would be able to find sustainable employment as professionals and hopefully get away from looking at music and performing arts as a part-time activity you do after your normal nine to five,” he said.

Baksh added that when the School Improvement Project was launched at Success in November 2016, she felt that the school’s development should be aligned to the project and so she hoped to develop a dance programme.

She noted the school often lent its space to community groups and she often saw students who broke the rules in school during the day, return on evenings as part of a cultural group as disciplined, genius drummers, pannists, actors, and dancers.

“If we can get students with a natural love for dance and put them in a programme that pursues dance in an academic light, then we can get the numeracy and literacy we are looking for, and the student engagement we want so that the children feel encouraged to come to school.

It would also help build parent esteem, to see their children doing well at school and testing well,” she said.

Therefore, Baksh expressed the desire to take dance from an extra curricular activity to part of the school curriculum. He said she was hoping to have a subject package that would include dance in the school cirriculum for Form 3s going into Form 4 by next September so that in the next two to three years they could sit a CSE C exam in dance.



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