Officials may never quantify the exact loss of teaching and learning during the coronavirus pandemic, but even if progress stalled temporarily in the classroom, over 100 participants in the Governor General’s Youth Award (GGYA) surged forward to celebrate an internationally recognized achievement – one, which for many, represents the gold standard in non-formal education.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, which the GGYA delivers, challenges young people to discover their purpose, passion and place in the world. A balanced, non-competitive programme, GGYA promotes volunteerism, fitness, skill development and a sense of adventure.
“Since the onset of COVID-19, GGYA has presented more than 100 Awards to units in New Providence and the Family Islands,” said Jacquetta Lightbourne-Maycock, GGYA’s national director.
“Considering the times, it speaks to young people that are determined to change the status quo and work toward their goals while overcoming huge obstacles.”
Successful Award recipients hailed from C.V. Bethel, R.M. Bailey, Aquinas College, C. V. Hart Enhancement Institute, Temple Christian, Queen’s College, Lyford Cay International School, Eleuthera’s Preston Albury and from schools in Grand Bahama, including St. George’s High, Lucaya International School, Bishop Michael Elson School and St. Paul’s Methodist College.
With the future more unpredictable than ever, young people rose to the challenge supported by parents, unit leaders and volunteers.
R.M. Bailey Senior High in particular, stood out. The school recorded its first batch of Awards in a decade. GGYA credits unit leader Josiane Floreus and Leslie Simon for encouraging the youth to stick with it.
“My goal was to make sure the programme was known at R.M. Bailey, ensure the participants were active at the lower grades and ensure they completed their Award,” said Mrs Floreus, a health and family life teacher, who in 2019, joined the programme to “help out” and ended up leading the unit.
“We have around 20 participants. This year three of them completed their Bronze Award: Samuel Sherman, Fantasia Deveaux and Kimeko Green. Now they are pursuing Silver. This is a very proud moment for me.”
Students demonstrated determination and resourcefulness in fulfilling Award requirements. For instance, one participant took in kittens for her community service, another pursued proficiency in graphic designs for his skill and a third student weightlifted for his physical recreation.
“They had to learn how to pivot and adjust to complete the programme which they did very quickly.”
That’s not to say, Mrs Floreus didn’t face her fair share of challenges motivating others close to completing their requirements. Each progressive level demands more time and commitment from participants. Bronze takes up to six months; Silver, six to nine months and Gold, 12 to 18 months.
“The pandemic can make you feel like you are robbed of opportunity and fun but there are ways you can accomplish what you want to accomplish,” she reminded participants.
For one member of her unit, Kimeko Greene, it was an enriching experience.
“I like the people you meet on the way. It taught me that I like the outdoors, exercising and stuff. It’s a good program to be in.”
Greene’s mom, Sharon said she witnessed her quiet son begin to “push himself.”
“I don’t have to push him to do anything. I’m very proud of him,” said the married mother of five. “When you see them turning on the straight path you have to give God glory.”
With students having spent most of this school year outside physical classrooms, they were forced to discover enjoyable things they could do when face-to-face meetings were not allowed, said Preston Albury’s unit leader, Tamika Rahming.
Some adapted to the situation by forging new relationships. She pointed to those in her unit pursuing Silver who worked with Eleuthera’s Rock Sound Police Station two to three times per week for their community service requirement.
“Young people love the programme, especially the ones who are doing Silver. They are dedicated to it, for the most part, and we’re encouraging them to continue along those lines.”
The pandemic might have thrown other youth programmes into disarray, but GGYA has long had a digital platform to help participants track their progress and for unit leaders to monitor those efforts. Consequently, taking the programme online was not an onerous task.
“We moved everything virtual,” said Anika Linton, who leads a 30-strong unit at Grand Bahama’s Bishop Michael Eldon School.
“Most of the other clubs had stopped. We were one of the few still operating during the pandemic. The organization was flexible enough to allow students to combine activities. For example, one student started with softball for the physical recreation requirement and switched to swimming because of the pandemic,” she said.
“The students understand there are three levels to this programme. Most of them want to get to Gold before they graduate.”
That indeed was the plan for C.R. Walker graduate Lendeic Smith. However, she ended up completing requirements for her Gold Award last year during the height of the pandemic, while attending Ohio’s Central State University,
Although she’s not a student athlete, Smith worked out with CSU’s track team to complete her final physical recreation requirement.
“I always wanted to be a Gold Award holder. When I went to college I thought, I can’t just stop because I left The Bahamas and graduated from high school. Once I’ve locked in on a goal, I don’t lose focus.”
With the past year spent largely in social isolation, GGYA participants who took the opportunity to build life skills found themselves more resilient and adaptable, said Mrs Lightbourne-Maycock.
“As a nation, we’ve been too quiet about what our young people are doing in positive areas. These young people have proven that COVID-19 did not signal the end of life, just a means to get creative and pivot off their current track. I am extremely proud of what they have accomplished.”
On Thursday, June 10, at 1pm UTC time, the International Award will celebrate the life and legacy of its founder, His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Locals can join the global celebration by logging on to bahamasggya.org. The date would have marked Prince Philip’s 100th birthday.
It is the first-ever online event for the entire Award family all over the world, open to participants, alumni, volunteers and donors.