Skill building: Children from Harrington Sound Primary School try out their cup stacking techniques at the BSMART Development Centre. The new venue in Reid Street offers after-school and Saturday programmes in brain techniques to improve the education of children. *Photo by Sirkka Huish
Skill building: Children from Harrington Sound Primary School try out their cup stacking techniques at the BSMART Development Centre. The new venue in Reid Street offers after-school and Saturday programmes in brain techniques to improve the education of children. *Photo by Sirkka Huish
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A teacher is determined to stop children becoming “another statistic” and dropping out of school.

Allison Figureido has this week opened the BSMART Development Centre to encourage the island’s youngsters to stay ahead in class.

She made the difficult decision to resign from her job at Heron Bay Primary School for “the sake of future generations.”

Mrs. Figureido is now dedicating her time to teaching a “brain arousal process” to help children get through school and prevent dropouts.

She will teach the SMART programme, which focuses on “physiological and neurological readiness skills needed for academic success.”

The brain stimulation techniques are said to boost a child’s learning by teaching them the skills to acquire and retain information.

It’s the only programme of its kind in Bermuda and will be taught at Ram Re House on Reid Street.

Mrs. Figureido said: “Many children, especially little boys, just can’t cope with school but no-one stops to try to work out why.

“Our schools now put so much pressure on exams that everyone is just pushing children to get to a certain level.

“It’s all about making sure that they get to that level but you can’t teach all children in a blanket way, it just doesn’t work.”

The basic curriculum used in Bermuda’s primary schools assumes students can see what is printed in front of them and have developed finely coordinated muscle control in the eyes.

However, little is done about those who are not able to complete any given tasks as it is simply assumed they will “catch on.”

Struggle

But Mrs. Figureido believes once children start to struggle they are likely to struggle “all the way through” as “nothing is done to change the pattern.”

She said: “The same kids who are struggling in Primary 1 are still struggling in Primary 6.

“It’s easy to predict who is going to be top, middle and bottom of the class as it rarely changes.

“The regular school system relies on the standard input from a teacher then some kind of test.

“But children are just memorizing things to pass tests, it’s not sinking in. Children need input in different formats to really learn.”

Mrs. Figureido, who is a mom of two boys, believes children need one-on-one help to find out the cause of their learning difficulties.

She said: “These children are automatically labelled as having behavioural problems.

“They may fidget, lack in concentration or slouch at their desks, but this means they just need a different kind of stimulation to keep them focused.

“Some children have different ways of learning and you have to look at their underlying conditions.

“More than ever with everything that’s happening in Bermuda, you have to know how to engage these children.”

The SMART curriculum should ideally be used during the early years, from preschool through Primary 3, but it can be used to accelerate a child’s performance at a later age.

Its activities aim to increase the brain development through sensory stimulation, phonemic awareness, eye-hand coordination, primitive reflexes and fine motor skills.

Mrs. Figureido said: “If children know better, they do better, but they have to be taught how to change their ways.”

In the summer of 2009 Mrs. Figureido paid for herself to attend a SMART training course in Minnesota.  She had heard about the benefits of the programme, which is used in preschools and primary schools across the States. 

She launched the SMART programme at Heron Bay Primary School in September 2009.

In addition to her work as a health and P.E. teacher, she taught 32 pupils the SMART programme from 7:15am to 8:45am, Monday to Friday.

The “results spoke for themselves” as pupils took pre and post tests and some of them tripled their scores in subjects such as math and English.

Mrs. Figureido said: “I was at school from 6:45am to 6:30pm every day. I didn’t have to do it, I chose to do it.

“It was hard work and a very lonely time — it was the best year and the worst year of my life.

“So many people told me to stop as I was doing too much, but I just knew I had to keep on going.”

Mrs. Figureido drew up proposals to turn Heron Bay into a SMART school and met with the Minister of Education and other government officials to discuss the plans.

Sponsorship

She was then offered sponsorship from HSBC to set up her own business and she resigned from her job in August last year.

She said: “It was a rough time for me, it was a hard decision for me to make, but I just knew I couldn’t go on like the last year.

“I’d been a teacher for 15 years and had never been without a job.

“But I just knew I couldn’t go back, I had to do this for the kids of Bermuda. I’d learnt so many things and I knew I could make a difference.”

Mrs. Figureido says finding such a central location was “a dream come true.” She has worked round the clock with husband Tim, who is head of P.E. at Saltus, to transform the former office space.

The BSMART Development Centre is a huge brightly-coloured room filled with $20,000 of equipment such as trampoline, balance beam and overhead ladder. There is also a sensory room.

Mrs. Figureido has been busy running workshops for teachers and pupils over the last few weeks and will offer after school and weekend SMART programmes from next week.

She said: “I’m hoping I can really help Bermuda’s kids.

“I’m passionate about the SMART programme as I know it works. I will keep pushing to ensure kids get what they need.”

Mrs. Figureido will continue to run her popular Bermuda Bollykids dance classes, which teach youngsters the basic moves from Bollywood movies.

A wide range of other activities will also be offered at the BSMART Development Centre such as gymnastics, martial arts, and piano and voice lessons. There will also be a Saturday morning speed-stacking club to teach children various cup stacking techniques.

For more information on the BSMART Development Centre visit the lower ground floor of Ram Re House, next to the iStore, at 46 Reid Street in Hamilton. You can also call 295-6909, email bsmartbermuda@gmail.com or visit BSMART’s temporary website at http://worknotes.com/BM/KIDS/BSMART/index.html.