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Jun 30, 2016

What Now? Life after Stella Maris School (Pt I)

Last Wednesday evening, nineteen proud students donned their gold caps and gowns; they eagerly strut across the stage to collect their hard earned diplomas. Their excitement and that of their parents was palpable. They were the most recent graduates of Stella Maris School in Belize City. It was a momentous occasion for the school since for the first time ever, all but one student had an institution to transition to after graduation. It maybe isn’t something we think about often enough; but, what happens to a child after Stella Maris? As I found out over the past few weeks, the celebration of the graduates of 2016 transitioning on to other institutions did not come easy. In tonight’s Healthy Living, we air the first in a two-part series looking at life before and after graduating from the country’s oldest school for children with special needs.


Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

Meet thirteen year old Cameron Pratt. Cameron is described by teachers at his school as charismatic, a total charmer. They say that with the right guidance, he can tap into his full of potential.  Meet fourteen year old Nicole Reneau; her family calls her Melody. She is a star dancer, loves the performing arts, very self motivated and hopes to one day become a nurse. Now, meet fifteen year old Ahmad Banks. This handsome young man is the notorious favorite in all his classes; he’s very loving, affectionate, a bit shy and loves to sing.

Nicole Reneau

All three teens are a part of the 2016 graduating class of Stella Maris School. Like all other graduates this season, students and parents alike, are full of excitement.

Nicole Reneau, Graduate, Class of 2016
“On Wednesday the twenty-second, at six o’clock in the evening I will graduate. And I also a gown and cap and thing. And I have my shoes and dress.”


Sharon Reneau, Mother of Stella Maris Student

“It has been a tedious, long, a lot of patience, a lot of talking, but eventually we are here. Tears, happiness, you name it we’ve been there.”


Taralee Burgess,Mother of Stella Maris Student

“(Deep sigh). It was very, very challenging; I’m glad that he is graduating. I give thanks for that.”


All three students have been diagnosed with different impairments. Nicole is hearing impaired; Cameron has a developmental disorder and Ahmad is autistic.  All their parents and of course the school have been preparing them for this big day. Interestingly, all three at one point in time, tried attending what their parents called ‘normal schools,’ but their experiences ultimately led them back to Stella Maris.


Sharon Reneau

Sharon Reneau, Mother of Nicole

“I think I was in denial and so, she got placed there and then when she came and said, “Mom, I want to be a nurse and volunteer as a firewoman.” I said really? Is that really what you want to do? So I said okay, well I don’t see how we’ll get that done at Stella Maris School and so I moved her to Grace Primary. I was not working and I devoted all my time going to school. I would be in the classroom with her helping because teachers have like thirty-five children to deal with in government school. I didn’t know that there was a problem for the school and the teacher and so the principal kept telling me that you need to find somewhere else for her because it is not fair – the teacher is not equipped to handle a child that is hard of hearing. So you need to find somewhere, maybe a smaller classroom setting, where the teacher will be able to interact on a one-on-one basis with your child.”


Ahmad’s mother, Delerine Lammey, met a preschool principal at a seminar about children with special needs who wanted to work with her son.


Delverine Lammey

Delverine Lammey, Mother of Stella Maris Student

“They had some principals of different preschools who were doing a seminar as well and right away Misses Smith from Martin’s Preschool, she said okay, I will take Ahmad. I said why? She said because I can work with him because most autistic children, you cannot get them to sit still for a long people. And if you notice…hahaha. So she said, okay we get him to sit. He’s been sitting there for more than an hour. He does sometime eye-to-eye contact; you talk to him and he hear. Maybe not all the time right away he will do what you ask him to do, but he does it so he understands. She said okay, we can put him in a normal preschool and then monitor him and evaluate him from there.  They notice his behavior and they told me to take him to Special Ed Unit so that they did an evaluation on him. And when they did the evaluation, then they said that he would have to get enrolled in Stella Maris because of the qualities that he has.”


For Cameron’s mother, Taralee Burgess, their experience started in her hometown in P.G.  But in order for Cameron to get the education she wanted, they had to move to Belize.


Taralee Burgess

Taralee Burgess

“He was going to the Methodist school down there and they had him on probation because he couldn’t sit. He was very, very hyper. I couldn’t leave him anywhere. Whenever I get a job, nobody want to help me take care of him. He was too active; always getting in trouble, doing things that is not okay. That’s how I moved up here. I moved like six years ago and I went through NaRCIE; they had to do their own evaluation so that we could get him in Stella Maris so he can get some help.”


Stella Maris is a government school. It started in 1958 specifically as a school for children with physical disabilities and now educates children will many special needs. It is in fact the only school in the entire country that offers an education to a general population of children with special needs.  Joy Westby is the outgoing principal of the school. She is retiring after working at the school for the past thirty-two years and for the past fifteen she’s been in the administration.


Joy Westby, Outgoing Principal, Stella Maris School

“Because of the limitations our children have and they progress slower than the normal child, we would have them two years within a classroom. If we see progress, then we move them up. And therefore, based on this, graduations are held every two years.”


Marleni Cuellar

“What happens to children after Stella Maris?”


Joy Westby

Joy Westby

“We have five percent of students who will take the P.S.E. and advance to high school. And then you have students in those categories that would go to the skill programs and then you have students who would just have to transition home.”


This year, though, there is reason to celebrate as of the nineteen graduates; eighteen are transitioning to another institution.


Joy Westby

“We have Nazarene High School and A.C.C.; you have the Y.W.C.A., the skills school on Magazine Road and now coming on stream is also gateway.”


Cameron and Nicole have both secured placements. Cameron moves on to the Ranger School at the House of Shotokan, while Nicole moves on to Nazarene High School.”


Taralee Burgess

“He could go to a regular high school, but we are not…our country is not equip where they get somebody to reach out the exams and sit and read to him and when exams they read out to him.”


Marleni Cuellar

“The fact that he got an education at Stella Maris is an accomplish and he will be graduating and you must feel very proud about it.”


Taralee Burgess

“I feel very good; I said thank you Jesus; finally coming out. It is scary; it is very scary because I cannot put him in any school out there. I have to find somewhere to put him for the next two years because I want him to go to ITVET. Because he says he wants to do cooking. And ITET is sixteen up and he is almost fourteen. So I need to put him somewhere for the next two years; somewhere that can help him until he reach the stage to go to ITVET.”


Sharon Reneau

“I do my homework; I talk with the teachers and so they gave me that assurance that because they have an interpreter, the interpreter will be with them from the time school starts to the time school finishes. So that interpreter will be with them during that time, unless they want to use the bathroom then of course. So that kinda rest me a little bit easier to know that there will be someone alongside them.”


As for Ahmad, his graduation marks the end of his formal education. As currently, there are no schools or institutions that can accommodate his special needs.


Delverine Lammey

“I know he doesn’t have any other skills and I personally just have my mind set and at least he achieved this accomplishment by completing Stella Maris and I know there is no way for him to turn or go from there because he didn’t learn any other skills. And I don’t have anywhere else to send him or put him, so he will go to the sitter, stay there till I come home from work…I can pick him up and come home.”


Joy Westby

“I just wish that something was in place instead of just transitioning home. When I have my P.T.A. meetings, it’s not that I’m trying to pounce on parents or anything, but I say, “What will happen to your child after you are gone?” But sometimes it’s out of parents’ hands. What is there?”


Hence this year’s graduation theme: “Embrace Our Abilities As We Move Forward” – a plea not just from the school or parents, but from the children as they celebrate this milestone.


Next week, we catch up with some past graduates of Stella Maris and see what they have been up to and hear more from parents as to their hopes for the situation of children and adults with special needs.

Read Pt II here. 

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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1 Response for “What Now? Life after Stella Maris School (Pt I)”

  1. Whereyouat says:

    weh Kim Simpliss Barrow deh? where di Lifeline $$ deh???
    She pose up with diable children when camera deh round but paat she deh now??

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