For rights of the child
SHE HAS BEEN the object of scathing criticism and death threats from people infuriated by the stance she continues to take on controversial incidents involving teachers and students.
But child advocate Shelly Ross says she is only seeking fairness from teachers in their interaction with charges and to see a system that acknowledges that problems do exist in the relationship between some teachers, students and parents, and addresses the issues.
“I don’t bash teachers. There are some angels as teachers,” Ross told the SUNDAY SUN.
In the face of vilification on social media for the position she has taken on the latest incident involving a teacher and a student at a secondary school, Ross made the observation: “The school does not want to hear from parents, and teachers do not want to admit they are wrong.”
She explained her passionate advocacy for the rights of children had its roots in her own experience as a single mother who also once found herself constantly battling with schools over the education of her now grown-up daughter.
Ross’ 26-year-old daughter now enjoys a successful career with an international agency and according to her mother, is “doing exceedingly well”.
But she said: “What I went through with her as a parent, if I was not the kind of person that would deal with issues when they come up, I don’t think my daughter would be anywhere where she is today and I have seen that in a lot of children.”
“Parents are not there and therefore things that happen to them (children) in school that should never happen cause a lot of these children to fail. Knowing what I have gone through that can deter so many parents, I always want to help every child achieve what my child achieved,” she added.
Giving the background to her own ordeal, Ross told about constantly coming into conflict with school administrators, teachers and education officials during the early stages of her daughter’s schooling, beginning when the child was age four.
And she said she constantly came up against a brick wall in her efforts to persuade school officials that her daughter’s behaviour at school was based on the fact that she was not being challenged according to her ability.
“I did not believe in a child being bored at four,” Ross said, and she recalled her frustration at trying to convince a class teacher and a principal that her daughter needed to be evaluated based on the feedback she was getting from the child about incidents involving her daughter and teachers.
Ross said the distress over the school environment resulted in her daughter exhibiting behaviours at home such as bed-wetting and at age eight she had even expressed frightening thoughts that suggested she may have been contemplating suicide to escape what she was suffering at school.
This is why the self-styled child advocate is convinced she has a responsibility to intervene in cases such as that involving a teacher and student at the Springer Memorial School and the latest incident surrounding a third-form student and a teacher at the Ellerslie Secondary School.
Shelly Ross (right) and Elecia Weekes making their way from reception to the administration block of the Ministry of Education. (Picture by Xtra Vision Photography.)
“I have a lot of respect for the good teachers and there are many. What I would not tolerate are the bad apples,” Ross said. “I am seeing too many teachers who are putting themselves at the level of children. You don’t fight with a child. You don’t get in a brawl with a child. From the time you stoop to that level, your job is not in front of children.”
While the president of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union Mary Ann Redman has complained about “bashing” of teachers in relation to the Ellerslie incident and appeared displeased over Ross’ apparent siding with the student in question, Ross was unmoved, declaring: “I will speak about it when I see the need to speak about it and if she considers that bashing, tough luck.”
She added: “I speak about what I see that should never happen, and if teachers do not do the things they are doing I would have no reason to talk about it.”
“I have seen these girls cry because they know that whatever happened was not their fault. I am not saying that they did not do anything wrong in the whole drama. . . . The children in school are no angels . . . but as a teacher you have to know your limits. . . . You do not get in that brawl and fight with a child.”
Instead, Ross thought what children really needed was guidance and good role models, while some parents were crying out for assistance in the business of parenting.
It is this thinking that prompted Ross to create the website Barbados Children’s Directory about three years ago.
“The information is there to help parents in any category. It gives parents a whole set of information on almost everything and I just don’t give information; I point them to where they can get help,” Ross said.
“I always had to know who was teaching my child. I knew everything in my daughter’s books; I was one of those parents who took notice of everything to do with my child’s schooling,” she added.
Ross’ daughter went on to excel at secondary school in an environment where teachers and principal were more supportive. Her mother’s agitation in the early stages has paid off.
Now Ross has turned her attention to other children. “My interest is in the children of Barbados and helping everyone to reach their full potential. Whoever I come across and when I see they are being abused or unfaired I will speak out.”
With her focus on this mission, the threats are like water on a duck’s back.
“Some people want to beat me; they say I need shooting, but I am not afraid,” she said.
“When I go to bed at night and when I wake up in the morning, I say ‘dear God’, not ‘dear man’.”