Minister Rhoda Arrindell reports on visit to US

"Get off the block, get on the bus, get busy" is the name of a new initiative of Education Minister Rhoda Arrindell to get youths "off the block" and eventually into something positive.

The minister announced the programme at a press conference on Monday at which she reported on her visit to the United States (US) January 5-12. She was accompanied by policy adviser Calvin Mardembrough. 

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Arrindell told reporters she had met with representatives of group "50 large" which is engaged in a similar programme in the US. A proposal for the "get off the block" programme is being prepared and if all goes well it should be launched in February. It will run until June, following which it will be evaluated to gauge its success.

The programme will entail driving through the various districts by bus and collecting boys ages 12-25 hanging out on the streets. Discussions will be held with these young men to determine "what direction" they want to go. Arrindell said her main goal was to listen to the boys. An issue of concern is gang violence. "We want to have a serious discussion with them," she said.

It is expected that those collected eventually will be trained or assisted with finding employment. The use of the bus is symbolic, as it represents movement and progress, Arrindell said, noting that 50 Large used the bussing system for its programme. The intention is to invite representatives of 50-Large to St. Maarten once the programme starts.

Arrindell already has informed some boys that the programme will be launched soon. A list of "potential partners" for the programme has been identified already. She plans to share her vision with her ministry staff during a retreat planned for Friday, January 28. "The objective is to have our staff get together and explain where we want to go as a ministry, and to try to get everyone on the same page," she said.

The minister had meetings with representatives of several colleges and with St. Maarten students pursuing tertiary studies, during her trip to the US. St. Maarten has 41 students in the US.

She met with representatives of Tallahassee Community College (TCC), Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), and Johnson and Wales’ Denver and North Miami colleges. Discussions also were held with the St. Maarten/Tallahassee Foundation and the Florida African Heritage Presentation Network.

The objectives of the meetings with colleges were to discuss opportunities for St. Maarten students and to explore further other areas of cooperation as part of the St. Maarten/Tallahassee Sister City Agreement.

Arrindell reported that a St. Maarten student enrolled in her youth volleyball programme had been admitted to attend Johnson and Wales’ Denver college and had been admitted to that institution’s volleyball programme, in keeping with the student’s desire. She said he would be the first St. Maarten student at the Denver college.

Arrindell said her "biggest opportunity" during the trip had been meeting with the St. Maarten students. Among other things, she discussed the recruitment report that had been discussed with the students previously by former finance commissioner Xavier Blackman.