Ahead Center of Excellence closed its doors

POSTED: 07/15/13 11:48 AM

St. Maarten – After a yearlong struggle to keep its program afloat, the Ahead Center of Excellence has officially closed its doors. Last week the institution, which addresses the unique learning disabilities children face, particularly autistic children, took the decision to terminate all classes. Over the weekend, the school’s administrators could be seen on Cannegieter Street, auctioning off the remnants of what once was a model private institution. In its wake, the closure has left more than 3 dozen children, an emaciated faculty and service personnel, at their wit’s end.

Ahead (Allen Higher Education and Development Foundation) like most schools on the island, closed for the summer vacation period on June 28. But unlike other educational institutions, the closure is permanent for now. Students are expected to seek entry into other public or private institutions, and the teaching staff which once stood at 12, will now go in search of jobs.

In May 2012, the school first spoke with Today about its financial troubles. With several foundations uncertain about their future after the closure of the Antillean co-financing agency Amfo, Ahead was the perfect guinea pig. The school’s assistance from Amfo had stopped two years prior, forcing the foundation to survive on a skeletal budget. Premier services had to be discontinued and specialized teacher training ceased. So too did the school’s scholarship program.

A source formerly employed at the school told Today that the closure was inevitable.

“This is what a shoe string budget does when you have good intentions but no one to support your vision. Pretty soon the source dries up.”

The school was once housed in a sizeable facility on the Suckergarden Road. Because of rent problems, it had to relocate to the Belvedere Community Centre, before coming to a final resting place on Coralita Road in a Mary’s Fancy. It was at this location that the decision was taken to close. The brook literally dried up for the faith based organization.

“We knew if we didn’t get funding soon an ambitious project like Ahead would not survive. Special education is costly and low school fees alone could not sustain the school.”

Apart from the lack of government subsidies, the foundation also had to grapple with errant parents. For the chronic non-payment of fees, several students had to be turned away last year during the registration process. But such drastic actions still failed to gain the attention of other parents, who kept on racking up arrears.

When contacted the school’s former principal Audwin James confirmed that the school was indeed closed. He indicated that this was a sad turn of events and boasted of the school’s curriculum and teaching methods which ensured a 95 percent success rate.

“The curriculum is parallel to the secondary schools on the island; our teaching was one on one with emphasis on the child’s learning style. We did an assessment on each child to ascertain that child’s learning style to make them as comfortable as possible. Finding a place for these children now is like putting them in a shark tank. They can work but at a very slow pace and they would need people to put in extra time with them,” he said.

The proceeds from sale items were expected to go towards clearing some of the school’s debts and making a contribution towards, now unemployed, staff members.  Half of a container of items still remains.

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