Guyana Chronicle:- MINISTER of Education Nicolette Henry on Friday visited Mae’s School to speak with and offer counselling services to students and teachers affected by the suicide of 15- year- old student Vanica Schultz, who died on Thursday, January 24, 2019.
The minister was accompanied by representatives from the Ministry’s Schools’ Welfare Psycho-social Unit. “What we saw here is a symptom of a larger problem and at the level of the Ministry of Education, we have undertaken several initiatives under a broad umbrella of the school health programme. Now I would want to see a stronger collaboration with the public education system and the private education system,” Henry noted.
Located in Subryanville, Mae’s School is one of Guyana’s more popular private schools.
“This morning the ministry of education (MoE) is here with the psycho- social support team so they can provide the teachers and students, who are personally affected, with the type of support services required and where referrals are needed, we would also be able to make those interventions. Some general discussion will take place here. There’s another part of the intervention [which] will be a very private and closed setting based on the sensitivity and the nature of this intervention,” said the minister.
Just last November, the MoE commissioned the $16.3 million first ever Mobile Psycho-social Unit, to take welfare officers wherever they were needed across the country.
Henry was also accompanied by Chief Education Officer Marcel Hutson, who pleaded with the students to realise the value of their lives, not only to their families, but to their country and society at large as well.
“We need you to understand that we don’t want a repetition of this action because this country is very dependent on you and the skills that you have. You are all gifted and you have something to bring to the table to help develop this country; please do not attempt to destroy that gift. Please understand that life is filled with issues and we have to learn to navigate these issues,” Hutson noted.
Staff and students of Mae’s School were shocked on Thursday, January 24, when Schultz took her own life by ingesting carbon tablets. The school was also disputing allegations that the student was involved in an investigation about the drug ecstasy being found at the school.
The student is said to have succumbed at a private city hospital sometime around 12:30pm, after being rushed there earlier Thursday morning.
“I would like to say that we have never found any drug or anything illegal on that child, she was a child that has never given us any problems. That’s why this came as such a shock to us,” declared Paul Burnette, the school’s director (ag) of the secondary department.
“We even had a PowerPoint presentation that was given to them about the pills and how it affects you and the disadvantages. We had one done last term and there were actual plans to have more done this term.”
Burnette at the time was speaking at a press conference held at the school’s auditorium Thursday afternoon for a briefing on the situation.
“I don’t know where they could have gotten that from that there is ecstasy at our school, but I’m telling you I have never found it. The teachers have never found it. I just want to clear this up — we have never found ecstasy at this school,” he said of the reports, which claimed that the student was involved in an investigation.
After posting an apology on her Instagram page on the evening of Wednesday, January 23, 2019, the fourth form student, it was reported, entered her class smiling around 08:30hrs on Thursday, January 25, 2019. She distributed letters to a few friends and, moments later, began vomiting profusely
“She gave them letters. When she came in they said she came in smiling then she sat down and there about she started to vomit,” explained Burnette. He further said:
“She was a pleasant, loving, regular, beautiful young lady. You wouldn’t believe that she would do this, there was no inclination whatsoever to say that [she] had a problem. Always quiet, never give us any trouble. I’ve been teaching her for years and she’s never given me any indication saying ‘I need help’ or ‘this is bothering me’ or ‘this is hurting me’; so to be honest, I didn’t know that she was a child that was hurting. She was a normal child and that’s what worries me.”
Burnette strongly denied allegations that teachers initially refused to take the student to the hospital when she first began vomiting, because they were afraid that her vomiting would dirty their cars.
“Within five minutes time from the message getting to the office that she was not feeling well I turned to Sir Paul; I said, “ We have to go through the gate with her. I said you drive and I called the mom and I said ‘she’s [the victim] not feeling well’ and she [the mom] said she was driving and I didn’t want to alarm her [but] I said it seems as though she needs medical attention, which hospital would you like us to take her to, [her mom] said to take her to Woodlands and I’ll meet you there and we took her,” Deputy Director of the Secondary Department, Esther Winter, recounted.
Burnette said he himself carried the student down the stairs.
“It’s posted that we were reluctant to take her to the hospital, that is not true. Look at my condition if you smell me I smell of vomit… I lift that girl down the stairs,” Burnette conveyed.
Burnette said it was while he was taking her to the car that the student confessed to him that she had ingested the poisonous substance and continually apologised.
“She was able to speak with us before leaving here because I keep asking her what is it? What? What? Tell me and she said ‘Sir I swallowed a carbon tablet.’ Even in the ER she was speaking she just keeps saying that she’s sorry,” Burnette recalled.
While the school has not ruled out the possibility that the student might have faced bullying or experienced peer pressure, Burnette said he believed if the student was being bullied she would have reported it since the school provided ample avenue for students to have dialogue with teachers.
“We always have sessions with them. We bring them down to the auditorium by class and we would talk to them about anything they want to talk about. For example, when there was this viral upload about pornography we had countless sessions with them about the dangers of it and how it could follow them for life and how it could affect you as a man or woman,” Burnette said.
Burnette says going forward the school will be looking to offer counselling to the students and staff. “We realise that the students are traumatised, she was their friend, a really close friend and we never knew that she was hurting or paining in any way,” he noted.