‘Mr Pollard is the MVP!’
Herd immunity is something for which many governments all over the world are searching. In vain. Herd mentality is not quite so elusive but it’s hard to find among teenagers, who flex their muscles and push the envelope in a bid to prove their independence and adulthood.
And yet, all of Jaeda Attong-Julien’s sixth form peers at Bishop Anstey Trinity College East Sixth Form agree with her on the identity of the MVP. Attong-Julien did herself proud in the June 2020 CAPE Physical Education examinations.
She copped second place on the merit list, which she ‘definitely was not expecting’ but which made her ‘entire family just super-excited and proud of me’.
Like all her classmates, however, Attong-Julien is under no illusions about who else was a major contributor to her success. And to the success of the 11 others who, with her, finished atop the regional merit list, an achievement without precedent in the history of the now 23–year-old Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) exams.
She told Wired868 that Aaron Pollard, her Physical Education teacher, was ‘an authoritative figure [whose] genuine personality made you feel like he is, as the fellas would say, a brethren’.
“His openness made you feel comfortable,” she added, “in all of his classes.”
Kairah-Jade Thomas, who earned sixth place on the merit list, concurs.
“While all of the teachers at the school were great, I think Mr Pollard’s openness made him stand out,” said Thomas. “Mr Pollard definitely made Physical Education more enjoyable for me. Instead of reading textbooks all day, he found movies that related directly to the syllabus for us to watch.
“He would also allow class discussions where my classmates and I would demonstrate theories.”
Local high-profile schools like St George’s College and Naparima Girls High School had numerous students on the CAPE Physical Education merit list when, two years ago, BATCE secured its first Physical Education scholarship. But Pollard’s ‘Terrific Twelve’ did better than any school had done before, topping the region in the examination and securing all 12 merit list spots.
Following its acceptance into T&T’s co-ed college league, BATCE 6th Form’s aim was to prepare students with holistic skills for entry into community colleges and universities through Advanced Levels studies of subjects like Languages, Modern Studies and Sciences.
Then, in 2014, Physical Education won approval for study at the CAPE level although many secondary schools still did not classify the subject as important enough for students who had passed the CSEC level.
Came the year 2020, bringing with it a pandemic, and masks and social distancing became the new normal. Even toilet paper neared extinction. Then came the spike of positive Covid-19 cases, forcing Mr Government to hit the snooze button on the country. But, despite the mêlée and all the social disruption, BATCE’s Terrific Twelve managed to achieve the unachievable.
“When Covid happened,” Attong-Julien explained, “a lot of students complained about the loss of face-to-face classes. But Mr Pollard encouraged us to make the best of the situation.”
Ministry of Sport’s 2012 Physical Education Teacher of the Year Pollard shared with Wired868 the non-secret of his scholarship success:
“A lot of teachers ask about my teaching methods and what I do differently and I always tell them that rules without relationships brings rebellion,” said Pollard. “This rebellion may not be in the form of fighting or quarrelling but in the students’ poor attitude towards their work.”
It is a point made indirectly by Nicholas Thomas, who was 9th on the merit list and describes himself as ‘a class clown, an athlete at heart’ and not ‘one of the brightest students in school’.
“I struggled a lot and I got distracted easily,” he continued. “My teachers would often send me to counsellors who showed me methods to revise and how to remain focused in classes.”
Thomas never quite says so in words but you are left with the sense that he never had the same problems in Pollard’s Phys Ed class.
In his time as a student, Pollard attended Tunapuna Secondary and El Dorado East Secondary respectively. He then moved on to UWI Open Campus where he attained a certificate in Phys Ed. Thereafter, he continued his path to Phys Ed glory by graduating with a BA of Education from the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), and further returned to UWI to obtain his Masters in Sports Management.
Although he never played sport professionally, Pollard has been a CAPE-qualified educator—teaching the A-level programme since 2014—and a Physical Education teacher for almost 17 years. CAPE qualification means that you ‘have to be identified as a Teacher 3, which means you have to be a great practical performer and have a certain level of theoretical competence’.
So there is no need to make classroom magic through unique teaching methods? Educators simply have to listen to and engage with their students through casual conversation and classroom forums? It’s as simple as that?
“What works for me,” Pollard responds, chuckling, “is that I know when I missed the mark at times; I am able to identify when I could have done better at certain things, whether it be time management or even giving feedback to students.
“The key is also being a reflective teacher. You should be able to identify your mistakes and do things differently the next time.”
Understated? Perhaps. But it works. The 42-year old father of three daughters got the attention of not just Julien-Attong and her classmates but also of people beyond these shores.
“I have been offered the opportunity to teach Physical Education at a high school in The Cayman Islands,” Pollard confided in us. “It would be a two-year contract; when it expires, my intention is to return to BATCE with proposals to head an athletic department in the school.
“It is a vision I always had for the school. This is my main reason for taking the job—to gain that experience.”
The main reason Joshuwa Muganambuga decided to transfer to BATCE 6th Form to pursue Physical Education was that he thought it would help him achieve his dream of becoming a sports physician. He ‘needed to do Biology and Chemistry’ but thought it made sense to do Physical Education as well.
The decision proved to be ‘a great one’ and ‘one of my best learning experiences ever’.
“I chose BATCE 6th Form because it was one of the only schools that offered Physical Education at the CAPE level,” he told Wired868. “The students were like family and the class felt like home for me. We learned, played and studied together. There was never a dull moment.”
Similar to his unique Rwandan-Tutsi tribe surname, Muganambuga’s matchless grades propelled him to the top Phys Ed student spot, surpassing more than 4,000 regionally who actually took the June exam. According to him, although the class faced challenges while adapting to a remote learning environment, self-discipline played a big part in their success.
“When we were going into exam mode, that’s when Covid really became a thing in Trinidad,” said Muganambuga. “While we expected to return to school in the third term, we never did. We had to resort to online classes; those classes reminded me of the importance of self-discipline.
“At school, you have teachers present that could give you a boost when you don’t feel like studying. Although you may have your parents to guide you at home, most times the motivation has to come from within.”
So if BATCE 6th Form has found a recipe for success, the list of ingredients looks something like this: 1 healthy learning environment, 1 phenomenal educator, 2 handfuls of relatable teaching and learning material, 1 bunch of students with the right attitude, 3 cups of motivation, 2 cups of self-discipline.
With Mr Pollard as chief cook and bottle-washer.
The students, however, are unanimous. They prefer to think of Pollard as their MVP, Most Valuable Person, Most Valuable Professor and Most Valuable Professional.