A fourth form student at Princess Margaret Secondary School has progressed from being a delinquent with conflict resolution challenges, to becoming the face of anti-violence.
Ayra Newton, who was part of the Juvenile Liaison Scheme, a Royal Barbados Police Force programme aimed at keeping youth off the streets and out of the courts, today became the island’s first Peace Ambassador, placing her at the forefront of the Ministry of Education’s anti-violence campaign.
It was recognition for Newton’s extraordinary display of self-control while being taunted and physically assaulted last month by a Christ Church Foundation student. She maintained her composure and left the vicinity without retaliating.
The incident was caught on video, which went viral on social media, which brought Newton to the attention of education officials.
Describing the former delinquent as a success story of the police programme, Chief Education Officer Karen Best urged the promising student to set an example for not only her peers, but for adults as well.
“We have to [be] models for the little ones and the adults in our country because we recognize that the adults don’t know how to resolve conflict; we are seeing it every day,” Best said during the appointment ceremony.
“We might not be able to save all of them but if we can save 99.9 per cent we would be happy,” she added.
An upsurge in school violence in recent months – with many of the incidents going viral on social media – has brought the issue to the fore.
However, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education June Chandler said the few bad apples highlighted in the media were not representative of the entire student population, as she cited Newton as a shining example of the good.
“It is only a few persons that maybe at this time causing some disruptions, but what we may be having out there in terms of violence is not indicative of the entire school system. We have the Ayras in this world who will represent the school system,” Chandler said.
Meanwhile, Juvenile Liaison Officer Roz’ Marie Ward-Waterman commended Newton for her progress throughout the past year.
In fact, the student’s mother, Sophia, broke down in tears as she listened to Ward-Waterman describe how Newton progressed from being a delinquent child to become the most improved student at the Juvenile Liaison Scheme camp.
“Everyone knows that Ayra did have her challenges. She came to the programme but she was willing to accept that what she was presently doing was not right and she [was] open to learning,” Ward-Waterman said, while recalling that conflict resolution was Newton’s biggest challenge.
The liaison officer reported that the scheme had an 80 per cent success rate, with only 20 per cent of the students who were incorporated in their programme ending up in the criminal justice system.
“What I stress on is, ‘think before you act and don’t look at today, look at where your life would be five years from now if you continue along that path,’” she explained.
In accepting her new role, a “speechless” Newton thanked her parents, Principal Jonathan Corbin and Ward-Waterman, as she marveled at how far she had come.
“I am speechless right now because I didn’t know it would go this far,” she said.
“As a peace ambassador now I have to set examples for young people [and] elderly people too . . . now I have to carry myself because I have the title,” she stressed.
The Barbados Institute of Management and Productivity (BIMAP) also awarded Newton for her display of self-control and resolve. She received a scholarship for a one-year certificate in management studies from BIMAP Executive Director Sonia Greenidge-Franklyn.