Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 31st 2014 Contents A5
August 31, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
Brothers Asheed, right, and Ashmeed Sooknanan enjoy the last days of
their school vacation at Cunupia yesterday. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ
Michelle Charles was a prom-
ising young student at Toco Com-
posite School whose academic
achievements regularly made her
family proud, until, at age 15, she
got pregnant. Just weeks before
writing her O-Level examina-
tions, she dropped out of school
and married her boyfriend, Per-
In the years that followed,
Charles and her husband had five
children---Nigel, Chantell, Kristelle,
Ruel and Kasel---and her chances
of completing her education and
achieving her dream of becoming
a teacher looked dim as she
became weighed down with her
responsibilities as wife and moth-
er.But 11 years after dropping out
of school, Charles did the unthink-
able and at age 26 she enrolled in
the Matelot Community College,
put back on a school uniform and
began attending classes full-time
at the same school where her first
son had been placed after sitting
the Common Entrance exam.
"One morning, I went to the
Matelot Community College where
my eldest son Nigel was attending,
having passed his Common
Entrance examination for that
school and told the principal Sister
Rosario Hackshaw that I was inter-
ested in taking evening classes and
wanted to sign up," she said.
Hackshaw told her the school
did not have evening classes and
instead offered her a place as a
She recalled, "At first I had
reservations. I wasn t keen on the
idea of going back to a school
which had over 100 adolescents.
I asked myself how would I work
with them as a mother and wife."
However, after discussing it with
her family, Charles decided to take
on the challenge. She signed up
and was placed in a Form Four
class where she began preparing
for the CXC exams in seven sub-
jects---Maths, Literature, Social
Studies, Human and Social Biology,
Principles of Business, Agricultural
Science and Spanish.
Charles joined a class of 25 stu-
dents several years her junior.
"Going back to school was
tough. Matelot is a small village
and people said things which were
hurtful and mean when I started.
Even my classmates provoked me
by throwing words---not in my
face, but within earshot to see how
I would react. I had become a tar-
get in the community I had grew
"Honestly, this was the last thing
I was expecting. But it was natural
At first, Charles was bothered
by all the taunts. Her son Nigel,
who was in Form One, was also
"The female students started to
tease Nigel about me. They used
to ask him why I not home seeing
about his young brothers and sis-
ters which got him upset. Many
days I had to talk to Nigel to control
his anger because he could not
cope. The taunting was pushing
him to the edge."
Eventually she managed to pull
herself together and focused on
"I told myself I came here for
a purpose and nothing was going
to get in my way."
When Charles began placing
first in most of her exams, her
classmates began to compete with
"Almost every student would
try to beat my score. It created a
keen rivalry because nobody want-
ed to get lower than my grade."
She soon earned the respect and
admiration of her classmates and
they began to look up to her as a
mother figure and role model.
At the end of two years, Charles
got six CXC passes. She was vale-
dictorian at the school s graduation
and copped the top two awards
for most outstanding and most
Charles success at O-Levels
gave her the motivation to press
on further with her studies.
Encouraged by that success, she
said, "I decided to try my hands
at A-Levels, which was an even
Thrown in the deep end
Once again, this time in a class
with six students, Charles took the
lead academically. However, there
were challenges on the home front.
"I remember coming home one
evening tired and Kasel, who was
just three years old, asking me for
tea. I promised to make the tea
but dozed off on the couch.
"When I awoke, I saw Kasel on
a biscuit tin near the kitchen
counter struggling to make the tea.
While I felt proud that he was able
to help himself, I felt as if I had
failed as a mother and started to
Charles also had to pay special
attention to her elder daughter,
Chantell, who was dyslexic.
"The children made it easy for
me because they all helped with
the household chores and looked
out for one another. It was not
easy. There were pressures all
At the end of that two-year pro-
gramme, Charles was once again
chosen as valedictorian and named
most outstanding and consistent
student in the class.
After graduation, Hackshaw
offered her a temporary teaching
job at the school.
"I was given a post-primary
class of nine boys to teach. Actu-
From dropout to
ally, nobody wanted to teach those boys
because they were rebellious and dif-
ficult to manage.
"Many of the boys lacked self-esteem
because they came from troubled, sin-
gle-parent homes. I was thrown in the
In a matter of weeks, Charles got the
boys to settle down and focus.
"I realised that this was my strong
point in teaching---reaching out, lis-
tening and being there for the stu-
As a means of giving back to her
community, Charles began giving
evening classes to women who had
never been able to attend school.
Around that time, she also gave birth
to her sixth child, Jeuelle, who is now
15.Charles applied for a teaching posi-
tion at the Ministry of Education and
was posted at the Grand Riviere Angli-
can School in 1998. From there, she
was transferred to Cumana AC School,
then finally settled at St Mary s Angli-
can School in Tacarigua. When school
re-opens on Tuesday, she will be in
charge of a Standard One class.
Last month, Charles returned to
Matelot to visit for the first time in
"Two female villagers who I had not
seen in ages told me that I gave them
the inspiration to go back to school
after dropping out. For me, this was
the best news ever. I realised that going
back to school was not in vain and that
I had touched at least two lives in my
pursuit to better my life and that of
In 2010, Charles obtained a bachelor s
degree in public-sector management
at the University of the West Indies
(UWI), St Augustine. The following
year, her husband died.
Now a grandmother of one, she plans
to pursue her master s in sociology at
"To me the sky is the limit. You can
never stop learning."
Four of Charles six children are cur-
rently attending Costaatt.
"As a mother and teacher, I could
not be prouder and happier of my suc-
cess and how my life has turned out.
Had it not been for my family and Sr
Hackshaw, who I think was my guiding
angel, I don t know where I would have
"Who would have thought that after
five pregnancies and dropping out of
school I would have gone back to study?
If I could do it, anyone can."
Michelle Charles at her home in Arouca. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ
Matelot mom attends same school with her children
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