President Halimah Yacob launches new after-school activity centre at Bukit Merah Secondary School

President Halimah Yacob visiting Bukit Merah Secondary School on Feb 25, 2021. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - When she was a Secondary 1 student at Bukit Merah Secondary School (BMSS), R. Hanah Shakilaa often lacked motivation to do well in her classes.

Hanah, now 16, also found it difficult to control her temper, and preferred spending time by herself in the canteen after the school day was over instead of heading back home.

All this changed when she joined a new after-school initiative - Resilient Merahan Programme (RMP) - in 2019. The after-school engagement programme, which currently involves 30 students, caters to vulnerable students, helping them to build relationships with their peers as well as adult volunteers and school staff.

With the help of her friends and teachers, Hanah gained newfound confidence, even passing a selection process to become a school prefect.

She was one of six students involved in the school's programmes who spoke with President Halimah Yacob on Thursday (Feb 25) at the official launch of an after-school activity centre, The Galaxy at BMSS.

"The Galaxy is a very good centre because after classes, student may want to stay in the school, and this is a safe environment for them to come, organise their own activities and have the support of their teachers, peers and volunteers," Madam Halimah said.

The President also had a heartfelt discussion with students about their challenges and experience.

The students shared their personal struggles, which included issues at home and distractions that affected their schoolwork.

In turn, Madam Halimah shared how her own challenges growing up in a single-parent household after her father's death helped her build resilience, and fielded candid questions from the students about her daily routine as President.

When asked about her views on becoming Singapore's first female president, she said: "I hope it will inspire young girls because we need role models in every field. There are no limits, all possibilities are open to you as long as you do not restrict yourself."

The Galaxy, an after-school activity centre that was co-set up and run by and for students, to provide them a safe haven and conducive environment to engage in activities. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

One in four students in BMSS is under the Financial Assistance Scheme and more than 60 per cent are in the Normal stream courses.

Besides the RMP, the school also has other programmes to cater to students' diverse learning needs. For instance, Helping Our Merahans Excel aims to help students with long-term absenteeism issues to reintegrate into the school system, while the School Within School programme supports graduating students struggling with their studies.

Hanah, who dreams of studying business and becoming an entrepreneur one day, credits the RMP for setting her on the right track.

She said: "Even when I was not at my best, my teachers saw potential in me that I did not see myself. This programme taught me values and life skills about managing my time and respecting others. I would have been a very different person if not for RMP."

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