Sunday, February 14, 2010

THE MESSY LIFE OF MISS BECKLES: Two years after she vanished from Britain mired in scandal, a self-styled education guru has reappeared in the US

The Independent

By Guy Adams | The Independent (UK) |

Yolande Beckles in 2006 during the filming of her BBC TV series

photo: MARTIN GODWIN - Yolande Beckles in 2006 during the filming of her BBC TV series

Sunday, 14 February 2010 -- A disgraced education "guru" and reality TV star, who vanished from Britain after becoming embroiled in a string of financial scandals, has resurfaced in Hollywood, where she is being sued by a former landlady and faces a police investigation into allegations of theft.

Yolande Beckles, who shot to fame as the larger-than-life star of a BBC documentary called Don't Mess With Miss Beckles, telling disaffected teenagers how they could turn their lives around by working hard and "kicking butt", is also now at the centre of an inquiry into rumoured financial mismanagement at a Los Angeles school.

The news comes four years after Ms Beckles first fell from grace, when reporters investigating her TV show discovered that she'd previously been sacked from a charity in dubious circumstances and was behind several failed educational companies that had collapsed, leaving creditors saddled with huge debts.

It also follows a front-page scandal that occurred when she took thousands of pounds from disadvantaged children to pay for an overseas trip that never happened, before being taken to court by a London private school over her daughter's unpaid fees.

In 2008, Ms Beckles suddenly disappeared from the UK, leaving behind unpaid bills and county court judgments. Now she has re-emerged in Los Angeles. And to the dismay of former victims – one of whom runs a website called "Beckleswatch", chronicling her "nefarious" activities – she appears to be up to old tricks.

She has recently founded a new firm, Think Global Kids, which operates on exactly the same basis as her previous ones: it seeks grants and financial donations from public authorities and generous philanthropists to help reform the school system and help underprivileged youngsters.

Where this money will actually end up is less clear, however. In a video posted on its slick website, Ms Beckles talks vaguely about running special classes for inner-city kids, and boasts that "one British woman is fighting for the future of America's children".

Behind the scenes, the firm has already become embroiled in controversy, though. The Los Angeles Unified School District, which runs the city's schools, is investigating its dealings with Rosewood Elementary, where Ms Beckles sends her son Euan.

The IoS understands that parents at the school have alerted the authorities after becoming worried by the school's management and its relationship with Think Global Kids.

They are also apparently concerned that Ms Beckles had persuaded the school's headteacher, Linda Kaye-Crowder, to make her director of its parent centre, a job that carries some fundraising duties. "Letting someone with her track record raise money for a school is like putting a wolf in charge of a hen house," said one.

Ms Kaye-Crowder did not return several calls regarding Ms Beckles and Think Global Kids. A spokesman for the LAUSD, Ellen T Morgan, said: "The district is currently looking at various concerns surrounding Rosewood, and until we gather all the facts surrounding this matter any comment would be premature."

On the personal front, meanwhile, Ms Beckles also has serious clouds on her horizon. She is about to be sued by her former landlady, Olivia Goodson-Shields, who rented a room to her for the first three months of last year, and claims to be owed almost $20,000 in unpaid rent and bills.

Ms Goodson-Shields contacted LA police after watching a video on the Think Global Kids website, in which Ms Beckles appears to be wearing a distinctive necklace similar to one that had mysteriously disappeared from her home.

"To say that woman has ruined my life is an understatement," she said yesterday. "Because of her, I've lost my home and my car. Everything about her is fishy, and when I saw the necklace I wasn't in the least bit surprised. I'm amazed that she is still in the country, let alone in business."

After Ms Beckles left her house, Ms Goodson-Shields said she discovered that she had run up thousands of dollars in unpaid phone bills. Cheques written to cover her rent bounced. Debt collection notices began arriving from two major banks and a string of store-card companies with whom Ms Beckles had set up accounts.

"She's a con woman who can be very charismatic, but time and time again ends up running away without paying her bills," Ms Goodson-Shields said.

The controversy is true to form for Ms Beckles, whose BBC show became embroiled in scandal when newspapers discovered tha in 1999 she had been sacked by the Windsor Fellowship, a charity based in Hackney. Ms Beckles was accused of financial mismanagement, using a work credit card to pay for a dress and goods from Sainsbury's, funnelling £5,000 to her mother, and giving herself an unauthorised loan of £5,000. She appealed against the sacking, but lost at an employment tribunal.

Reporters also found that in 2003, her educational firm Global Graduates had collapsed, owing £125,000 and leaving students who had paid hundreds of pounds to go on its courses in limbo. She has also been involved in three companies that were struck off the Companies House register, and 19 county court judgments had been made against her businesses, totalling £68,708.

Born in London to Trinidadian parents in 1962, Ms Beckles left school at 18 and enjoyed a career in management before moving into the education sector. Most of her failed companies tapped into myriad grants available to organisations that help to educate underprivileged and ethnic minority children.

That money wasn't always spent in the way it should have been, however. In 2007, she featured on the front page of London's Evening Standard after she took £12,000 from the families of under-privileged children from Hackney to fund an educational trip to the Caribbean, and promptly disappeared to South Korea, where she was attending a convention of the Moonies.

A few months later, Ms Beckles was taken to court by Bickley Park School in Bromley, southeast London, for not paying her daughter's fees. Shortly after that, she vanished completely.

This week the IoS tracked her down to a small rented apartment on North Poinsettia Place in Hollywood. Asked about Think Global Kids, her financial affairs, her relationship with Rosewood Elementary and the allegations raised by Ms Goodson-Shields, she responded: "Go away. Do not call me. Put your questions in writing, in an email, and I will respond to them."

A list of questions was emailed to her. At the time of going to press, she had not replied.


Unknown said...

Yolande Beckles is a tireless champion of American Education, who’s been showered with letters from the grateful American parents of the Think Global Kids students; To them she’s an angel.

I personally spent the entire Summer observing Yolande Beckles with her Think Global Kids students. To say I was blown away is an understatement. Due to the fact that California is BROKE, and had to cut educational summer programs FIRST, these children, who are so bright and so talented, would be all but forgotten were it not for Yolande.

Yolande managed to provide an old time School House intimacy with her students, coupled with multi media educational tools provided by the library. Many of her students couldn't pay to attend her Summer sessions. But it didn't stop her from providing them with an amazing curriculum of Math, Reading, Science, Art, Dance, Computer lessons, etc. Yolande turned away no child. AND she made no money. None.
At the same time she was teaching these students – non gratis -- she was also volunteering at a Food Bank. They too, couldn’t afford to pay her, except in food, which she used to feed her students at Think Global Kids.

Let me repeat that: She had to PAY to use the library, pay for teaching supplies, she taught most of the students at no charge, she volunteered at a food bank to feed them -- and she made no money.

As a side note, the “author” of this article – music writer Guy Adams, emailed one of the parents: “I'm looking for a testimonial or two from people whose children have passed through the scheme, to help give me an idea of their modus operandi, and how they go about teaching otherwise under-achieving kids.”

I can tell you Yolande’s Scheme: “Encourage their excitement and confidence, and ensure that each child knows he can be brilliant.” Mr. Adams would know that if he bothered to speak to even ONE parent whose child had attended the Think Global Kids summer program. Instead, Mr Adams has relied mainly on a BLOG created by the delusional ex Landlord of Yolande Beckles, who robbed her of everything she brought from England, and forged tens of thousands of dollars in checks. This source is so sketchy, that the anonymous author of the BLOG goes on endless rants about lesbians having sex with skateboards. But one man’s delusion is another man’s source and Guy Adams, who doesn’t seem to have interviewed ONE relevant player, doesn’t seem to know that, possibly because he’s so new to the Crime Journalist landscape.

-- Chantal Boccaccio, Documentary Director - THINK GLOBAL KIDS

Unknown said...

Part 2:

The children who attended Think Global Kids spent their Summer, not in front of video games like their friends, but learning in a Library setting. They were excited about what they learned and they RETAINED an astonishing amount of what they learned. As a result, all the parents concurred that Yolande’s children were far better prepared to return to school.

The first day I saw Yolande in action, I sat in on a class where they were studying the brain. I was blown away by the fact that these children – as young as six – could get an “A” on a quiz about a subject that was at the level of Freshman High School learning! I'm a medical writer who couldn't answer all the questions on the pop quiz - ! But each student knew the material, each student got an A -- And they were excited –because Yolande inspires such pride and excitement in their achievements.

Ideal Toys donated Math and Learning Games, which Yolande gave out as rewards for getting an “A” on math quizzes. Thanks to Yolande’s remarkable teaching skills, each child was able to earn an “A”.

The were SO happy - and so grateful for the program. The parents are thrilled. Literally, one parent said “I spent a fortune on my daughter’s education and she still couldn’t read. Yolande taught my daughter how to read in six weeks!” This is typical of the gratitude Yolande has been showered with.

The youngest is two, and the oldest 16, but they all learn the same materials, and their retention is amazing! And their futures are so much brighter because people like Yolande Beckles took an interest in them.

In the course of working with Yolande this summer, I was told by the library personnel “before Yolande came, the library was practically a homeless shelter. Now it’s filled with life and laughter and learning – it’s completely come to life thanks to Yolande. We’re really going to miss her.”

On a final note, Guy Adams was untruthful when he claimed that Yolande failed to respond to his questions. She penned him a long detailed email, but again, Guy Adams played it fast and loose with the truth, in keeping with his journalistic style - Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

I'm frankly amazed that Scott uploaded this story without checking the facts.

-- Chantal Boccaccio, Documentary Director - THINK GLOBAL KIDS

Beckles Watch said...

For the whole story of Yolande Beckles, read the Beckles Watch blog.