Schools begin new chapter with hope
With high hopes for the year ahead, school administrators and students put the summer holidays behind them and returned to the classrooms on Monday, basking in the thrill of a fresh start.
The islandwide back-to-school excitement was noticeable, with fresh-faced students setting out in the Corporate Area to embrace their teachers’ new plans and recrafted visions, and commit to making the most of the months ahead.
Debbie Meek, principal of Elletson Primary and Infant School in Kingston, was particularly excited about three dash robots which were donated to the institution by the Canada-based Olga Ellen Coburn Foundation.
The small-bodied robots are equipped with unique and gravitating features such as shining lights and the ability to dance, sing and respond to voice commands, and are geared at breaking down coding and robotics in a simple way for children.
Meek is anticipating that the integration of the robots into lessons will help to improve numeracy at the school.
She also expressed gratitude to Advantage General, which donated computer systems for them to get a lab up and running in a matter of weeks.
Reflecting on preparations made ahead of the new school year, Meeks said there was yard work to maintain the grounds, pest-control initiatives, and professional development workshops for teachers.
With some 145 students on roll, including those in the special education unit and the infant department, the principal told The Gleaner that gearing up for a new school year is never an easy task, as administrators are usually constrained by limited finances.
Once again, she noted, the school has reopened without a functioning library, a situation which has persisted for over a decade. She said that the situation has been very disadvantageous to the students, as they lack a suitable space where they could make use of resource material or sit and read quietly in their spare time.
“A school library is very critical ... . It is supposed to be a very interactive space for the children because you can also teach them how to care for the books and teach them how to do research, not solely online, but also from the physical space. A school library is like the brain of a school, because it is supposed to drive your literacy [rates],” Meek said.
‘Strive for Excellence’
She added that a large number of outdated books had to be removed from the space with the help of the Jamaica Library Service. The library is in need of new furniture; reading material, including resource books for mathematics, science, English language and social studies; reading books for the infant department; and an air conditioning unit.
Nonetheless, the principal remains hopeful for an excellent school year, as her aspirations are aligned with the school’s motto: ‘Strive for Excellence’.
On Monday, Education Minister Fayval Williams engaged in a tour of schools such as Mountain View Primary and Infant, Jacks Hill Primary, and Hope Valley Experimental School, to observe happenings on the first day of the school year. She also visited the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre to see students boarding some of the new electric buses added to the Jamaica Urban Transit Company’s fleet.
Principal of Hope Valley Experimental, Anthony Grant, informed The Gleaner that the school is among the fortunate few not affected by teacher migration and resignations.
“We have all teachers in place, so they are quite ready for the students’ enrolment ... ,” he said, adding that all of the roughly 700 students seemed to have turned out for the first day. Parents were also out in very large numbers to see their children off to school.
Grant said that there were no bothering issues as classes resumed.
On the matter of the draft grooming policy, he expressed his full support for it.
The policy, which covers the long-running conflicts regarding student grooming and attire in schools, attempts to lessen discriminatory practices in schools, related to, among other things, cultural identity, climatic conditions, and parents’ socio-economic status.
The principal recalled that, years ago when he advocated for students to bring their cell phones to school, he received some pushback from parents. But, he noted, in today’s society, electronics such as a tablets were being used by nearly every child.
“I say that to say, sometimes we make rules that come back to haunt us,” he said, adding that he has never had an issue with students expressing themselves through hairstyles.
“For me personally, I place emphasis on my appearance and how I look, and I think students [do] too. When they feel comfortable about themselves, they learn. So I’ve never had a problem with grooming, with hairstyle, or whatever. The kind of haircut, the kind of hair never bothered me at all,” he added.
He asserted that, by taking this stance, it was not an indication that the school was liberal, but that it was to ensure that both parents and children were comfortable.
“We have never locked out [a student], and I’m in strong support of it, that we are to stop that practice in 2023,” he added, noting that Jamaicans ought to be tolerant of differences in individuals.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Opposition Spokesman on Education Damion Crawford told The Gleaner that he believes that the ministry had approached the issue in an effective manner and has fostered much-needed dialogue surrounding the issue by including an analysis of the nation’s cultural realities and those of school administrators.
“My own image would immediately indicate that anything that reduces the line of resistance for persons wearing my image would be supported by me,” the dreadlocked senator said.
Williams expressed confidence that the school year ahead will be successful. She noted the high levels of anticipation from academic staff and students.
“We take education seriously, all of us in Jamaica. We know the value and importance of education and I know parents across the board ... look forward to the new school year, as well as the students,” she said.