Fri | Oct 20, 2017

New special-needs school brings ray of hope

Published:Sunday | October 23, 2016 | 12:00 AMDave Rodney
Laborers and tradesmen hired by the Rockhouse Foundation are working around the clock to build the new special needs school for a January 2017 opening.
Blackman, one of the workers from Dalling Street who says crime, stress and tension have been reduced in the communities since the Rockhouse Foundation construction project began.
The staff is already in place doing planning meetings. At centre, fifth from left is principal Tamekia Kentish. Second from right is Peter Rose, president of the Rockhouse Foundation.
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Exactly a year ago, in New York City, a glitzy annual fundraiser, hosted by the Rockhouse Foundation at Joe's Pub in Lower Manhattan, raised nearly a quarter million dollars in one night to fund charities administered by the foundation in Westmoreland, Jamaica.

A-list reggae artist Luciano kept the hand-picked audience happy with a live performance, while the guests, who have all visited Jamaica, some on a regular basis, made generous donations to the Rockhouse Foundation's Jamaica projects.

Over its 13-year history, the foundation has spent US$3.5 million for the renovation, expansion, and modernisation of five schools, as well as the Negril Community Library, and with its credible and impressive track record, the foundation wants to do a lot more to improve educational opportunities in some of the economically depressed areas of Westmoreland.

This October, 1,600 miles from where the funds were raised, scores of laborers are working tirelessly around the clock on three shifts to bring the construction of a new special-needs school to completion for a January 2017 opening.

The school is located on Lewis Street in the heart of the bustling seaport town of Savanna-la-Mar. It will be called the Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Infant Academy, and it will boast 10,000 square feet of space and will be the first of its kind in Jamaica catering to both regular learners and children with physical and developmental special needs.

Although the school's opening is still a few months away, the staff is already in place, with daily planning meetings led by principal Tamekia Kentish, a graduate of the Sam Sharpe Teachers' College with vast experience in special education. "We are very excited about this new venture, the first of its kind in Jamaica, and we are looking forward to serving the communities around Savanna-la-Mar in this new, inclusive environment to fully develop the physical, cognitive, and emotional needs of our students," Kentish said.

The entire staff has been hired by the Ministry of Education, which will also be responsible for the operating costs of the school. Other partners in this venture are the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, which will supply various therapists, and the Ministry of Health, which will provide a school nurse. The Rockhouse Foundation will take care of maintenance and programme support to ensure that the facility offers an education of the highest quality that will include cutting-edge digital technology to facilitate and enhance special-needs learning.

THE HIGHEST QUALITY

It is of interest to note that all the labourers and tradesman working on the construction of the school are from the disadvantaged communities around Savanna-la-Mar, where scamming and other forms of criminal activities are commonplace. This construction project has had a positive economic impact on these communities, and a few of the workers have asserted that since the project began providing food on their tables, crime, stress, and tension in the communities have been visibly reduced.

"It is the practice of the Rockhouse Foundation to hire primarily from the communities where the projects take place," Peter Rose, president of the Rockhouse Foundation, pointed out. "Most of the crew reside in communities where work opportunities are extremely limited, and we rotate our labourers and tradespeople so that the economic benefit can reach as many people as possible," he added.

When the Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Infant Academy opens in January, it will welcome 40 students for the new term, with full enrolment of 100 students in September 2017. Each class will have no more than 20 students supported by a main teacher, an assistant teacher, and a caregiver. This possibly boasts the best student-to-staff ratio in a public school in Jamaica, where one teacher is typically in charge of 40 to 60 students. The facility will also provide training and assessment for the parents of special-needs children.

This year's Rockhouse Foundation fundraiser took place on Wednesday, October 19. For more information, visit www.rockhousefoundation.org.

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