Mt Providence Primary School - Slowly finding their place on the education landscape
The meandering path leading to Mount Providence, Clarendon, interchanges with asphalt and gravel. If one swears by Google Maps, its GPS tracking ends in the middle of nowhere. Time to switch apps - ask locals for directions.
"You are in the right direction," said a gentleman, pointing straight. The destination: Mt Providence Primary and Infant School.
Driving through this rustic country road, one reaches the school - beyond the realms of wireless networking technology.
Megan Larson, Peace Corps volunteer in the education sector, began working at Mt Providence Primary and Infant School in 2016, and her first observations were the low literacy rates.
"Some of the students," Larson, who is an artist, said, "were struggling to read, and this was very frustrating for them, and there were behavioural problems, too."
The challenge, according to Larson, was to change the students' mindset.
Innovation and thinking outside of the box were the key to getting any desired results, according to her, given the uniqueness of the circumstances. It is here that her artistic skills were employed.
In the last two years, Larson has introduced the concept of learning, using visual techniques to identify letters, characters, and to put them in context.
"Recycling and repurposing is one component," said Larson. Cutouts made from cardboard boxes, using the blank side of used papers, are fun elements that get the students engaged.
The students she works with have shown improvement in literacy and general conduct.
One of those students has undergone drastic transformation. "This student," Larson said, "did not know ABC or to write."
It took two years, numerous one-to-one sessions, and loads of patience and perseverance to get from being introverted, non-communicative, to now making concerted efforts to complete the tasks assigned.
"Every kid is different," Larson said. "I have got to know the students and I am finding ways to give a positive intention to their actions - and give positive messages."
Larson has used her artistic talents to co-teach art classes and to support students, struggling with literacy. Additionally, she works with 26 students, five to 14 years old, to increase their literacy skills.
"It has been an adventure," she said.
This was both in and out of the school. The kids, she said, were excited to see her. They had possibly not envisaged seeing a "foreigner" come to their schoolyard.
Her escapades continued. She has learnt to "catch water" and not to take 10-minute showers - and to live frugally.
Tresha Sinclair-Campbell, principal of the Mt Providence Primary and Infant School, is grateful for Larson's interventions and the methodologies that she employs.
"We have seen a marked improvement in the literacy," Sinclair-Campbell said.
Established in 1926, this Anglican Church institution in northwest Clarendon began classes in a board building, which still stands. Other concrete structures have been added to expand the school's footprint.
Mt Providence Primary and Infant School has 126 students on its roll - complemented by eight teachers, including the principal, five primary teachers and two infant teachers.
"We are stretched for resources," Sinclair-Campbell said. "We are making every little thing count." If the term stretch were to be applied, the tensile strength is being tested to the maximum at this school.
"We have challenges with resources," the principal said. "There is no Internet service. We get videos and show them to the students.
"We don't want the students to lose out, and we are trying our best to keep them up to date with whatever is happening in the world," she said.
Most of the students come from low socio-economic backgrounds. It is human nature to strive for a better life and more so for the children.
In the real world around the school, where the proverbial "long and winding" road ends, hope manifests itself. Chants of prayers resonated from the classrooms as the students closed their eyes, hands folded in prayer.
Perhaps, one day, Google maps will be able to drop a 'pin' on it, but for now, Mt Providence Primary and Infant School is trying, with help from their friends like Megan from the Peace Corps, to find a place on the map.
Theirs is an ongoing journey.
Peace Corps in Jamaica
Peace Corps' global mission of promoting world peace and friendship through community-based development and cross-cultural understanding is the mainstay of Peace Corps Jamaica.
On February 22, 1962, Prime Minister Norman Manley signed an agreement with the United States government inviting the Peace Corps to have a programme in Jamaica.
On June 12 of that year, a few weeks before Jamaica's independence, the first group of volunteers arrived in Jamaica.
That group of 37 volunteers worked in many fields, including agriculture, vocational education, library development, construction, electricity, and plumbing. By 1963, there were about 100 volunteers serving in Jamaica. Their work mostly focused on grass-roots development projects. Volunteers lived then as they do today - with Jamaican host families, adapting to the Jamaican culture and cross-cultural differences while learning the local language and foods.
Since then, more than 3,880 people have served as volunteers in Jamaica. Current volunteer assignments are part of a uniform plan that has a significant community development core.
Peace Corps Jamaica invites volunteers to serve either in the education sector, where the emphasis is on primary school literacy, or the environment sector, where the emphasis is on environmental education and climate change adaptation in agriculture.
While each project plan has specific tasks and skill requirements, all assignments generally involve facilitating the growth and development of communities and their members by empowering them to make better decisions about their own lives. Most volunteers are placed in small rural communities, however, sites also exist close to small towns.