Bois Content Primary and Infant School grows strength to strength
After two years in the post as principal of the Bois Content Primary and Infant School, Camilla-Walsh-Reynolds is expressing gratitude over the newly constructed infant department built at a cost of approximately $8 million.
Under her leadership, the school has moved from an assessment of unsatisfactory performance to satisfactory. She credits this to the training she received as a beneficiary of the Effective Principals’ Training Programme offered by the National College for Educational Leadership.
“I assumed the duties as principal in September 2017, and coming out of the classroom and not being a senior teacher had its challenges. As a new principal of a primary school, I was unaware of my roles and responsibilities even with a Master’s degree in Educational Administration from The University of the West Indies and a Bachelors of Education from The Mico University,” she said.
The practical approach to the training and exposure at in the modules equipped Walsh-Reynolds with the skills needed to achieve school turnaround. She further stated that it is the practical knowledge that school principals require to move their schools forward. Her enrolment in the programme saw the establishment of several policies and guidelines to support the leadership and management of the institution.
Upon her appointment in September 2017 as instructional leader of the St Catherine-based school, Walsh-Reynolds realised that the students entering grade one were not at the required level. Having administered the Grade One Individual Learning Profile designed to measure students’ academic progress and their social readiness for primary school, the data revealed that 80 per cent of the students who sat the assessment did not meet the standards. Through community meetings and sessions with parents and other key stakeholders, it was further revealed that some students did not attend school regularly because of financial constraints, and this affected the quality of instruction received. Importantly, feeder schools from which the students came were not established basic or infant schools that ensured developmentally appropriate practices and standards as espoused by the Early Childhood Commission.
Establishing and Sustaining Partnerships
Given the importance of this data for the effective planning for learning and teaching, Walsh-Reynolds spearheaded a meeting with the board of management and representatives of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information to discuss the establishment of an infant department to address these challenges. It was her vision that this could be realised through the forging of strategic partnerships with actors who had an interest in education.
“I wrote a proposal, which was ratified by the board, and addressed it to Food For the Poor. I was of the firm belief that if the school had an infant department with trained and qualified early childhood practitioners, it would not be a requirement for students within the community to attend schools far away from their locale,” she said.
Additionally, it would not be a necessity for parents to pay a fee, and this would significantly improve attendance and support the needs of those children living within and around the neighbouring communities of Bois Content, she added. The proposal was accepted, and Food For the Poor Incorporation, Helping Hands Jamaica, Wicked Awesome Wishes, a community-focused charity organisations, and Jamaican born National Football League (NFL) player Nevin Lawson and his family came on board to facilitate the implementation of this project.
The infant department, which was built during the summer, officially opened its doors at the start of the 2019 academic year to 48 students. Among this improvement are several instructional murals that not only improve the aesthetics, but also challenge students to develop their critical-thinking skills. The structure consists of four classrooms, an office, a sick bay, kitchen, staff and students’ bathrooms, a computer lab, a covered corridor, and enclosed fencing to engender a safe and secure environment for all. The entire infant department was outfitted with appropriate furniture and equipment. With a strong focus on the importance of play to enhance instruction at the early childhood level, a play area was included to provide students with the opportunity to learn through play.
Walsh-Reynolds believes that the culture of the school has changed significantly since her appointment, and teachers have been working diligently to improve learning and teaching. Her vision for the school is for it to be a centre of excellence and a school of choice, where students are adequately prepared for secondary-level education subsequent to their assessment in the Primary Exit Profile (PEP).
Bois Content Primary and Infant is registered with the Early Childhood Commission and is now in the process of receiving certification once all 12 operational standards have been met.