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Students shun secondary schools in Arnett Gardens - Trench Town's nearly empty halls

Published:Sunday | October 5, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Dr Omar Davies, member of parliament for South St Andrew, reading to boys at Charlie Smith High School in his constituency. - File
Susan Bloomfield, principal of Trench Town High School. - Rudolph Brown/Photographer

More than half of the students placed at the Trench Town High School have requested transfers to other schools, hurting efforts to transform the institution located in the South St Andrew community of Arnett Gardens.

"We were sent 118 students when GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test) results came out, and at present we have just a little bit over 50 students who have actually accepted the spaces and have been enrolled in our grade-seven programme," said principal Susan Bloomfield.

Bloomfield noted that two of the school's five grade-seven classes are now empty because of the refusal of parents to send their children to the institution.

"Although the ministry says you should bloom where you are planted, parents still want their children to go to the top schools," said Bloomfield.

The principal said that although the institution can accommodate anywhere between 800 and 1,000 students, tabulations for the school year, so far, put its current population at a little over 500 students.

Based on Ministry of Education guidelines, a parent of a GSAT awardee must obtain an acceptance letter from the school the child intends to attend, as well as a release letter from the school they were placed by the Government. These letters, along with a letter from the parent outlining the reasons for the transfer, would need to be submitted to the ministry for approval.

Verbally abusive parents

But Bloomfield believes that some of the parents who transferred their children did not follow the established protocols and they might have been accepted into other schools without a release letter. According to Bloomfield, a few of those who actually requested transfer letters from her were verbally abusive to the staff at the school.

"It is not even the children who are the problem, it's the parents. They want their children to go to Campion and Immaculate and the top schools, even though the students themselves might not have the scores to go to those schools."

Bloomfield, who taught at Alpha Academy for 20 years and had been a vice-principal at that institution prior to taking up the position as principal of Trench Town in 2013, said that she was shocked at the scores received by her students in GSAT in her first year.

"I didn't know that it was so bad, tears came to my eyes when I saw the scores," she said.

"The scores that we get here are the 20s, the 30s and in the teens, so we will always remain an inner-city non-traditional school where we are struggling to even get our students to learn to read and write, struggling for our students to at least leave us with five subjects.

"It is a struggle, and what is unfair is that in the media we are compared, we are ranked, we are analysed and nobody takes the time to put a number to the value that we add to the lives of the students who come to us, who are barely able to read and write, and yet we get them to a certain point where they are eligible to even sit the CSEC," said Bloomfield.

Too many 'bad man' corners

One parent who had her child transferred from Trench Town at the start of this year said the location of the school was her primary reason for doing so. According to the parent, although she had no issues with the aesthetics of the school, she feared for her son being targeted by men in the area.

"I drove around there and checked and there were so many 'bad man' corner," said the mother who wished to remain anonymous.

"I took him (son) around there and show him, and even in the holidays there were a lot of men on the corner. Even when I took him around there during the school time, it was the same thing," she reasoned. Her son has since been accepted into another newly upgraded secondary school.

But Bloomfield insisted that the school location is safe, even as she acknowledged that this was a deterrent to many parents.

"We are really trying hard to revamp the school. If I could lift up the school and put it somewhere else, I would do that. But I can't and I just have to deal with the reality of the situation," she said.

Despite the difficulties being experienced in retaining students at the 50-year-old institution, Bloomfield said they have been successful in getting some past students to send their children to Trench Town High.

She said the Ministry of Education has often contributed to efforts to improve the school; however, there is a need for more mathematics and literacy specialists.