Fri | Sep 22, 2017

‘Our family is broken’ - Hartlands residents rue closure of primary school

Published:Sunday | October 11, 2015 | 10:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
The building which once housed the Hartlands Primary School in St. Catherine.
Disarray inside the building which once housed the Hartlands Primary School in St. Catherine.
Carmen Bailey (right) mourns the closure of the Hartlands Primary School while her neighbours look on.
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For residents of Hartlands in central St Catherine, the recent closure of the small primary school in the community has left them heartbroken and disappointed.

The school, which operated out of one large room, was more than an educational institution for the residents, and the teachers did much more than imparting knowledge.

"I miss the teacher them. I miss them so much. It's like our family is broken," said Carmen Bailey, who lives in the small farming community.

According to Bailey, while the teachers had not lived in the area, they were well loved by everyone because of the care and attention they gave to the students and the effort they made to build a relationship with residents.

"On Parent's Day, they would take us out. We would dress up in our nice little dress and shoes, and they made us feel appreciated," said Bailey as she noted that four of her six children had attended the school.

The residents said all the teachers from Hartlands Primary were placed at the Horizon Park Primary, where most of the students from the school were also transferred.

While happy that the teachers had managed to secure employment, the residents are sad that they cannot interact with them as much since their relocation to the new school.

Bailey said parents have to make an appointment or get a pass to gain access to Horizon Park Primary, where her youngest child has since been transferred.

She charged that her seven-year-old daughter is still finding it difficult to adjust to the new environment, and several of the students have complained about being victims of bullying.

"We have to be praying until them come back because them mix up with all sorts of children, big small and all different kinds of pickney, and my daughter not used to it, so is me have to begging her to go to school," said Bailey.

 

NOT ENOUGH STUDENTS

 

Despite the establishment of three residential communities nearby in recent times, Hartlands Primary had failed to attract enough students to justify its continued operation.

As a result, it was one of about 18 schools closed by the education ministry at the start of the new school year.

"The community is not so nice again without the school," said Bailey.

"Like how I sit down here now, I would know that it's breaks time or it's lunch time. You would see your children them come over and them ways there. But I don't hear anything anymore. I don't hear any children playing, I don't hear no bell ringing. I miss all of that," she said.

Residents believe there are more than enough children of primary-school age in the area to populate the small institution, but several parents had instead opted to send their children to other primary schools in Spanish Town some miles away.

This was partly because the other schools have separate classrooms for students, while Hartlands Primary had just one large room partitioned by blackboards.

The closure of the school has also meant the loss of a steady income for Christine Gordon, who had been employed to the institution as a janitor for eight years.

 

DEEPLY CONCERNED

 

Like other residents in the community, the mother of six was deeply concerned when the planned closure of the school was announced. However, an assurance from Ministry of Education officials that she would be okay helped to soften the blow.

"The persons from the ministry promised me that I am going to be okay. 'Don't worry' is what they told me the day when we met. But up to now I cannot get a job," said Gordon.

"I have three children to send to school. One of them got blind in April, so you know all the spending and up and down, and nothing coming in is really affecting me.

"Right now, they are at school with no books, and sometimes I can hardly find it to send them to school, so it's really bad," added Gordon.

She said her 10-year-old son lost his sight while playing at the school. Getting him medical treatment has been a financial burden, and promised help from the education ministry has not yet come to fruition.

"He was playing one evening after school while I was inside cleaning up, and he made something like a bow and arrow and fired it and it hit him in his eye, so he is completely blind in his left eye," the mother explained.

When The Sunday Gleaner visited the closed school last week, there were signs that the facility was being upgraded to meet the needs of this generation before it was shuttered.

A new bathroom was handed over to the institution in 2013. This was built with funding from the Jamaica Social Investment Fund and the Petro Caribe Development Fund.

A computer and resource centre was also being built by overseas donors. Now the building is empty with no indication yet as to how it will be used.