Trench Town ‘rocks’ - New polytechnic college attracting young men who were on the brink
Shakeen Cooper entered the recently opened Trench Town Polytechnic College (TTPC) in South St Andrew, knowing that he now has a chance at redemption and a way to honour his father's memory.
The 19-year-old high-school dropout was just seven-year-old when his father was murdered metres from the site which now houses the college in Arnette Gardens. Now 12 years later, the memories of helping his father to repair cars, which he did as a mechanic are still fresh in his mind.
Now that he has matriculated as a student at the TTPC, he hopes to become a certified mechanic and continue his father's legacy.
"My mother tell me that I can take after my father who used to do mechanic. I feel excited that I am going to college," said the teenager who had been sitting at home for months with little prospects of getting a job.
Cooper's enrolment at TTPC, which was formerly the Trench Town High School, is also a second chance for the youngster to get an education as he did not complete his secondary level schooling at the nearby Charlie Smith High School.
"Me a go tell you the truth, when I used to go to Charlie Smith, I used to waste my time, but now I get back a chance to come and learn a skill," admitted Cooper.
Although only a month into his programme, the teen feels hopeful about his future, and is trying to grasp as much as he can.
"We hear that they are going to build up somewhere that they are going to build car, so they want to take out some of us to carry over there," said Cooper in reference to recently announced plans to start a motor vehicle assembly plant in Spanish Town, St Catherine.
This is expected to provide more than 10,000 jobs over the next three years.
The TTPC was officially opened earlier this month and offers Heart Trust/NTA and Caribbean Maritime Institute programmes in data operation, auto body repair, customer service, maritime studies, port operations and logistics. There are also courses in information technology, mathematics, English, career and personal development, and entrepreneurship.
Already, the school has registered more than 380 students in its day programme, and a little under 100 students in its evening programme. Many of these students live in communities surrounding the institution, but principal of the school Dosseth Edwards-Watson noted that several are from other areas such as Waterhouse, Portmore, Harbour View and Gordon Town.
Although tertiary-level institutions locally have been struggling to attract males, it was obvious when The Sunday Gleaner team visited the TTPC last week that this was not the case as the majority of the school's students are young men. This was later confirmed by Edwards-Watson.
"We have a number of them and we are so excited because you understand what violence does in the inner city, and they are coming in and they are excited about the programme. So many of them elect to do auto collision repairs, and that programme is just totally oversubscribed," she said.
Given the financial challenges faced by many of these students, they have been asked to pay only $6,500 for registration and purchase their uniform shirt at a cost of $1,600 each.
"For some of them, let me tell you, even to make a small contribution they can't when you explore what their living conditions are and so on, but they are determined to come. They are excited to come, and they want to learn and they are trainable," said Edwards-Watson.
"Essentially, we want to get them in the habit of coming and just doing well and then we will build on that and get them to pay the requisite fees going forward. The cost for us is not a deterrent now, because we want them to come. We want them to have access and that's very, very important," added Edwards-Watson.
But educating these students does come at a cost and fortunately private individuals have been sponsoring some of them. Member of parliament for South St Andrew Dr Omar Davies as well as other stakeholders have also been exploring various avenues to secure money to finance the academic pursuits of the students.
During an official ceremony at the school last week, Davies described the opening of the facility as a "glorious day" for the Trench Town community.
"I have seen a spirit of commitment. We have persons who ... have contributed to the various educational programmes because they believe in Jamaica, and if they believe in Jamaica then we are one," he said.
A number of classrooms have been refurbished at the institution, and there are plans to add an additional block for the schools of engineering and hospitality which will start soon.
Although the transformation of the college is ongoing, students have wasted no time in settling in, and last week, they started selecting a student body to represent them.
Romario Mair, who is one of the nominees for vice-president of the student body, believes the college has given individuals like him an opportunity to realise their fullest potential.
Like Cooper, he dropped out of high school and his father was also murdered by gunmen when he was younger.
"Unfortunately, there was a point when my life felt like it was going down, but I still fight it," said the 20-year-old who is doing an engineering course.
Mair said he has been inspired by his older sister who graduated from the University of Technology with a Law degree. "I would like to follow in her footsteps."