Thu | Jan 17, 2019

Rush on ‘Ghetto Prep’ - Parents desperate to get their children into outstanding Arnett Gardens-based primary school

Published:Sunday | January 17, 2016 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Two students head to class at the Arnett Gardens-based Iris Gelly Primary School.
Class in session at the Iris Gelly Primary School.
Principal Veronica Gaynor

The outstanding performance of students of the Iris Gelly Primary School in recent years has led to a flood of applications from parents who want their children to attend the Arnett Gardens-based institution in south St Andrew.

But Principal Veronica Gaynor says while she has done a lot of bending over the years as the head of the 39-year-old inner-city institution, there is very little room for bending come the next school term, as the school is overpopulated and the teachers overworked.

Gaynor says she is often bombarded with requests from parents who want to have their children registered at the school, which is commonly called 'Ghetto Prep'.

"Yesterday, two children came from Clarendon and I had to take them," Gaynor told The Sunday Gleaner last Thursday.

She noted that already parents are making enquiries about having their children registered, although the school only does registration on the first two days in May.

There is oftentimes no need to have the registration period open for more than two days as usually enough applications are submitted on the first day to meet the school's quota.

"Sometimes teachers are tired during the registration, so sometimes I say, 'All right, take 90 the first day, and we will take the other 50 the second day'. By the third day, we have no space," said Gaynor, who has been at the helm of the institution since 1982.




"On those days, here is like KPH (Kingston Public Hospital). On the first day, we have a number system, and it's left with the security guard, and from as early as 3 a.m., people are knocking to get numbers to come in," added Gaynor.

After registration each year, the principal often has to prepare herself for a backlash, as oftentimes the parents who come after the second day of registration would call the Ministry of Education or the member of parliament to plead their cause.

Fortunately, both her education officer and Member of Parliament Omar Davies understand the school's dilemma.

Although the school was built to accommodate 700 students, it now has 1,092 enrolled.

Three additional classrooms were added in 2007, which helped to ease the space challenge. However, the principal was forced to transform the school's resource room into a grade one classroom last year to accommodate additional students.

The Ministry of Education stipulates a general ratio of one teacher to 35 students, but Gaynor finds that she has as many as 50 students in some of her classes.

While the majority of these students come from communities surrounding the school, some of them are also from Portmore, St Catherine, and upper St Andrew communities such as Norbrook.

"There are a lot of schools in the community, which I recommend to them. When I recommend other schools, they are reluctant to go," said Gaynor, who would oftentimes call other principals to make referrals.

Gaynor credits the school's popularity to the fact that the students generally do well academically and are exposed to what life is like outside of the inner city.

"We are driven by results. Unfortunately, we don't have the very bright ones, but those we get we work with, and the teachers are very hard-working and very diligent," said Gaynor, as she boasted that the school's Grade Six Achievement Test scores are usually above the national average.