School Report | Pembroke Hall High: Tuning up English and math lessons
There has been a culture of excellence in the performing arts at Pembroke Hall High, which has resulted in the school winning the Best School Band Competition in 2014 and placing second runner-up in 2015, as well as winning multiple awards in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission parish and national competitions.
The Corporate Area-based institution is seeking to transfer this enthusiasm for the performing arts to the core subjects of English language and mathematics. Poor student performance in these subjects in national examinations attracted a rating of 'unsatisfactory' from the National Education Inspectorate in October 2011. The inspection team found that the school continuously performed "below the national average for English".
Likewise, performance in mathematics had been "below the national averages throughout the years".
The low ratings for students' performance in these subjects, undoubtedly, prevented the school from achieving an overall score higher than 'satisfactory', which is the minimum level of expected effectiveness.
To address these problems, the school administration implemented several strategies. These included exposing teachers to the National Standard Curriculum (NSC) methodology, with its greater emphasis on the utilisation of workshops and field trips. The NSC methodology also emphasises critical thinking and real-world application of concepts. The school, no doubt, benefited from having on staff Andrew Rose, who is an NSC master trainer and chairs the Curriculum Implementation Team.
Senior management, in collaboration with heads of departments, increased the frequency of classroom walk-throughs and teacher evaluations, thereby providing more feedback to teachers for improvement of lessons and classroom management. In addition, internal workshops, along with the ministry's schedules for professional development, contributed to the improvement in the methodologies used in the teaching of mathematics.
... School gets improved rating
The Reverend Claude Ellis, principal of Pembroke Hall High, says that during the five-year period leading up to 2016, students' performance in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) English language examination continuously increased at the school, reaching a high of 57 per cent.
This was enough progress to gain an improved rating of 'satisfactory' for this particular indicator by the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) when it reinspected Pembroke Hall High in March 2017.
Vice-principal Sharon Foster observes that roughly 80 per cent of the students who fail the CSEC English language examination obtain a grade four rating.
This means that with the necessary adjustment in teaching and learning strategies, the pass rate can improve significantly. She says, in response, the school will increase workshops for students in specific subjects and increase the number of periods per week for students preparing for exit exams.
"We continue to struggle with math, but progress is being made," reports Ellis. He points to the pass rate for CSEC mathematics, which doubled from 13 per cent in 2014 to 27 per cent in 2015. The out-turn was 12 per cent in 2016, when there was a national decline, and the 2017 result was unavailable at the time of writing this report.
Progress is also being made, the principal says, in terms of teachers gaining new pedagogic skills by attending workshops put on by the Ministry of Education. In addition, the ministry will continue to assign a mathematics coach to the school to assist teachers of mathematics in developing lesson plans and applying effective instructional techniques.
To maintain the momentum in students' performance in English language and ramp up performance in mathematics, the school is scheduled to receive mathematics and literacy pathway coaches from the ministry under the Alternative Pathways to Secondary Education programme this September. Pathway coaches are special educators who support subject teachers in formulating instruction by tailoring curricula, enabling each learner to perform to his or her fullest potential based on aptitude, interest, and ability.
"There will be a strong focus on literacy to ensure that incoming GSAT students with low reading readiness are upgraded," Ellis stated.
... Students consistent with CSEC performance
Taking a broader look at student performance at Pembroke Hall High, administrators point out that during the last five years, students have been consistently passing four CSEC subjects. In addition, students are oriented towards the skills area and are exposed to a mixture of subjects with an entrepreneurial thrust. This is demonstrated in the average pass rate for CSEC physical education and sports, food and nutrition, and agricultural science, which ranges from 90 to 100 per cent.
Turning to other subjects offered in the curriculum, Andrew Rose, chairman of the Curriculum Implementation Team, notes that although Pembroke Hall High students had been copping several awards at the parish finals and national finals in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) competition over the years, the school was without a formal performing arts programme in the curriculum. He disclosed that theatre arts was introduced in the school's curriculum in the 2016-2017 academic year. In the 2017 JCDC competition, the students won one gold, four silver, and two bronze medals in the parish finals.
The administration is proud of the school's flagship music programme under the able leadership of Audley Searchwell. Students have matriculated to the Edna Manley College of the Visual & Performing Arts, where they are making worthwhile contributions to the creative and cultural industries in building Brand Jamaica, Rose reports.
Of note, Norberto Lee, of the Visual Arts Department, has been preparing students from Pembroke Hall High and other traditional high schools to sit visual arts in the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) for more than 10 years. The school won the championship trophy in the JCDC Artlympics competition (Jamaica Visual Arts Competition & Exhibition) in 2015, along with $100,000 for the Art Department.
Currently, graduates of Pembroke Hall High attend sixth form at other schools, where they are often selected as student leaders because according to Vice-principal Sharon Foster, "our environment allows students to express themselves". She disclosed that ahead of the establishment of a sixth form, teachers have volunteered to prepare students to sit several subjects at CAPE.
...Fewer fights on school grounds
Student behaviour at Pembroke Hall High has been improving with "fewer fights now," reports Vice-principal Yvette Shields-Green.
"When students are suspended, they must attend external intervention programmes then return with a document that they have attended." She points to a change initiative, introduced by the dean of discipline, which identifies and addresses areas in which students are weak, socially. "And there has been prayer and fasting," adds Shields-Green.
With regard to extra-curricular activities, the school's achievements in sports include placing third in the International Football Tournament held this year in Miami, as well as copping gold and bronze medals at the recent Miami Classics athletics meet. Not surprisingly, Pembroke Hall High is a champion in cheerleading. The school has won national and regional titles in cheerleading contests and placed eighth in the World Cheerleading Championships held this year in Orlando, Florida.
With the addition of three new classrooms, thanks to the lobbying efforts of the board, this September, Pembroke Hall High comes off the shift system. Administrators welcome this development with the expectation that it will have a positive impact on teaching and learning, as well as school management - all factors that should improve the institution's chances of being rated higher than 'satisfactory' by the National Education Inspectorate next time.