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Students shun secondary schools in Arnett Gardens - Empty classrooms haunt Charlie Smith

Published:Sunday | October 5, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Charlie Smith High School Manning Cup players celebrating a goal. - File

Built to house 1,200 students, the Charlie Smith High School is now home to approximately 530 students, as several persons shun the institution based on Ninth Street in the oftentimes volatile community of Arnett Gardens.

The latest indication that parents are not interested in sending their children to the school came last month when fewer than half of the 120 students placed there, based on the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), turned up for classes.

In addition, about half of the 95 students placed at the school, based on their Grade Nine Achievement Test results, also sought transfers.

Newly appointed principal of the school, Garth Gayle, told The Sunday Gleaner that he is on the hunt for more than 20 first-year students who failed to show up for school at the start of the term and whose parents have not communicated the reason for their absence.

23 students unaccounted for

According to Gayle, while 57 of the 120 GSAT-placed students turned up for classes in September, 40 parents asked for transfers to other schools while neither the other 23 students nor their parents turned up.

Gayle fears some of these students might be at home because their parents cannot afford the cost associated with their education.

"We have known of cases like that. Parents don't have the means by which to even make the simplest of contribution to the child being in school, and they could be at home. So we are going to be taking a fulsome look at it and we are also working with the community," said Gayle.

He said the school's guidance counsellor, other members of staff as well as members of the school's Parent-Teacher Association will be assisting with this search.

According to Gayle, one of the greatest challenges now facing him is how to get the school populated.

"We only have two grades right now, so we are soliciting registration as we speak, because we are below our levels for grade seven," noted Gayle, as he pointed to three empty grade-seven classrooms.

"We are driving our programme and our theme for this year is 'Setting targets, achieving success'. I am mobilising the staff and we have started to speak to members of the community, and to let them know it's a new paradigm shift here at Charlie Smith," he said.

Gayle, who had been raised in the Arnett Gardens community, pointed out that the location of the school is a major deterrent for parents. He said several have expressed their desire to have their children attend more traditional schools, although several of the students who secured placement at Charlie Smith had very low GSAT scores.

"The scores that we receive from GSAT are not the ones that one would be proud to repeat," he said.

"We are soldiering on, we have challenges, but we are not giving up," he said.