A drive to succeed - Robert Lightbourne High students thrive despite odds
For Makeda Davis and Clinton Prendergast, the challenge to become the first members of their families to attend university is not an exaggerated one.
The two fifth-form students of the St Thomas-based Robert Lightbourne High School, have found that it is not easy staying focused on education in a farming community where every day counts in the effort to earn enough to keep poverty on the boundaries.
And attending a school that has a poor reputation - such as Robert Lightbourne High - has made their struggle to attain a sound education even more difficult.
The negative perceptions of the Trinityville-based school have crippled the performance of the one-time top-of-the-class institution established in the 1970s, virtually choking it of its student population. Today, the school built to accommodate some 800 students has a population of about 465.
"The population is very small and people always downgrade the school, saying, 'The pickney them not doing anything.' But they need to look at the population. If it (the population) builds, you would have better academic performance," reasoned Makeda.
While acknowledging the challenge, Makeda and Clinton get motivation from family members and their teachers and make their own sense of the world in which they must strive.
"What really motivates me is my mother," said Clinton. "She works hard and I just want to make a difference in the family. I want to come out to something so that my mother's hard work wasn't for nothing," added the 16-year-old aspiring banker from Georgia, near Trinityville in St Thomas.
The fourth of five children, Clinton is no different from other children, especially boys, in the area. He engages in some farming to support his education, but manages to balance his time with school and extra-curricular activities by planning each day carefully.
"Sometimes I get in and I am tired and I have chores to complete, like washing and cleaning, and I just have to do them and go to bed and ask my mother to wake me from as early as 4 o'clock so I can study and complete my homework," said the track athlete.
However, his motivation doesn't only come from his mother; it comes from the gender inequalities he observes around him at school. Clinton strives never to be left behind as a boy in an educational arena dominated by girls.
"One out of 10 times, the boys come up in the class and I want to stand out for the boys them," declared Clinton as he recounted the stimulus that triggered his aspirations at an early age and later earned him six subjects at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) level, including mathematics, information technology and social studies.
Clinton and Makeda are also confident that with the school undergoing positive changes as a result of its participation in the JN Foundation's iLead education leadership programme, it will be transformed.
Robert Lightbourne is one of five eastern Jamaica-based institutions which the National Education Inspectorate identified as in need of leadership support. The iLead programme, is being implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Education and has been assisting to build the capacity of the school's leadership to improve students' outcomes.
And Makeda and Clinton have seen some improvements, although the programme was only officially launched in September.
"The teachers are dedicated and they put out their all to try to make you achieve something," stated Clinton.
"My philosophy is that Campion, St Hugh's and any other traditional high school, they did it, so we can," declared Makeda, as she pointed out that her confidence has increased since she entered Robert Lightbourne in the ninth grade after attending St Thomas Technical High School.
"I saw people like Clinton and another girl, Monique, on the platform one prize-giving and thought that next year, I have to be up there," Makeda recalled, although she admitted that she is also driven by a need to satisfy her grandmother's dream to see her rise above what, she perceives, is the stagnation in her community of Sommerset.
"Where I come from, nobody up there from age 28 go down has a subject," she declared. "And the 'elderly', even though some of them may have one or two subject, they are not working."
Dissatisfied with only achieving six CSEC subjects in 2014, including human and social biology, English language and principles of business, the aspiring tourism executive has gone back to fifth-form, like Clinton, to pursue a few other subjects, including math.
Recognising the challenge for young people to stay focused on education, Clinton and Makeda act as mentors to their peers.
"I like to encourage other people because I know it's difficult," said Makeda. Similarly, Clinton is an unofficial peer counsellor for many of his male schoolmates.
"I try to remind them that we are leaders, not that God don't want women to work and also be leaders, but we can't let anybody tell us we won't come out to anything," Clinton says.