South Starz Academy works on improving literacy in Junction
Seeing the need for improved literacy among the residents in her community, Michelle Stephenson, along with her friend, Anthony Howell, decided to start South Starz Academy with the aim of improving the literacy level of children in Junction, St Elizabeth.
The academy was also started with the objective of having students constructively occupied when not in school as many of the schools in the area operate on a shift system. Each day, students come in either before or after school and work on improving literacy and participate in the extracurricular activities at the academy.
Stephenson, who operates a farm store and is also a farmer, said the idea came based on her interaction with persons in the community. She said she pitched the idea to Howell, also a business operator who had been visiting from the United Kingdom at the time.
"We started on October 4, 2010. Being in the community and doing business - I operate a farm store - [I] interact day to day with the youth and the persons that live within the community and then [I] saw that there was a need for literacy because the level of conversation would go so far and no [further]. Persons will come up to you for you to read something for them; assist them with some kind of document. Me being a mother found it difficult to have activities for my kids apart from them going to school - no extracurriculum.
"When you talk about reading - that is not going to be sufficient to hold the kids in terms of their interests. So the extra curriculum came about to say if you add this to it, you will definitely have their interest and they will be motivated to come and learn. They [can] come to the institution to be a part of what we have to offer - dance, karate, drama, and music and also the reading programme," Stephenson told Rural Xpress.
Howell added: "Literacy and reading is our first goal to achieve and we want to eliminate illiteracy, so we push people through our reading programme and then they can branch off into music and other areas."
Stephenson further stated that while, the aim was to focus on the children, they offer reading classes for adults as well.
"The reading programme is not just for children, it is also for adults. If we have the child who is coming and there is no assistance at home we might intervene; or we do have parents who will come to say, 'I am not able to help my child what kind of programme do you have for me?' There came about the adult reading programme," she explained.
Howell said that, so far, the results received have been tremendous. He said students who have problems coping in the regular classroom settings benefit from the small class sizes that accommodate one-on-one interactions. These classes have no more than 12 students sometimes with two teachers.
He said when a student starts at the academy, an initial assessment is done to ascertain the level the child is at as well as suitable teaching methods for that particular child.
Stephenson said not only are the children's grades improved at school, but for troubled children, who enrolled in the academy's martial arts programme, there was marked improvement in their behaviour and they are now seen as role models for their peers. She added that activities such as dance and drama have helped the shy students to be more confident as well.
Stephenson said that the academy was started through many sacrifices and now almost five years later, they are still faced with many challenges. One such challenge is keeping costs at an affordable rate for parents.
"The fees are ridiculously low because we are catering for the economics [of] this area because we want the programme to be affordable to everybody - no matter what their financial status is," Stephenson said.
"Last year, a grant paid for the music teacher so that is how we are able to offer the reading and music at the moment. But when that runs out, then we'll have to seek other means and ways," Howell said.
He also said that the academy is appealing to Corporate Jamaica to come on board so that even more students will continue to benefit.