The death of a dream- Inner-city summer school facing closure
For the past 30 years, the St Pius X Summer School has been having a positive impact on the lives of scores of children in some of the toughest inner-city communities in West Central St Andrew.
Started in 1985 by two nuns, the summer school has offered weeks of lessons and social activities, almost free of cost to 100 children from communities surrounding Olympic Way.
But this year, financial constraints are forcing the organiser's to reduce the number of weeks which the summer school will be held.
"When we started at first, it was for the entire summer, then it dwindled down to three weeks and now we are really down to two weeks," said Stephney Webb-Parker, who has been a part of the programme from the outset.
"It is really down to financial issues, we just can't afford to go beyond that," added Webb-Parker, a senior staff inspector at the Ministry of Education.
Webb-Parker told The Sunday Gleaner that the summer school was started as an outreach programme of the St Pius X Roman Catholic Church, and she joined as a youth counsellor at age 11 before taking over the management of the programme after graduating from college.
"We found many of these children didn't have any sort of outlet during the summer period, they were just left on their own and no real opportunity for growth and many of them are just unsupervised," said Webb-Parker.
"So we really started by going to get them. We walked and picked them up from their homes and brought them over to the programme."
Webb-Parker said the main aim of the summer school is to provide a series of educational opportunities for children and even though she would appreciate the support of corporate Jamaica, only persons who share this desire would be welcome aboard.
"I would want sponsors who would come on board to help us to enable our children to realise that they have potential and they have a future and this future is going to come through education," said Webb-Parker.
"In reaching out to corporate Jamaica, I just wouldn't want stuff. I would want them to come with a philosophy that would help us to support this educational path for every child."
The summer classes are normally held from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, starting with devotion and a flag-raising ceremony each day.
The children are taught literacy and numeracy skills, participate in physical education, music/dance, art and craft, puzzles, and board games which are used to teach skills of cooperation, taking turns and making right decisions.
They are also provided with learning materials and are served lunch each day. The penultimate day of the summer school usually takes the form of a huge concert for the students, their parents, and community members, while on the last day, the youngsters are taken on an excursion.
"All of this is free to them. We ask each child who registers to pay $100 and that really evolved out of the sake of saying 'let them feel that they are making a contribution'. But if we have 100 children, we get the $100 from half of them, but I take them nonetheless," Webb-Parker shared.
Over the years, the summer school has been financed mainly from Sister Gene Poore, who is based in the United States, the St Pius X Roman Catholic Church, and friends of Webb-Paker, with the Peace Management Initiative having assisted in recent years.