Fri | Oct 20, 2017

Happy Hours transforming lives in St Mary

Published:Thursday | October 8, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Five-year-old students listen to their teacher and principal, Monica McKenzie (right) at the Happy Hours Early Childhood Development Centre in Cromwell Land, Highgate.
Monica McKenzie, founder of the Happy Hours Early Childhood Development Centre in Highgate, St Mary.
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HIGHGATE, St Mary:

A veteran kindergarten principal in Highgate, St Mary is hoping that new state-of-the-art teaching equipment, tablet computers for students, and recently completed building renovations will help transform her school into the parish's premier early-childhood learning institution.

According to Monica McKenzie, founder of the Happy Hours Early Childhood Development Centre in Cromwell Land, Highgate, while her day care centre has experienced many changes over the last two years, the introduction of the Tablets in Schools project has been the most significant.

She told Rural Xpress: "The Tablets in Schools scheme has benefited us so much because in addition to giving the children and teachers tablets to work with, we have also received things such as MimioTeach equipment (interactive whiteboards).

"The scheme has settled the children because they are really serious about the tablets. Instead of running up and down, they come in and spend their free time exploring on the tablets, which are also integrated into the lesson plans. The whole world is technologically inclined now, so I think it's really good that they are able to feel free on these instruments."

McKenzie opened Happy Hours in 1981 and spent the next three decades helping the institution establish a reputation as one of the best preschool facilities in St Mary.

"I decided to open this school 34 years ago because I didn't want to leave my son at home with a helper," she explained.

"This was the first day care in St Mary and because people in this community were not used to the idea, for the first year, I only had two children; and one of them was my son (laughs)."

Although the road to success has been long and laborious, the principal insists that she still gets a thrill from supporting parents with their children's education.

McKenzie said: "When you see enthusiastic parents getting excited about the accomplishments of their children, it really lets us know we are doing something good for the community."

Nevertheless, she notes that over time, there has been a gradual shift in parents' attitudes towards child-rearing.

"I think it has deteriorated because these days, babies are having babies, and they don't like to be corrected or told anything.

"They are aggressive, like a mother hen who will pick you if you go near her chicks. I always say that before a parent brings their child to a kindergarten school, they should do parenting classes.

"I think you have to start with [parents] because they have to understand the importance of good nutrition and the child coming to school everyday; some of them don't think these things are important. They are too permissive in certain areas."

Over the last two years, Happy Hours has undergone a huge revamp, thanks to the CHASE Fund, which provided capital to construct a new roof and two additional classrooms.

Looking ahead, McKenzie believes that preschool education will only improve, and hopes the upgrades to her own facility may encourage the Early Childhood Commission (ECC) to grant her one of their first licences.

"The ECC took over a few years ago, and yes, there were complaints about their stringent standards, but because of those standards, I can see basic schools really improving in years to come.

"Parents tell me their children are waking them up to come to our 'pretty' school and [other schools] are now trying to see if they can upgrade their buildings, and that's what the Early Childhood Commission wants."

rural@gleanerjm.com