Union Gardens gets model school
Last September, Union Gardens Infant School opened its gates to children living in and around the inner-city community of Union Gardens, St Andrew.
The facility was designed to cater to a maximum of 360 students between the ages of three and a half and six years old, through an initiative by the Union Gardens Foundation (UGF).
The UGF is the brainchild of two of Jamaica's most successful entrepreneurs - Glen Christian and Gary 'Butch' Hendrickson. In 2013, the management team of Kirk Distributors Limited, one of the companies owned by Christian, sought to identify a meaningful community project in one of the low-income communities close to its Marcus Garvey Drive offices.
Christian, who is chairman of the UGF, believes that no child should be deprived of an education. He notes, "Every Jamaican child, regardless of economic status, should be given the opportunity to start on an educational journey in a supportive and stimulating environment."
More than $170 million was invested in the project, through funds raised from partners including Cari-Med, the CHASE Fund, National Baking Company, Jamaica Social Investment Fund, Seprod, Sandals Foundation, Stewart Industrial, The Gleaner Company, and Kingston Wharves.
Principal of the new school, Pauline Stapleton Griffiths, said the feedback to the school has been tremendous. "I am still interviewing parents who are interested in enrolling their children here.
Phase one of the project is complete, boasting approximately 9656 square feet of learning space in six classrooms, an administration block and an auditorium.
Each classroom is equipped with an adjoining bathroom-shower and a semi-covered external activity space. The compound currently has the capacity to facilitate 150 students but enrolled 108 students in time for the September - June 2015-2016 academic year. The school is managed by the Ministry of Education.
Students within a three-mile radius have the services of a shuttle bus donated by Stewart Industrial and transported free of cost to and from central points.
Interestingly, parents are registered with their children in an effort to build a family. "Without the parents' cooperation and input our goals will not be met. Our PTA meetings, thus far, have seen about 50 per cent of the parents in attendance. We've embarked on a mission of serving and we intend to continue. We have engaged the students with environment projects and, so far, it has been well received and we're getting support from the community where that is concerned," Griffiths further stated.
The Union Gardens Foundation embarked on a mission of mobilising partnerships for infrastructural development between the Government and people and friends of Jamaica in support of the country's early-childhood education sector. As a result, the Union Gardens Infant School replicates the Evelyn Mitchell Infant School/Centre of Excellence, in Top Hill, Clarendon, by the Cari-Med Company and Kirk Distributors Foundation in 2010.
Christian said the foundation shares the belief that, with the right physical conditions, nutrition and teaching, the right results will be achieved.
"We believe that this formula works whether we are in Upper St Andrew, or South West St Andrew and we set out to prove it. We will never get anywhere by just talking about it; we have to show that it is possible," Christian added.
The foundation is a duly registered charitable organisation under the 2013 Charities Act. Its board of directors comprise Glen Christian, chairman; Gary 'Butch' Hendrickson, vice-chairman; Melanie Subratie; Howard Mitchell and Simone Murdock.