Elisea Spence's plans for Hillside
ISLINGTON, St Mary:
Since relocating from Montego Bay five months ago, it would be fair to say that the Principal at Hillside Primary and Infant School in Islington, St Mary, Elisea Spence, has experienced something of a culture shock.
Having spent almost 20 years teaching in a developed, metropolitan environment, Spence (former vice-principal at Green Pond High in St James) was taken aback to discover the types of challenges her new students and faculty faced on a daily basis.
She told Rural Xpress: "It's been a very interesting learning experience because even as a historian, there is so much I didn't know. Islington is like a hub of certain aspects of Jamaican culture such as dinki mini and spiritism, which I'm learning anew.
"However, I've found tenets of the nature of family life to affect teaching and learning. Students are ill-prepared for school and do not value teaching time. Homework is something few parents are equipped to assist their children with, which can be frustrating for teachers."
Spence's school suffers from a decaying building, frequent break-ins, limited Internet access, and has no fully operational computers.
Nevertheless, the enthusiastic educator is convinced that with a little support from the Ministry of Education, Hillside, which counts Governor General Sir Patrick Allen among its former principals, can consistently produce an exceptional cohort of students and help transform the underdeveloped communities in its environs.
During a brief tour of the facility, she explained: "I recognise that many people in the community cannot appreciate the purpose of education, and as a result, it comes out in how they deal with you and school issues.
"But I believe this is an excellent and fertile ground for being a beacon to the community because if anything can change the community, it ought to be this school. After coming here and seeing the nature of the sociocultural issues, I recognise the school has a role to play, but we have to be strategic."
Already, Spence has overseen the launch of a successful community outreach project and a reading intervention programme (funded by former students living overseas), which resulted in 86 of the 91 participants moving up at least one literacy level.
However, the principal's greatest wish is to find feasible solutions to the school's security and overcrowding problems. She said: "The building we're in right now is over 100 years old, so there's a lot of wear, tear, and maintenance.
"We really need more classrooms and a building that's conducive to good teaching and learning. We're trying to get some partitions to separate the classrooms because you can watch the children struggling to hear what's being taught.
"Perimeter fencing is another problem. Grades five and six have gardens, but people come in and reap the things they plant. Break-ins happen so regularly that it's expected, and even though no valuables have been lost, it makes you feel violated when teachers' desks are ransacked and things are thrown all over the place."
Over the next 12 months, Spence is hoping to acquire four laptops so she can start educating her students, especially the infants, about computer technology.
She said: "There has to be a paradigm shift; computer education at the primary level can no longer be about learning parts of a computer. Everybody has a computer now, either a tablet or a phone, so I teach my students about social media responsibility, and what they should and shouldn't be posting."