Muirhouse Primary a beacon of hope
DRY HARBOUR MOUNTAINS, St Ann:
Situated in the upper regions of the Dry Harbour Mountains, in a deep rural section of North West St Ann, Muirhouse Primary and Junior High School stands as a beacon in the small community.
The school serves Muirhouse and several surrounding communities including Kensington, Alexandria, Orange Hill, Lower Buxton and Woodlands, and through the Grade Six Achievement Test, feeds schools such as St Hilda's, York Castle, Brown's Town and AAbuthnott Gallimore High schools.
With the phasing out of the junior high division, the school has lost its grades seven and eight and grade nine is seeing its final year this year. The infant school is to be merged with the primary, as the school shifts from being a primary and junior high, to primary and infant.
These changes have seen enrolment drop dramatically from over 300 to around 132.
Despite this, principal Jason Simpson, who has been in the position since last September, is optimistic that Muirhouse primary will maintain and even surpass its good standing in the community.
A packed trophy cabinet, exhibiting prizes won in Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, 4H and other competitions is testimony to solid achievements in culture and sport.
Roxbert Martin, Jamaica's former record holder over 400 metres, who won bronze as part of the men's 4x400 relay team at the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta, USA, is the school's most famous past student. This achievement came despite the lack of a playfield at the school, with students being forced to walk around 15 minutes to use the community playfield.
With the help of the school board, the past students association, the parent teachers' association (PTA), Corporate Jamaica and other entities, Simpson is leading a transformation of the school, with the aim of achieving improved academic performance.
"For the most part, I would say that the school has in recent times, even since September, has seen a shift on emphasis," Simpson pointed out. "We are transforming, we are changing with a new leader and all of that; we are looking at things a bit differently.
IMPROVING ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE
"Our focus is on improving academic performance of our students, we're looking at renovating the physical plant itself; we're looking at creating an environment that causes our children to be bombarded with printed material.
"We are undertaking several initiatives as we speak. When I came here in September, we had the pit latrine system there, National Commercial Bank (NCB) came on board through the support of a parent who saw the need and we were granted a wish, (in the Christmas Grant a Wish campaign). They gave us $100,000 towards creating an environment that is more safe for our children to use the bathroom."
Since then, the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) has moved to construct a new bathroom at the school, which should be completed by mid June.
"We intend to use the funds from NCB to enhance whatever they (JSIF) would have done. We want to purchase some tiles to put in, put up some rails and so on."
Earlier this year, the Japan International Cooperation Agency donated a multi-media, while the Muirhouse New Testament Church of God built a security post at the school.
In spite of a computer lab with five working computers, the school lacks Internet access.
The institution also lacks piped water, although there is no water shortage as the rainwater harvesting is practised successfully.
President of the PTA, Valencia Stewart, who is also a past student, says her organisation is committed to supporting the school.
"We are supporting the school. You know, without the PTA there is no school so we have to work together," Stewart stated.
Another "proud" past student, now teacher for 14 years at the school, Sonjay McFarlane, is pleased with what is happening at Muirhouse primary.
"As it relates to working here, there is a feel of collegiality among staff because the school is small so we know each other intimately," McFarlane said. "The students, we all get along, the parents and community on a whole they support the school in whatever we do. I enjoy working here."
Simpson in the meanwhile, said he is inviting corporate Jamaica and other past students to get on board in helping the institution.
According to Simpson: "We would love to have some modern classrooms, whiteboards, so teachers can move away from chalk. With regard to lighting, if we could get a little more lighting in the classrooms that would be fantastic. We still need some basic things but for the most part, we are giving God thanks for the little that we have."