Jose Marti school at 40 - From controversy to acceptance
Even before the Jose Marti School at Twickenham Park, St Catherine opened its doors 40 years ago, the controversy surrounding its construction in then democratic socialist Jamaica by communist Cuba at the height of the Cold War did not escape the attention of then Prime Minister Michael Manley.
At the handing over ceremony where he was presented with the symbolic key to the educational institution, Manley, according to The Gleaner's report dated December 6, 1976, had this to say:
"This school has been one of the most controversial events in recent local political history and I think it is important for us to examine the reason why this is so. We should examine for ourselves why such a good gift was made to seem sinister," he said.
"I'll give you one reason. The Third World was born out of domination. Our people have been dominated from outside for a long time and one common factor among Third World countries is the determination of its members to escape from the domination and to build a world where domination by one country of another does not take place," Manley added.
Before handing over the symbolic key, then Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica, Ramon Pez Ferro, himself highlighting the contentious issue, said that perhaps in no other country before has there been a group of workers, technicians and other professionals subjected to such cruel attacks of slander, malicious and unjust political propaganda as has been the case with the brigade of Cuban workers.
Defending the decision to gift Jamaica with the school, the Ambassador said: "We can state categorically that mere fantasy and invention are the bases of the rumours and accusations made against the Cubans here, which range from the story that they were coming as soldiers to invade Jamaica to the most recent one, which presents them carrying weapons and engaged in mysterious activities."
He added: "The reality is not one of story and gossip. The reality is the school. ... Here is the school already completed, which was really what the Cubans were here for."
Just over a month later, on January 10, 1977 the institution was inaugurated as a secondary school, with boarding facilities for 560 boys and girls drawn from the island's 14 parishes.
Among the activities that continued to fuel the rumour mill following the opening was a visit to the school by the late Cuban President Fidel Castro, who landed there in one of his country's helicopters and gifted the school with four buses.
Working, studying to be the total man
Over time, it appears that it has generally come to accepted that the Jose Marti School, named after Cuba's National Hero Jose Julian Marti, is a gift from the government and people of Cuba to the government and people of Jamaica.
In its initial stage the school was fully equipped and incorporated features of both high and secondary schools, including a mix of academic and practical activities.
It was then a boarding institution for all students no matter how near or far away they lived, and the curriculum originally focused on a work-study programme whereby a set of students carried out work duties in the morning and received classroom instructions in the afternoon, while others received classroom instructions in the morning and assumed work duties in the afternoon.
The first principal was Joseph Earle, who, as the Past Students Association has noted on social media, added value to the lives of the hundreds of students he took under his mentorship from 1977-1985.
Epitomising the school's motto, "Trabajando y estudiando para ser el hombre total", he instilled in students the discipline, value and the true meaning of "Working and studying to be the total man".
The school had a 150-acre farm which was maintained by students under the supervision of staff members qualified in agronomy and animal husbandry.
Discontinuance of the work-study programme began in 1984.The boarding programme was also terminated, the dormitories converted into classrooms and in 1987 the institution was upgraded to a high school, after which students were placed there mainly through the Common Entrance Examination.
When Joseph Earle left the school in 1985, he was replaced by Dahlia Donnolly who acted as principal for a year until Norma Urquhart was appointed principal in 1986 and served until 1993. Donnolly went on to serve as acting principal at various other times.
In 1989, the school's status was changed again, this time to a technical high and students admitted through the Technical Entrance Examination. Enrolment exceeded the 1,000 mark as the intake of students was then a combination of those who sat the Common Entrance as well as Technical Entrance examinations.
In 1991, the school was adopted by the Wisynco Group of Companies.
Since then the school has gone through a series of changes in the structure of the education programme, including introducing the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exam (CAPE).
Technical and vocational facilities at the school have since been dramatically improved. In 1997, with the strengthening of partnership between Japan and Jamaica a new technical-vocational block was established under the auspices of the Japan International Corporation Agency. The building was donated by HEART Trust/NTA and equipped by the Japanese government.
Activities to celebrate 40th anniversary
Sunday, January 9
This week, the Jose Marti School celebrates its 40th anniversary, kicking off yesterday with a church service at the Phillipo Baptist Church, Spanish Town.
Tuesday, January 10
Tomorrow, the Past Students' Association will be hosting a health fair on the school compound, in partnership with the National Health Fund, starting at 8. a.m. The fair is geared towards offering medical checks to student athletes based on the number of them engaged in sporting activities who have fallen ill or died.
There will be a ceremony starting at noon where past students will be offering 16 bursaries to students for excellence in academics and sports.
Saturday, January 14
The week's celebration culminates with a dinner and awards ceremony at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston under the patronage of Cuban Ambassador, Bernardo Guanche Hernandez. Keynote speaker will be former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson.
Awards will be given to various individuals with one going to the Cuban government in appreciation of their gift of the school.