Rural students battle stressful transportation challenges
Shackeera Ennis is eagerly anticipating the results of the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate in August, after sitting seven subjects. However, it has not been a smooth path for the Seaforth High School student, who reflected on the limited access to convenient transportation in St Thomas, a problem she has faced for many years.
Ennis was among several students who sat down with The Gleaner at schools in St Thomas last week, to assess issues of transportation that affect students' academic development in rural areas.
Ennis, who lives in Arcadia in the parish, indicated that it has been a gruelling task to make it to school on time. That is compounded by the fact that the school operates on a shift system and, therefore, she has to be there by seven o'clock each morning. She also noted that only four taxis operate in the community.
"I have to take transportation from Arcadia to Morant Bay. Sometimes the taxis full up with the working-class people, so I have to walk all the way to the crossing, which is about two kilometres from where I live. Then I have to stand up and wait how long before I get a bus," she explained.
"When I get to Morant Bay it's not so bad to get a taxi to Seaforth, but sometimes I still end up reaching (school) as late as nine o'clock, when I would have missed close to two classes already," Ennis said.
She gave credit to her grandmother who, she said, has supported her since the death of her mother when she was only six years old.
"It costs me, but my grandmother just always mek tings happen. Even when she nuh have it, she will try her best to make sure I'm comfortable. Going home is also challenging, because many times I fall asleep in my uniform while doing my assignments because I am so tired," she said.
Keneshia Davis, who is from Ramble, has a somewhat similar story. She spends close to $500 daily for bus fare alone.
"I have to take three transportation vehicles - from Ramble to Poor Man's Corner; from there to the Morant Bay bus park, and then from there to school. Same thing going home. But going home sometimes can be harder, because sometimes the taxi men don't want to carry the schoolers because of the cheap fare," said the fifth-form student.
"School starts at seven o'clock, so I have to be awake by four o'clock and then I would reach the bus stop by five o'clock to catch the early cars, and it's still dark, but my mother accompanies me in the mornings. It (transportation) affects attendance, but I try to do my best," said Davis.
Principal of Seaforth High School Calbert Thomas said it has been an agonising journey for him having to watch his students encounter the transportation challenges daily.
"We try to put systems in place. Even though it is a shift school, especially students who are preparing for CXC (Caribbean Examination Council) examinations can get a longer day. School is really from 7-12 and 12 to 5 p.m., but for those students, we go from 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Can you imagine if it had remained 7-12 and students come to school after nine?"said Calbert.
"Some of these children, however, have the best averages in the school. So they have put out a lot of effort to have those challenges and still maintain good averages," he noted.