Good for the gifted - Special school lets young children soar above their age levels
Over several years, the Deokoro Magnet Schools for the Gifted and Talented has helped scores of Jamaican students to pass 12 or more subjects in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations all before they have reached the age of 16.
This year is extra special for the administrators of the school which has a 13-year-old who passed six subjects in the recent CSEC exams and will be attending university this month on a scholarship.
Viviene DeOkoro, who founded the school some 20 years ago, said that gifted children are those who are able to operate mentally and intellectually at least two years above their chronological peers.
The institution, which operates out of Kingston and Montego Bay, St James, was born out of the need to educate children like her own who needed a place which caters to their needs.
According to DeOkoro, gifted Jamaican children face frustration in learning environments where they are not acknowledged and challenged.
"Gifted children drop out of school at a rate five times higher than that of normal children. When they do drop out, the 'giftedness' doesn't go anywhere, and it can go negative very easily. They will take up crime. If we don't try to cater for them, if we don't try to identify them, accelerate them, to just provide for them what is needed, then what happens is they do drop out of school," said DeOkoro.
Listed as the only school catering specifically to gifted children in Jamaica, students can attend classes from pre-kindergarten to pre-university. The classes focus on individual attention, and one has the option of day or evening sessions.
According to DeOkoro, there is no secret formula but specialist teachers, and each student is taught using the method by which they learn - visual, auditory or tactile.
"If you have a child getting straight A's with no effort, that child is underachieving, that child is not challenged, and that child needs to be challenged," said DeOkoro.
In 2013, DeOkoro assisted six young students, including a nine-, a 10- and an 11-year-old, to successfully complete four subjects in the Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competence examinations (CCSLC), which is the grade 11 exit exams, the same year they sat their Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT).
The school's latest success story is 13-year-old Malik Wynter, who started classes as an 11-year-old, grade five student.
DeOkoro said that he soon flew through the grade five curriculum and did grade six and seven together.
She said that by the end of that school year, she had him challenge the CCSLC in the four core areas - English, mathematics, social studies, and integrated science. He achieved mastery and that was what encouraged her to let him do the CSEC exam.
He was successful in the six subjects taken - biology, English language, integrated science, social studies, mathematics, and electronic document preparation and management.
DeOkoro believes that Malik will fit in just fine at university and rejects claims that he is being robbed of his childhood.
"Gifted children socialise up, they prefer to be in the company of older students and adults because where he operates is at an advanced level, so the things that he is interested in and the things that he wants to talk about are that level.
"He will have no problem because he finds 12- and 13-year-olds immature anyway. Sitting in a classroom with adults he will be very comfortable," said DeOkoro.