Transformed & terrific - Former problem school Tarrant High starting to shine
For years, the east central St Andrew-based Tarrant High School had a reputation as one where students went to pass time, where violence was only one wrong word away, and where the police were always on call.
In 2013, 240 students were placed at Tarrant based on their performance in the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), and 100 were transferred to other schools by their parents before the first day of classes.
Today, the school is on the upswing, graduating students excelling in external examinations, winning multiple competitions and being far from the violence which marred its reputation.
For Principal Paul Hall, the transformation is due to the work of several persons, including past principals, who have made improving Tarrant their goal.
"Over the years, the school has been plagued by negativity and, certainly, a lot has changed. As a school, we think the public needs to know what is happening. The culture has changed," said Hall, who took over the leadership last year.
Hall said he started with a beautification and upgrading project of the school which started with the entrance. Flowers, fresh paint, and encouraging words on the walls are testament to this.
He then held what he calls a male empowerment series, which sought to motivate the boys and to change how they view the world.
"The males are the ones who are really marginalised, and the records will show that. The males are the ones who are really causing a lot of the issues in the country, and so we set about to coordinate that programme where we brought in persons of worth in the country to talk to them," said Hall.
"The education ministry has seen that we are doing good things here, it's just that the general public doesn't know.
"When I analyse the data from the GSAT passes, we are getting students with 70s, 80s, and a few 90s. We don't fall in the category of schools which are getting students with 40s or 30s like before," said Hall.
He pointed to recent Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) passes as proof of how well the school is doing.
"We have seen significant improvements in CSEC. Last year, physics was offered for the first time and we got 100 per cent pass. In our CAPE passes, for example, a course like Digital Animation, we got a 100 per cent pass last year, 100 per cent in entrepreneurship, tourism, food and nutrition.
"By 2023, 50 per cent of grade 11 students should be leaving with five or more CSEC, and I would like the public to hold me to that," said Hall.
It is mandatory at Tarrant to do at least one skill subject, and Hall said he is moving to introduce new courses this term, such as motorcycle assembly and repair, which is certified by City and Guilds, and mixology.
These will be added to other skill courses already being offered, including plumbing, construction, and cosmetology, which is certified by HEART Trust/NTA.
Hall is currently installing 55-inch smart televisions in all seven grade seven classrooms, so students can be introduced to instructional technology.
"If the teacher is out of school for the day, the teacher will be able to Skype the lesson to the students from wherever. We believe, as a school, that we have to equip our students for what is happening in terms of artificial intelligence (AI) because certainly, that is where the world is going,
"I think as a third-world country we are a little bit slow in accepting that. We have purchased a 3D printer which we will use to incorporate the latest in terms of technology.
"Next week, we will be receiving some smart robots. Students will be able to talk to them and ask questions. It's just to show them what is going to be happening in the real world as it relates to AI, that is what we are doing," said Hall.
Dean of discipline at Tarrant, Sharon Wright, said the violence which once plagued the school is now a thing of the past.
According to Wright, the school has been providing counselling on and off the campus and using a behaviour modification programme to ensure conflict resolution.
It is also mandatory for all 200 grade seven students to be a part of a uniform group.
"We don't have violence here and we don't have people jumping in to create any problem. We really don't have that and our students are among some of the best.
"People outside might see a few students giving problems and they may use it to paint the entire school, but once you come in here you see that is not really what Tarrant is about," said Wright.