Saving the strugglers - Corporate Area-based school dedicated to helping students with behavioural or learning challenges
When Greater Life Academy opened its doors in August 2016, only 40 students were on its register. Two years later, the school has 130 students and has recorded solid passes in external examinations.
Greater Life Academy, which is on Dunrobin Avenue in St Andrew, is a private secondary school which carters mainly to students who cannot find a space in the public school system.
“We decided to start the school because of the fact that so many students are out there and they don’t really have this sort of system to help them. A lot of the students, if they don’t come to us they don’t go anywhere, and these are students who have challenges, behavioural and learning challenges,” principal Jacqueline Gordon toldThe Sunday Gleaner.
“I find that in a small environment like this, they are able to shine, they are able to excel, they are able to do better than they would normally do out there,” added Gordon, as she noted that there is no class with 30 students.
“In the large public system you have like 40 and 50 students in a class, and if you are not capable or willing to learn you are left alone. Here, they can’t escape.
“We try to create an environment that stimulates their mental and creative abilities, so we try and cater to the total person. Many of our students, when they come here, they can’t read, but by the time they leave they are able to do that and even do examinations,” said Gordon.
Vice-principal Sharon Sinclair said the school boasts a 90 per cent pass in the CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) and City and Guild examinations.
“Last CXC (Caribbean Examinations Council) we did extremely well. We have students who were going to other schools and they were not functioning. They come to us and within the year they were able to get like six and five subjects.
“Most of the students that are here are ministry students, so if there are struggling within the public school and get expelled, the ministry would send them here because of our ability. We are capable and we can get these students to pass exams, to change their behaviour and attitudes.
“We put in place intervention programmes to motivate them, such as quizzes, debates, drama, and we teach so they can assimilate to the learning environment,” said Sinclair.
She added that as the school expands it will implement new programmes, such as the recently started sixth form which has one student at this time.
“We started with our own student because she had six subjects in grades one and two. She actually did all the subjects that we offer in the CSEC, and so we decide to challenge her with some CAPE (the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination).
“When we identify students from grade 10 who have the ability, we don’t hold them back, we send them up for the exam. We send students from grade nine for City and Guilds and they have done well in mathematics and English,” said Sinclair.
The teachers admitted that the school has challenges, including its inability to provide a wide variety of vocational subjects at the moment.
“Right now we offer welding, but we really want to offer as many vocational subjects as we can, and so we really need help in those areas from corporate Jamaica. We would like them to be doing food and nutrition, cosmetology and clothing and textile, because I think that’s where these students will shine, in the skills area,” said Gordon.