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St. Jago High School for the poor and children of slaves

By Avia Ustanny, Contributor

You will find few high schools in Jamaica that have a longer or more colourful history than St. Jago High School on Monk Street in Spanish Town, St. Catherine ­ 257 years of it.

The school actually opened its doors during slavery, in the year 1744. In 1739, Mr. Peter Beckford, a rich planter and God-fearing fellow who wanted to help the poor, left 1,000 pounds sterling in his will to be used for the 'building of a free school for the poor."

Other people made contributions and in 1744 the 'free School of St. Jago de La Vega' was opened at the northwest corner of Young and Beckford Streets.

Another school, the Smith's Charity School, was opened in 1833 after the Hon. Francis Smith, in 1830, left 3,000 pounds sterling to establish a school, 'in the doctrines of the Church of England.'

In 1846 the two schools became one with a new name­ Beckford's and Smith's. According to current Principal Keith Noel, the school has managed to keep to its objective of providing a quality education for the poor, though other sectors of society have benefited.

It was not until 1897 that Archbishop Nuttall of the parish established the Cathedral High School for Girls. Later, this school and Beckford's and Smith's was to become the St. Jago High School.

More than 1,600 students now attend the school at its new location on Monk Street. St. Jago currently offers a full academic and sports programme, including football, volleyball, basketball, table tennis, rugby and track and field.

Did you know?

1. In its years as a boarding institution, students from as far away as South America attended school at Beckford's and Smith's.

Though the school started as a "free school" for the poor, the standard of teaching was so high that it was once known as the school of the elite. In photographs showing students of the new boys and girls high school, more than half of them were white.

2. St Jago is the only school to have won both boys and Girls Champs (winning Girls champs as Cathedral High).

3. St Jago had seven athletes and two officials in the 2000 Olympics. Every Olympic team for the last 20 years has had St. Jago past students on them.

4. St Jago has been the holder of the prestigious Marcus Garvey Award for the performing arts - the highest such award given by the Jamaica Cultural Development Foundation, since 1994. It has also won the award for best school in music for the last five years.

5. 'Jago' student Sheldon Smith won the Jamaica Open scholarship in 2000 - the award given to the A' Level student with the highest grades.

6. One-third of the teaching staff is St. Jago Old Girls and Boys. The Old Girls and Boys have been responsible for much development at the school, including opening of the computer lab.

Been there, done that

Among St. Jago's celebrity alumni are National Hero Norman Washington Manley; Chief Justice Lensley Wolfe O.J.; judge Eleise Francis, Dr. Ken Rattray, Carl Rattray; and playwright/actor Trevor Rhone. In the field of sports Bert Cameron, Michelle Freeman, Greg Meghoo, Juliet Campbell and Petagaye Dowdie, as well as musicians Trevor Beckford and Orville Manning.

They say:

The oldest member of staff (30 years), Senior Vice Principal Nina Bulgin:

"I look forward to the annual prize giving. I like to see the looks on our children's faces when they receive a reward for their efforts. Graduations make me sad. I don't like to see the children go."

Second form student Marcel Manahan:

"This school has academics and sports -- everything. We do well in Schools Challenge, track and field and right now our boys (Boys Champs) look like they have the best side. In debate, volleyball and chess we are doing very well. I feel that St. Jago is number one."

Second form student Andrew Scott:

"We have sufficient activities for everybody. A lot of fighting does not really happen here. The teachers really encourage us to do our work. (Best of all) This is a boys' and girls' school."

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