Sonia Mitchell and Avia Collinder, Gleaner Writers
Vaz Prep School's Drum Corps, led by Joy Northover, perform at their Heritage Day function on October 13, 2006. - Contributed
Sandra Turnerwas not long out of the maternity ward in Kingston before she arrived at St Hugh's Preparatory School to register her young son in 2005. She was told by one friend, she said, that she should have done so before birth.
And when the tot was three years old, the mother says, "He only got in because someone dropped out at the last minute."
For the most desirable schools in Jamaica, where parents say children benefit from an excellent extra-curricular programme and a 'focused' educational regimen, parents pull out all the stops.
Early trek to office
They make an early trek to school offices in the hope of getting their sons and daughters into these institutions of prestige.
According to Turner, a primary school environment would have exposed her son to undesirable peer pressure and influences. Her son, she says, is now in pre-K (kindergarten) and is doing "very, very well".
"He enjoys activities, including dancing, music, Spanish and information technology. He comes home and does his homework. He tells me about the computer and he is not afraid to use it. He is only three!" the excited mother said.
She says the school fee at St Hugh's is $52,000 for each term - not including extra-curricular activities - but it's well worth the price.
Investment manager Sonia Owens, who resides in Spanish Town, St Catherine, says that getting her daughter into St Hugh's was easy. Her daughter was called in for an interview and later got the green light.
She says her daughter, Janelle, receives individual attention from teachers who are very involved at each stage of her development.
Owens explains: "The children are allowed to conduct devotions, which builds their character and confidence. I have seen progress and confidence in her. She believes that she can do anything."
Janelle has scored high grades in government assessments, Owens said.
Catherine Charlesregistered her daughter, then one month old, at St Andrew Preparatory School.
She says, "At the time, there was a problem with space so you had to be early. If you do it round about that time, you don't have a problem. I would be in advance line if I registered early, and I was."
Charles, who attended primary school, "saw nothing wrong with it", but admits it was her children's father who had a specific preference for prep schools, considering them to have better reading programmes.
Come September, fees will be $50,000 for the term, and $52,000 for the second and third terms at the school. "We are prepared to pay because it is an excellent school," she said.
No problem at Wolmer's
While early registration at Wolmer's Preparatory School in Kingston might have been a fad at one time, it is no longer so. Dion Frasersaid that she was quite determined that her son would attend this school, but she had no problem getting him in.
She registered him in January and by September he was in class.
"I never had a problem and I know others who got in just as easily too." Both her children, ages five and eight, go to this school.
Nehemiah Brown, a parent whose child attends Wolmer's, also states that it was very easy for him to register his child. He is happy as the child has improved academically.
At Vaz Preparatory in Kingston, the process is reportedly easier than 10 years ago, when it was a rat race. At the school, where fees total $40,500 per term, principal Karlene Bisnot points out that more than 90 per cent of her students place in traditional high schools after completing the school's programme.
Students from Portmore, Spanish Town, Kingston and St Thomas attend the school where learning programmes are driven by trained personnel and computer labs. Other programmes include sports, music, drama, ballet, karate, swimming and chess.
"We establish a high academic standard and maintain it. The school emphasises discipline and is clean and attractive," she said.
There is one primary school where the hysteria for placement is as strong as any prep school in Kingston. It is St Richard's, on Red Hills Road. Principal Vera Buckley states that the school has received 800 applications for September 2008 and they have space for only 150.
The school is much sought after, she states, as "we try to adhere to the code of regulations ensuring that we meet the academic needs of the children."
In 2007, the school received two Marcus Garvey scholarships. Since 1996, 18 students have received J.A.G. Smith scholarships. Between 1978 and 2006, four students received government scholarships and six received the George William Gordon scholarship.
"We work closely with parents, teachers and the board to make our school what it is. Teachers spend quality contact time with students," the principal said.
Recently, six new classrooms were constructed but they are in need of a larger library and a computer lab. There are 31 members of staff for 956 students.
Students from all walks of life, including many living in nearby communities along Red Hills Road, attend that school.
For those with hopes of getting into St Richard's, they should consider moving to Whitehall Avenue. Students from this community are selected first for enrolment and then from nearby communities.
For those who are wary of the areas from which students come, the principal states, "Children behave the same anywhere in the world you go."
Michelle Harper of Duhaney Park got lucky. She works at a school next door to St Richard's and says it was not difficult to get her daughter into the school. She enrolled her there, she said, because of its excellent academic record.
Names changed to protect identity.