Anastasia Cunningham, Senior Gleaner Writer
Seven young men are now the better for an experience they believe will forever change their lives. Thanks to the determination of a school, church, community and their families.
Kevin Kelly, Ricardo Cunningham, Dane Warren, Lloyd Taylor, Rayon Young, Leon Beckford and Clive Williams now feel they can take on the world and all its challenges because a school dared to take the charge and believed in them.
They are the boys of the Old Harbour High School's Schools' Challenge Quiz team who took Jamaica by surprise with their resilient, brave and outstanding performance. On Wednesday, when they got knocked out in the semi-finals by just one point, the disappointment and tears resonated across the island. Whether persons were associated with the school or not, their strong spirit had many rooting for them.
In the end, coaches Omar Morrison, Julio Maragh, Sherene Walker, Daveian Morrison and Shawn Williams hugged their boys tight and congratulated them for putting up a good fight.
What led to that exceptional fighting spirit?
Principal Lynton Weir and the coaches were determined that if the boys were going to work as a team, it was important that they made a bond, learned to work out their differences, looked out for each other and grasped what it was to function as a unit.
So since January, on the advice of Morrison and Maragh, the boys had been living together under the supervision of the male coaches in the teachers' quarters on the school compound. The school took care of all their physical needs and the church focused on their spiritual growth.
"The experience made us much better young men. We are now more mature. We learnt to put our selfish nature aside and how to live for each other. Each Sunday when we went to church, we learnt something new - unity, wisdom, confidence - we applied what we learned to both the competition and dealing with each other," said a pensive Taylor.
"You had seven different personalities to deal with, but we learnt how to work on those differences and gelled together," said Young.
"It drew my family closer together. When my father came to me and said how much he believed in me and encouraged me to study, it made such a difference. My father was never like that, and now my family is so close," said an emotional Cunningham.
"It brought us all closer to God," said Beckford, who shared that his mother was so wrapped up in the competition, she cried from the bottom of her soul when they lost to Titchfield High School.
The boys were especially grateful to 'Miss Marie' who had been providing them with lunch free of cost since the summer.
Weir said the school would be doing something special for them, which includes giving the three students going off to university a purse, while paying the school and examination fees for those returning next year. The team and teachers will also be given a day pass to a hotel resort.
Since Weir took up command of the two-shift Old Harbour High School two years ago, parents, teachers, students, the community and the Ministry of Education have noticed a total transformation of the institution. The school has recorded outstanding performances in academics, sports and culture and, over the years, its students have achieved several awards to attest to that. He attributes the success to the hard work of a great team of teachers and staff.
Weir has implemented and spearheaded several transformation projects, encompassing the whole embodiment of the school.
With the belief that a good leader must be strong and decisive, he has made some innovative, and sometimes unpopular decisions that today he is getting high praises for and has served to regain the respect of Old Harbour High.
More important, several students are forever grateful to him for believing in them and helping them to be on a path to achieving their dreams.
Want better students
Although the school has been known to create 'miracles', he said he would prefer if the Ministry of Education would send them better quality students.
Last year, for instance, the Education Ministry sent them 22 students who got 0 to 25 per cent in the Grade Six Achievement Test.
"We were at a loss as to what to do, but we did not complain. Some of them could not even read. These are our nation's children and we could not turn our backs on them, so we had to come up with creative means to ensure they become productive citizens," said Weir.
He put in place a resident teacher, Claudiene Boyd, whose sole responsibility it was to work with those students.
"You can't believe the vast improvement they have made," said the principal.
Going through the entire school population, Weir identified students in need of greater attention, and through fund-raising efforts the school paid for them to get extra lessons.
He made it mandatory for students to sign up for any subject they wished to do in CSEC.
"The responsibility was now in their hands to work hard for what they wanted to do, and those who needed help were enrolled in extra lessons and the school took care of that cost," he said.