Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator
A history of violence in Trench Town, St Andrew, has had such a tremendous impact on the once vibrant Trench Town High School that today the institution is struggling to have students grace its classrooms.
Unlike the majority of high schools that do not have enough spaces to accommodate students who sat this year's Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), the south St Andrew school has been advertising availability of space.
For the 120 grade-seven spaces available at the school, the Ministry of Education only sent 60 students. In fact, the entire student population now stands at approximately 600, despite the fact that the school can accommodate 1,200 children.
"Over the years, we had a lot of violence in the area and some persons had moved their children to other schools, which caused our population to decrease. We started to do various things to get students to come here and it worked, but with students moving up and transitioning, the population was never able to return to what it was," acting principal Sandra Brown told The Gleaner.
Parents still fearful
Brown said although the violence has simmered down and the area has been relatively calm over the last five years, parents remain fearful of sending their children to Trench Town High.
"Even with us getting only 60 students, we still expect there will be transfers because only a handful of that number are from within the area. The rest are from all over, like Constant Spring, Duhaney Park, Spanish Town, and so on," she said.
"We don't mind the mixture of students from different areas, I think that is very good, in fact. But this year the mix is so wide we know we will lose some of those to transfers."
The Alternative Secondary Transitional Education Programme (ASTEP), she noted, was another factor that affected the number of students the school got from GSAT.
"Before, we would get about 110 students from GSAT, but now students who are not able to perform at a functional level are put in ASTEP," she said.
In spite of the low figure, Brown said she was pleased with the 60 and 70 per cent averages of the students coming in this year.
Over the years the school would get students with zero to 50 per cent averages, at least half of which had very limited literacy and numeracy capabilities. This forced the school to work extremely hard to get them to perform at a basic level, tailoring its curriculum to create specialised reading and basic training programmes.
The acting principal said the hard work paid off, with students who came there not able to read going on to pass up to three subjects at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) level. She said each year, in fact, approximately 60 per cent of the students who sit CSEC achieved between four and five subjects, with some passing nine.
Brown is not daunted by the challenges, which include a great financial need to purchase furnishings and carry out repairs to the building. In fact, it has motivated her and the dedicated staff to fight for the 48-year-old school's survival. A Trench Town High success story herself, Brown has gone through the ranks, seeing the school at its highs and lows. She entered its gates as a student in 1979, later returning to serve as a teacher for 25 years and was last September appointed acting principal.
"I use my life and experience to show the students that they can do it too. Despite the challenges I had to face, I had a goal so I focused on that. In fact, the violence they sometimes see now is nothing compared to what I experienced when I was coming here, so they have less challenges to deal with and way more resources than we had," she stated.
Brown noted that what was greatly lacking in today's students was an internal motivation, zeal and competitive spirit.
Outlining that Trench Town High offers a comprehensive curriculum of academic, vocational, sports, cultural training and extra-curricular activities to its students, Brown said: "I implore students coming here that they need not have any fear. We at Trench Town High will strive to offer quality education and a well-rounded curriculum in a safe environment."