Karen Sudu, Gleaner Writer
JUAN DE BOLAS, St Catherine:DESPITE ITS dwindling student population, the staff at Juan De Bolas Primary School in deep rural St Catherine is upbeat.
In fact, the four-member staff is pulling out all the stops to ensure that the multi-grade institution delivers quality education to its students.
"We now have 33 students on roll, 16 boys and 17 girls. At one stage we had 176," acting principal, Elene Thomas told The Gleaner.
Most of the students are from the districts of Lluidas Vale and neighbouring Pennington, but in October 2007, the main road linking Pennington to Juan De Bolas was washed away.
"So most of the students are affected because going to or coming from Lluidas Vale now, you have to go through Garden Hill and Point Hill. Migration also contributes to the decrease in numbers," explained Thomas, who is now serving the profession for 30 years.
Notwithstanding, in a move to boost educational activities and to introduce E-learning, the institution established a computer laboratory in 2008.
"The challenges we face are the lack of software, and some of the computers are not in working order, so that sets up back," Thomas reported. "We would want some assistance to fully equip the computer lab with working computers and Internet access, and we do not really have an IT (information technology) teacher. Mrs Facey and Ms Chambers help out."
Also, whenever necessary, she makes her personal laptop and projector available to the school at no cost.
The Anglican-affiliated institution, originally hosted at the adjacent church building but relocated in 1968, also boasts a library. The St Catherine Branch Library assisted with rearranging and labelling the shelves last year.
"We need some reference books like encyclopedia, dictionary and so on, and the high-school students in the community would come in and ask for help," the acting principal disclosed. "So if we had a proper running library and computers, too, with Internet access, that would help them."
The students' academic programmes are boosted by various clubs.
"We had 4H and environmental clubs, but the three most active ones now are speech, reading and speech," she said. "This is so because the teacher population has dwindled, so we do the clubs within school time, and we can only manage three clubs," Thomas remarked.
Juan De Bolas Primary has had its fair share of success in the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). Six students sat the examination in 2012, three were placed at St Catherine High, one at McGrath High, one at Dinthill Technical High and one at Lluidas Vale All-Age.
Students have also excelled in the Jamaica Library Service's annual reading competition.
While noting that the students are well behaved and mannerly, Rosalie McLean - grade-six teacher and past student - said financial challenge is usually an obstacle.
"They will be doing exams and I have two boys who have no textbooks at all, so I find that as a great setback.
"What may have contributed to this also is that they have seasonal employment here. Most of the parents work at the Worthy Park sugar factory, so as soon as it's out of job down there, they find it difficult to make provision for the children," McLean explained.
Apart from her three months teaching practice at McGrath High School, Marlene Chambers' 19 years in the profession is at Juan De Bolas Primary. She teaches grades one and two.
"I find teaching rewarding. When the grade-one students come in September and you find that they don't know much, and by the end of the year they are able to read and they can master whatever they have been doing, I feel very good," the Moneague Teachers' College graduate stated.
Dean Chambers-Facey, grades three and four teacher, has been fulfilling her childhood dream for the past 13 years.
"Well there are challenges here and there, but overall, the learning environment, the community and the parents' involvement make it a little easier," said Chambers-Facey who taught at Kentish Primary for three months.
While the teachers strive to ensure that the academic and extra-curricular programmes are successfully imparted to the students, Theresa Michael, the janitor since 1985, keeps their environment clean.
"The children, the teachers and the environment make my job enjoyable," Michael laughed. "The children are good behaving and they don't litter the place much."