Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer
FARM HEIGHTS, St Ann:IT HAS been a dramatic seven years for Damion Lawrence of Farm Heights in St Ann.
At 11 years old, he couldn't identify letters, much less write his name. Now, at age 18, he is studying law, after passing 14 subjects in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations last year.
What transpired over those seven years could aptly be described as a miracle, but for Damion, a lot of the credit goes to the Edge Hill School of Special Education in St Ann's Bay for starting the revolution that has taken him to this point.
"I couldn't have done it without the help of Edge Hill School of Special Education. The teachers have worked assiduously with me," Damion told The Gleaner recently.
"Special thanks to Ms Forsythe and Ms Llewellyn and Mrs Chambers as well," he added.
It hasn't been easy. Principal Tabitha Chambers recalled when Damion was brought to the school at age 11.
"When Damion came in, Damion was operating at the pre-primer level," Chambers explained. "Damion could not identify letters, he could not even write his name, but the teachers worked very hard with Damion, and Damion was able to be mainstreamed at Ocho Rios High School."
After intense coaching at Edge Hill, he improved and was later transferred to a special unit of Edge Hill, located at the Ocho Rios High School campus. Finally, at age 16, he was transferred to regular classes at Ocho Rios High School.
"When he went into Ocho Rios High School, he kept coming back to the teachers here for help, and they really worked very hard with him. Teachers like Ms Llewellyn, Ms Lawrence, Mrs Hunter. I'm very proud of him."
So five years after he was blessed with a new beginning, Damion was grateful for the opportunity to eventually go to high school. High school was tough, but he wouldn't let the chance slip by.
"When I matriculated into the special education unit at Ocho Rios High, it was even a greater challenge for me because I was there, and I wasn't performing at the level that students were performing when they're sitting their GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test)," Damion said.
"I spent one year in the unit, and then I went over to mainstream (high school) where it became even harder, and I realised I had to put in more effort. So I had to work alongside the special ed unit."
giving it a shot
He continued working hard.
"In grade 10, I tried harder and decided then that I wanted to do 11 subjects. The next year when I went to grade 11, I decided - if a student can do 14, why can't I do 14? So I decided I'm going to give it a shot."
There were many doubting Thomases. Coming from his background, where just five short years previously, he couldn't even write his name, there was no way this youngster could sit and pass 14 subjects!
But what might have appeared to observers as five short years, were in fact five long years of blood, sweat and tears for the determined teenager.
"I just said: I'm going to try."
And he tried. In the end, he passed all 14 subjects, scoring grade one in six subjects, grade two in five subjects and grade three in three.
Damion couldn't recall all 14 subjects he passed. But then, who cares about what subjects they were! They allowed him to enrol at Brown's Town Community College to study law.
But why law? He was asked.
"Why not law?" he replied with a chuckle. He went on: "I love it, but it's also seeing that you're coming from such a background. Normally, with students from our background, we don't aim for such a high profession. So I said, you know what, I want to aim higher than my 14 subjects. I want to show that I can do anything I set my mind to.
"You know, when people say you cannot do it, I wanted to prove them wrong, that it doesn't matter where you're coming from or where you've been, you can succeed as long as you have help and the motivation, and you have the people who are willing to see you achieve something."
He also had good words for his proud mom.
"My mom, she has been the cornerstone in my life. She has really helped me a lot. She has pushed hard, she has put in a lot, she has worked hard with me, I give thanks to her."
And he had a few words for parents, too.
"Don't give up on your child. It might take time, hard work, and dedication, but you need to work at their pace and build on that. Encourage them, motivate them."
Damion is in the first of two years at Brown's Town Community College in St Ann. He said he would then spend five years at the University of the West Indies.
Hail the younger lawyer-to-be!