Karen Sudu, Gleaner Writer
BELLAS GATE, St Catherine:
SEVENTEEN BOYS and four girls at Bellas Gate Primary School in deep rural St Catherine will be sitting the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) next month.
Its past student and St Joseph's Teachers' College graduate Maureen Jones is preparing them for the two-day high-school entrance examination.
"Most of the boys are performing way below their grade level, but I've taken them some distance since last September. I try to make my lessons as interactive as possible. I use games and so on, where they can use their hands, because once they get bored with the books, they lose focus," she said.
Cognisant of this, the principal, Michael Watts, has been on a drive to equip the computer laboratory with new computers as he seeks to enhance learning through technology.
"Cable & Wireless (LIME) had donated some computers, but they are outdated, so we need some new ones. You know the boys like the hands-on, and they would be more encouraged to learn with the computers," he pointed out.
"Also, we have to be using the modem to access the Internet, and it is very expensive. We can't keep up with that. We have done some networking, where we link up all the computers, but we don't have any Internet. We need help with that," noted Watts, principal since 1994.
He is also desirous of getting a full-time computer teacher at the institution, which was built in 1953 and opened its doors in 1954.
"If it is even a youth service worker who has some training in technology to assist us in that area, I would be very grateful," he said.
In fact, his desire is not only to satisfy the needs of his students.
"I want to establish a homework and resource centre because since I've been here, we have many children going to various high schools - St Jago, St Catherine, Glenmuir - and they have assignments and want to do research. Also, we could teach the parents computer skills," explained Watts.
Notwithstanding the challenges, the students' academic performance, particularly in the Grade Four Literacy Test, has improved.
"Our average has gone up to almost 80 per cent mastery, according to the last Grade Four Literacy Test results. We had fallen down to about 40 per cent, and the Ministry of Education sent us a target, and we have exceeded that target," he said proudly.
But the focus is not solely on academic excellence. Up to early last year, the institution had a vibrant chicken-rearing project.
"Hurricane Sandy completely devastated the poultry house. The roof is gone, and it was old, so it didn't have much resistance. The floor is OK, so if we get some material to build a new one, the parents will volunteer and build it back," Watts assured.
Restoring the chicken-rearing project is critical, Velma McCalla, grade one teacher and 4-H leader, pointed out, noting that it was the club that spearheaded the project.
"When we do the poultry rearing, the canteen buys it, so whatever we make from it, we use that money to pay for our trips when we go on training, and so on. Right now, we have to ask a parent to raise the chickens for us, so we really need our chicken coop urgently," said McCalla.
The 40-member club is still vibrant.
"Our focus presently is on crafts and gardening. We do a lot of crafts. We use things like beads, the droppings from cedar trees. They do speech training, entrepreneurship, and learn other skills. We also try to go to the achievement days where the students get to interact with students from other schools, and it widens their perspective," said McCalla.
The students are enthusiastic about the opportunity to participate in the various activities.
"I learn how to set the table and how to make a lot of things," said Shanique McKenzie, a member of the club since last November.
The school boasts an active parent-teacher association (PTA).
"On December 13 last year, we launched an emergency fund for the students. For example, if one falls or gets a broken leg, or anything like that, we'll be able to assist," Beverley Maragh, PTA president, told The Gleaner.
Watts and Maragh bemoaned the absence of a security guard and are seeking external assistance to put one in place at the institution as soon as possible. Construction of a library is also high on their list of priorities.
PHOTOS BY KAREN SUDU