Alpha Boys' School struggles with finances, sister determined to expand and progress
Jordane Delahaye, Gleaner Writer
Since its inception, Alpha Boys' School has played a pivotal role in the lives of young, at-risk boys in Jamaica by equipping them with invaluable skills and ethics, preparing them for the arduous role of adulthood.
Administered by the Religious Sisters of Mercy since 1890, the school has also played an important role in Jamaica's musical journey. In the words of The Telegraph (UK), Alpha Boys' School "helped release the spirit of one of the most musical islands in the world".
Alpha's music programme has launched the careers of Grammy nominees and pioneers in various genres of Jamaican music, from ska, rocksteady and reggae and international genres such as jazz.
The school is responsible for producing such renowned musicians as Cedric Brooks, Yellowman and the four founding members of The Skatalites.
Needless to say, the Jamaican culture as we know it, specifically its Jamaican music, might not have got to where it is today without Alpha, and yet the school has drifted into obscurity among the people it serves.
As Alpha's director, Sister Frazer, revealed, the school's population has fallen over the years, partly because of challenges the school faced.
"At the time we were having some challenges and I felt a lower number would make things more manageable for the staff," Frazer revealed.
Alpha now care for 80 boys and Frazer expressed that the school is still facing challenges, the biggest of which is financial insecurity.
Frazer, who has been with Alpha for some years now, explained to The Sunday Gleaner that Alpha receives a weekly allowance of $6,000 per child and this allowance covers everything from food for the children to the staff's salary.
The Government covers about half of Alpha's annual budget while the balance is made up by donations and self-help initiatives.
"It's difficult to find funds to pay staff and the electricity bill every month and at the same time take care of all these boys. Sometimes we receive one-off donations say $100,000, which we are very grateful for, but when you're falling short half a million to one million dollars every month, that's not very much," Frazer revealed.
Despite all the challenges, Frazer has big plans for Alpha and is determined to make the school the beacon it once was for a proud country.
The school recently planted 1,500 banana and plantain suckers as part of its initiative to use farming as a method to cut food costs.
Alpha has also increased access to visual arts training through a relationship with the National Gallery of Jamaica and participation in the Resolution Project, which provides photography training to the underprivileged with the support of the Jamaica National Foundation. A screen printing programme is also being developed.
Frazer expressed plans to expand the school's curriculum by introducing cadet, computer, tailoring and film programmes. There are also plans to set up a dedicated music department at Alpha that will boast a music museum along with a studio.
Frazer also revealed plans to establish a daycare programme at Alpha which would allow the school to function as a traditional school.
"We want to establish a day-care programme where children could get the benefits of being an Alpha student except for the fact that they would arrive in the mornings and then go home at the end of the day," she told The Sunday Gleaner.
But the programme has proved to be very difficult to start, according to the sister.
Alpha is barely staying afloat but Frazer is unwavering in her determination to keep the school from going under.
According to her, Alpha has been trying to bolster sales of the products made by the boys and has also been appealing to the Ministry of Education to absorb the cost of the teachers' salaries.
Along with that, the school has been renegotiating with the HEART Trust/NTA to aid with its trade programme.
The school is also just beginning a volunteer programme for those who want to help the boys and the school in a more hands-on way.
There have been a few good Samaritans like Michael Kushni and Charles Hyatt Jr with the Charles Hyatt Foundation, which has reached out to Alpha to lend much-needed support.
"Generally speaking, children's homes are at the fringe of everyone's mind, but I think a measure of a country is how it treats its less fortunate and its children and we've failed our children," Frazer lamented.
The Family Court system determines if a child goes to Alpha. Unless there is an intervention by a family member through those courts, the school becomes the legal guardian of the child until he turns 18.