Jolyn Bryan, Gleaner Writer
Franklyn Holness, principal of Providence Kindergarten-Preparatory School in Lyssons, St Thomas, is frequently mobbed by eager young students as he makes his way through the halls. They line up and eagerly wait to be hugged by him before running off to their next activity.
This sense of family is only one of the things that make the school so successful, ranking in the top percentile of schools of its type in both the parish and across the region for the past several years.
No other school of this type performs better in mathematics, science, or language arts. Recent results from the Grade Four Literacy Test show that all the students from Providence are reading at the mastery level. The school's grade-six students have their first pick of high schools after sitting their Grade Six Achievement Test and are able to read and write with ease, quickly adapting to new material in the high-school curriculum.
At a time when literacy and numeracy have fallen to alarmingly low levels, where remedial programmes are often needed at grade nine in many high schools, it is commendable that Providence Kinder-Prep School is equipping these students with the necessary foundation for higher education.
But what is the secret behind such success?
It is dedication, patience, full-time involvement by teachers and administrators, and a commitment to providing Christian-based education through positive reinforcement. The school employs the A Beka Book programme, which focuses on the development of reading, writing, proper penmanship, and phonetic skills from the earliest age.
Providence Kinder-Prep School also reinforces the importance of discipline and politeness, values which no longer seem to be important to some sections of society.
Students stand to greet staff and visitors once they step into a classroom, voices ringing out in unison with a cheery "Good morning" or "Good afternoon". Students are also active in co-curricular activities, having won several awards for dance, ring games, and speech over the years in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission's festivals.
It is not strange to see a teacher leading her kindergarten class, in a straight line, with their fingers on their lips, out of the school building and to sit under the mango trees for a lesson in numeracy or general studies.
The school was started in September 2002 with nine students, and grew out of the urgent need for "proper education in literacy and numeracy" that was evident to founder Valerie Holness.
Holness, who was then a manager of the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS), Morant Bay branch, explained that she had the idea for the school after a competition called 'Mastermind' that JNBS had for high-school students. It was found that many of the students who had entered the competition and were asked to complete questionnaires could not read or write well enough to provide coherent answers. The situation was so grave that volunteers from JNBS were asked to hold a remedial reading programme at the Morant Bay Parish Library, but this had limited success.
"Instead of trying to remedy the problem after it had occurred, I decided that we would prevent it from happening in the first place, and so I set out to start this school that would teach children to read and write the way they ought to," she told Rural Xpress.
Now, 11 years later, the school has grown to a total of 268 students, with 21 staff members, including 16 teachers. Providence also boasts a male early childhood educator, Allie Bailey, a situation which Holness relishes as he believes that it is especially important for young boys to have male role models in the classroom from a very young age.
The private school is registered with the Ministry of Education. It has limited access to funds, which proves a difficult situation, given that A Beka books have to be bought overseas.
Despite the challenges, Providence Kinder-Prep is determined to continue providing a top-quality education to students in St Thomas fully committed to 'Doing Our Best to Be the Best'. And they have the support of many parents, who are pleased with the progress their children have made.
Royan Campbell, whose daughter and son are students at the institution, has high praises for the school.
"My daughter was reading at four years old. It is one of the most impressive programmes in the parish, and it is a reasonably priced education, giving full value for money." he told Rural Xpress.
PHOTOS BY JOLYN BRYAN