Shanique Samuels, Gleaner Writer
The James and Friends Education Programme has expanded to accommodate approximately 130 students. The foundation began eight years ago with Otis James schooling a handful of students from his community.
It grew over the years, and as he took on more students who were 'in need', additional sponsors also came on-board. The addition of sponsors to the programme led to what is now known as the James and Friends Education Programme. This programme caters to students of all ages - from basic school all the way up to the university/college level and even skills training.
The story of the James and Friends Education Programme helping underprivileged youth to go to school is no secret as the foundation, which is based in Clarendon, now has students enrolled as far as March Pen in Spanish Town, St Catherine. Even though expanding the programme to accommodate more students each year has its challenges, James is determined to make it cover as wide an area as he possibly can.
But more students means more sponsors.
"I have written and delivered many proposals and sponsorship letters. A lot of them I get no response from; others just make promises that they usually don't fulfill." He said those who have responded favourably have been assigned students and companies are doing an excellent job.
He noted that taking on the extra students plus additional sponsors required greater accountability of the students to their sponsors. All the paperwork and documentation is meticulously carried out in a timely manner to ensure transparency.
James said he is still seeking sponsors because there are still many more young people who need help.
He lamented that the programme is not about students who are poor: "we believe in students who have a vision and want to get an education." He continued: "Once you have a vision, you can go from there because once there is life, there is hope. It's not about money or position; it's about vision and health."
James said he is gravely concerned about the placement of students with low averages in certain high schools in the parish. He said over the years, he has realised that students with low grade averages, even though they may live close to a high school, the Ministry of Education still sends them to schools out of their reach - up to 20 miles away. This, he said, is a very big problem because sometimes these students cannot afford the fare to travel to school regularly. He said if they lived closer to school, it would make it easier for them to attend.
He also mentioned the PATH Programme and the fact that under the programme, if students are absent a few times per month, they will not be eligible for lunch at school, and if there is consistent absence, the students will no longer receive the benefits.
"How can this be, and many times they cannot even find fare to go to school? The reason why the programme continues to expand is because the level at which the youth in Clarendon are at grieves me. One child shouldn't have to pass up to nine schools to get to the one they were placed in when they live close to other schools just because those schools are seeking students with higher averages.
"I think if they were placed in schools closer to home, it would be easier for them to manage. They will be able to attend school regularly and would not be subjected to unscrupulous public passenger vehicle operators who seek to take advantage of these situations."
He suggested that the Government make preparations for students with low averages at all schools and assign special teachers to work with these students.
"If the students can't go to school, they cannot perform. If they can't perform, their averages will always be low and the country will always have problems educating the youth."