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RURAL EXPRESS - St Mary High tops Safe School Debate Competition

Published:Saturday | December 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Orantes Moore, Gleaner Writer

High school students from Highgate and Richmond in St Mary gathered last week for the final leg of a groundbreaking police initiative held at the Parish Church Hall in Port Maria.

The Safe School Debate Competition, which aims to address social and other issues affecting young people in the parish, was devised and launched in 2013 by the local police's Community Safety and Security Branch (CSSB).

Nine of the parish's 11 high schools took part in the project, which culminated on Thursday, November 27 in a thrilling final between St Mary High and defending champions St Mary Technical High who proposed the moot: 'Jamaica, Land We Love' is a failed state'.

Although the defending champions presented compelling arguments, the trio from St Mary High, Abigail Barrett, Janelle Haye and Kadeshi Levers, emerged as victors after convincing the judges that despite Jamaica's numerous problems, it was unfair and misleading to describe the country as 'failed' because the Government remains in control.

Barrett told Rural Xpress: "We're humbled. The win was unexpected because our competitors were all very good speakers. We were a bit unnerved, but we prayed and were assisted by some really lovely coaches (Shelly-Ann Reid and Roberta Miller).

"We worked hard, but because the topic is one that is continuously being debated, the information we needed was easily garnered from the Internet and websites such as The Gleaner's, which was a credible source that we were indebted to use."

Effective contrast

The girls from St Mary High won the judges over by outlining the issues faced by citizens living in, arguably, the world's most failed state, Somalia, and contrasting them against the economic, cultural and environmental problems Jamaicans battle on a daily basis.

Much of the information the St Mary High students gathered was compiled by their colleague Terrecia McPherson, who was unexpectedly hospitalised days before the final.

According to Levers, McPherson's sudden illness helped inspire her team. She said: "Most of my research was accomplished by McPherson. I just brought home the points, but she prepared and helped me to finesse the arguments."

In a bid to capitalise on the success the local community policing unit have had in engaging young people, the officer in charge of Area Two, Assistant Commissioner Ealan Powell, has agreed to extend the initiative to other parishes and host a grand final between the top schools in St Mary, St Ann and Portland later this month.

The head of the CSSB in St Mary, Deputy Superintendent Lorraine Elliston, explained: "Having looked at the competition, Assistant Commissioner Powell thought it was important to add the area perspective, so the competition will go on to a regional level, which will cross borders, bring more schools together, and ensure students from different parishes can develop relationships.

"The debate is an initiative that the St Mary CSSB started. We have been leading in many ways and this is just one of the programmes created in St Mary that other divisions have adopted."

Similarly, Haye, who won an award as her team's 'Best Speaker', praised the police for pioneering the innovative competition.

She said: "From my point of view, the Jamaica Constabulary Force, reaching out to teenagers and young people, is a good idea because we grow up in a society where the police are deemed as 'corrupt Babylon'."

"So, this is a good way in which we can relate to and build relationships with them, which will help to build the community, the force, and Jamaica."