Rockhouse Foundation to pump billions into school, giving disabled lifeline
After pumping US$7 million into education in western Jamaica, Negril hotel investors Rockhouse Foundation has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Education to expand its inclusive model school in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland.
The foundation has seven projects in the region, but this is its biggest and most ambitious one to date. The MOU includes the allocation of adjoining lands from the Catholic Church, with the understanding to build out the ‘Sav-inclusive School’ over the next 10 years, adding one grade a year, Paul Salmon, owner of Rockhouse and Skylark hotels, Negril, told The Gleaner during their sold-out foodie fundraiser ‘Getaway with The Grey’ last weekend in the tourist town.
The school currently accepts children as young as three years old, who then go up to second grade before transitioning elsewhere. However, the students will now access education to the end of high school, Salmon revealed. The news comes as Rockhouse prepares to herald its 50th anniversary in the ‘Capital of Casual’.
No classroom at the Savanna-la-Mar school accommodates more than 25 to 30 children, each served by a teacher, an assistant teacher and a caregiver, Salmon explained, adding that because of the intensive environment and the school’s model, a speech therapist, occupational therapist and psychotherapist are subsidised by the foundation. This, he said, was critical for education to be effective for everyone in the classroom.
“This inclusive model is very powerful,” he added, pointing out that the educational institution is also used as a teaching school for local area schools. “We run a series of sessions, because generally, kids with disabilities just end up in the regular education system.” In fact, they have developed a lot of best practices, which the regular schools in the region have been benefiting from.
Built from the ground up, Rockhouse was spurred to construct the facility 10 years ago when one if its staff complained of the challenges she was facing finding a school for her autistic son and the lack of services for kids with disabilities. “And it really planted a seed with us, so we started researching and talking with the Ministry of Education and understanding the services that were available, knowing there was a real shortage of opportunities for kids with disabilities,” reminisced Salmon.
They started working closely with the ministry, then decided to fund a new school. They spent US$2 million on the construction. Today, Salmon describes ‘Sav-inclusive’ as an amazing school. “This inclusive model is where regular learners are in the same classroom learning alongside with kids with disabilities. And it’s like an entirely different model. So the kids who are regular learners, learn all about the challenges, tolerance and understanding of the problems that other people have,” he noted.
At the same time, he said, the kids with disabilities really find accelerated growth in their therapies, in opportunity to learn more effectively because of having modelling with typical learning methods.
Marrying the foundation to events that pair international chefs with the hotel’s staff, last weekend’s guest chef were James Beard Award winner Mashama Bailey; her partner at The Grey, Savannah, Georgia, Johno Morisano; and Caribbean rum Ten To One. This is the fourth international chef event staged to raise funds for the school. One hundred per cent of the proceeds goes towards education.
The initiative benefits Rockhouse and its most recent addition, Skylark Resort, which is located on the Negril Beach, because its chefs connect with the visiting chefs in the hotels’ kitchen.
“Our chefs gets an opportunity to have exposure to their experience, while being involved in an event that showcases the best of Jamaica, as well as kind of integrating the thoughts and perspectives of a chef from overseas,” noted Salmon.
The hotel has hosted New Orleans-based, St Lucia-born Chef Nina Compton for years and Ethiopia-born, Swedish-American celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson twice.
Bringing Bailey down this year after slowing down because of COVID-19, is an opportunity to celebrate, admitted Salmon, hence the reason for staging a two-night event and including winner of Food Network’s ‘Chopped’, Jamaica-born Andre Fowles in the mix.
Fowles is currently the culinary director at Rockhouse Miss Lillie’s in New York.