What's the best way to teach classroom rules to youngsters? For Dalton Spence, Christel House Jamaica music facilitator, it’s as simple as creating a fun and catchy tune. “There are two main things that are important for the proper running of my music class,” says Spence. “Students need to respect each other and listen to each other.” Being a music teacher, he created a song about the classroom rules and found the children enjoyed it so much they would happily sing along. “It was important not to name them “rules” so I titled the song “How To Be Amazing!” Spence believes in his students. “I use music to develop in them this attitude which I believe will make them successful in any area or subject they will undertake,” he says. He’s proud of the success at Christel House. “In all my years of teaching, I must say Christel House really provides a great learning environment for our most vulnerable Jamaican children.”
Students at the newest Christel House will be seeing green as part of the Jamaican Government’s initiative to save the environment. During a site assessment, Jamaica’s Forestry Department outlined a plan to add grass and trees around the new school. Hon. Sally Porteous, CEO, is pleased. “Christel House Jamaica is thrilled to be a part of this important exercise.” The trees and greenery are part of a Jamaica National Tree Planting Initiative to plant 3 million trees in three years. A local agricultural store, HiPro, is donating the seeds to add grass to bare areas following the construction of the school. While the school is getting upgrades, the Kindergarten to Grade 3 students continue with their classes. Porteous is proud of the students and says the children are very happy and comfortable in their new school. “By and large, they are doing really well.”
As students return to Christel House Jamaica (CHJ) for in-person classes, plans are underway to offer skills training opportunities for their parents. And parents are excited about the possibilities.
“The program is part of a collaborative initiative with the Jamaica Human Employment and Resource Training Trust/National Training Agency,” according to Tracey Ann Anderson, CHJ Principal. “This will provide sustainable outcomes for the community and the country in general.” Parents are enthusiastically signing up for the skills training program. The agency will perform an applicant assessment to determine qualifications for plumbing, construction, and other jobs. “Since some parents cannot read, they’ll have the opportunity to enter a high school equivalent program,” says Anderson. “They will be able to take classes for basic reading and writing before they matriculate into the skills training area of the program.” After only one year, Anderson can see the tremendous impact Christel House is having in Jamaica. Students are learning and parents are engaging with the school. “We provide a safe and caring environment where the children can be afforded a quality education and other social and emotional support that will help break the cycle of poverty.”
For the newest Christel House students in Jamaica, getting to and from school every day is an exciting part of their new routine. It takes nine buses, over nine routes, traveling through 27 communities to get 180 kids to school.
Children are picked up at central points throughout communities near the school. On average, it takes between 15 to 45 minutes for students to travel to Christel House. “Our school is located in St. Catherine, one of the fastest growing parishes, therefore traffic builds up quickly,” says Kerry Ann Thompson, Social Worker Lead. “No children live within walking distance of the school.” Once the children arrive at school, they wash their hands to promote sanitation and cleanliness, then enjoy breakfast before classes. Thompson says the daily riding of the bus and the protocols once they arrive at school have become a welcome routine for the children. She notes the kids are doing well in their first year at Christel House. Thompson says it warms her heart when she hears from parents. One mother offered her gratitude. “Thank you very much Christel House Jamaica for showing us there is someone who still cares for the less fortunate. My child is learning.”
To open Christel House Jamaica (CHJ) in 2020, public recruiting sessions were not possible due to COVID restrictions. Instead the Jamaica team went into communities to meet students where they lived. Kerry Ann Thompson, CHJ lead social worker, says two things stood out to her: the community’s dilapidated housing and minimal access to education.
Thompson has ten years of experience working with at-risk children and adults and holds a degree in counseling and social work. When she heard Christel House was coming to Jamaica, she connected with the transformational mission. During home visits, Thompson saw firsthand the desperate situation of the families Christel House Jamaica serves. “We discovered that some children never had the experience of walking through the gates of a school, while some lacked the resources to attend school regularly.”
CHJ opened in October. Students are now in class, learning in-person. “Parents and students are excited for a school that caters to their unique needs without judgment,” says Thompson. She notes families are particularly excited about small class sizes and computer courses. “Parents have been singing praises about the positive changes seen in their children since starting school at Christel House, an indication we are on the right track in transforming lives.” Thompson applauds the community for their trust in Christel House Jamaica. “Navigating life through a pandemic has not been easy, but the steps and efforts made by parents in overcoming their fears of sending their child to a new school during COVID-19 are noteworthy,” she says. “They have the hope and desire to better the life of their child.”
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