SOS happy for technology boost

Sunday, February 10, 2019

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THERE were hugs aplenty from the children as the SOS Children's Village in Stony Hill, St Andrew, welcomed a team from International Game Technology (IGT) Jamaica to their campus on January 22.

Residents and administrators alike were enthusiastic about their IGT After-School Advantage (ASA) Centre, which comprises 10 computers, and were eager to demonstrate how they have been using it.

“We are able to keep up with the other children and complete our homework on time,” said a male student who we will not identify by name. He was working on an online mathematics quiz on the Lexia Learning educational programme. Lexia and similar computer programmes allow students to develop at their own pace without the group pressure that traditional classrooms often impose.

“Thank you, the computers help us a lot!” exclaimed one eighth grader, as he excitedly gave out hugs to the visiting IGT Jamaica team.

The centre is in such great demand among the village's 72 residents (some ranging from primary to tertiary level students), that there is a strict schedule in place to ensure that the children who need it the most have access. Director of SOS Stony Hill Marvin Simpson noted: “We have to keep the centre open until late at night to accommodate everyone — especially at exam time.”

“We have a number of remedial programmes loaded on the computers, which have really helped our students to boost their grades,” he added.

IGT Jamaica's General Manager Debbie Green expressed delight that the ASA Centre is so well used.

“We are so pleased to hear that the students appreciate the centre and are using it to improve their education, and enhance their lives. The aim of our ASA programme has always been to provide opportunities for children who would otherwise not have access to computers where they live. We want to ensure no child is left behind along the digital highway.”

The ASA Centre at Stony Hill has been through “ups and downs” in recent years. Established in 2015, it suffered a major blow in 2016 when it was destroyed by fire caused by an electrical fault in the main building. However, IGT Jamaica stepped in and provided new computers and other equipment.

Since the newly refurbished and equipped facility opened in August 2017 it has become even stronger. The “aunties” (who administer the houses that make up the village) mentor and support the children in the computer lab, and the older students provide guidance to the younger ones and those with special needs. While the weekend schedule is a little more relaxed, the roster allows enough time for the children to research projects, complete homework assignments, and prepare school-based assessments projects. Acdemics do come first, but there is opportunity to explore and enjoy browsing the Internet.

In addition to the computer lab, as part of IGT Jamaica's mentorship and support for young people, Stony Hill students benefited from several outreach projects in 2018. Several students on the autism spectrum received special attention from IGT staff during Autism Awareness Month last April, receiving gift baskets containing books, stationery, sensory toys, and other materials. Students from the Stony Hill and Barrett Town villages joined a select group of young people for a special tour of the Mona GeoInformatics Institute at The University of the West Indies last May. These experiences provided invaluable exposure for the young people to the world of work, technology and innovation.

There are ASA centres at both SOS Children's Villages in Jamaica — in Barrett Town, St James (established 1971) as well as the Stony Hill village, where construction began in 1982. The villages were founded through the initiative of Dr Harland Hastings, John Rollins and Professor Heinz Simonitsch. The goals of SOS Children's Villages are to offer orphaned and abandoned children, regardless of race, nationality or creed, a permanent home, and to prepare them for an independent life. IGT's ASA programme across the Caribbean strengthens the latter goal, aiming to provide these disadvantaged children with the tools for further development through technology.

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