Brilliant Lesa!

Brilliant Lesa!

Grade six student tops her school in PEP despite hardships

BY CANDIECE KNIGHT
Staff reporter
knightc@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, July 06, 2020

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Mary Mary's 2000 gospel hit I Just Can't Give Up Now played softly from the Angus family's small board house in the Old Road community of Kitson Town, St Catherine yesterday.

Lesa Angus's younger brother, Alex, peeked shyly from the shadows as their father Barrington welcomed the Jamaica Observer warmly into his humble home. Even with the coal dust from his kiln still covering his skin, he radiated pride as he spoke about his daughter's achievements.

Lesa, despite going to school often with empty pockets and an empty stomach, aced her Primary Exit Profile (PEP) assessment, topped her school, and is looking forward to attending a high school of her choice in September.

“Me proud a har!” her father exclaimed without reservation. “Me proud a har because she take it up on her own. She just go school. Sometimes she will ask if I have anything, and I tell her no. I say, 'Lesa, me nuh like when you go school without breakfast or nothing', and she say 'Daddy, me still a go, because me see weh me a go fa'. Sometime she go school months without a dollar in her hand, but she nuh make that be her problem.”

The father of four put a hand to his cheek as he shared that, despite doing the best that he can with the little he has, he regrets not being able to invest more in her education.

“I used to do mason work sometimes, but any time I work in the cement my skin starts to sore up, so the same money that I make I have to use it to go back to the doctor, so I just turned to the bush,” he explained. “When the rain fall, me will plant a little callaloo and things like that, but with the drought, that a nuh it right now. And the coal doesn't really make much money, but I don't have an alternative right now.”

Angus divulged that the children's mother was out doing a day's work as a helper, and they were waiting to see whether they could put on Sunday dinner when she got home.

Lesa, who will celebrate her 12th birthday on July 28, flashed a brief, self-conscious smile as she spoke about her journey to academic success at nearby Kitson Town All-Age School, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I was very sad when school closed,” she said softly. “I thought we would do over grade six, so I wasn't very pleased with it. I was worried about studying, because we don't have the Internet or even a computer. So we had to buy data sometimes and put on my mother's phone.”

But when her mother's cellphone stopped working, Lesa could no longer participate in school.

“I contacted my teacher and I told her that the phone I was using wasn't working, and it would be a time before we got another one,” she recalled. “The principal sent me some textbooks so I could study from home.”

Angus's PEP report revealed that she performed better than 85 per cent of all students across the island who sat the mental ability test. She was the top performer at Kitson Town All-Age in science, social studies, language arts, and mental ability.

“My parents didn't have it to send me every day, so when I get to go to school, I just go to do my best,” she said simply.

Her grandfather, Earl Ferguson, chimed in from a cool spot under a tree.

“See the apple tree deh. Sometimes a two apple she carry go school fi eat,” he said, pointing. “Even when we say to her say she don't have to go, she go to school same way.”

Lesa's efforts and dedication did not go unnoticed at school either. Her grade six teacher, Navia Burch-Davis, said Lesa has always been a leader.

“She leads in everything that she takes part in,” she said of her student, who is also a member of the school's netball team. “Students naturally follow her, because they see her as one of the top students in her class. She is still developing in some areas; however, she has this innate brightness and she applies herself in every area. Her classmates look up to her, and follow her lead. Whatever she does, they want to be a part of it. Because they know that success will come out of it.”

Acting principal of Kitson Town All-Age Janice Yates, in offering her commendation to the student, thanked the hard-working teachers and non-academic staff who helped to mould Lesa since she started the school in grade one.

“Looking at her academic profile you can see a clear indication that she has been consistently doing well, as the assessment does not only use scores from grade six,” she said. “This is a testament to the glory of God, Lesa's drive to succeed, and the hard work that the staff is doing to help to develop the students,” said Yates.

The acting principal also noted that, despite not having all the tools, Lesa was a hard worker.

“It's in grade six that I got a scholarship from the National Water Commission for three students, and that is how we got textbooks for her,” she said. “Before then, she never had textbooks. It tells us that if she had learning materials to begin with then she would have done even better.”

She added that the non-academic staff at the small campus play an integral role in the nurturing of the just under 200 students there.

“We try to make sure that everybody gets lunch at school,” she said. “We prepared nutritious meals every day, so that hunger is not a reason for them not to do well. From the teacher to the tuck shop operator to the janitor, they all played a role.”

Member of Parliament for St Catherine West Central Dr Christopher Tufton, in whose constituency Angus lives and attends school, also commended the student for her performance.

“I really want to commend Lesa, but also the school, and her family,” he said. “It does show that if you focus and put your mind to what you want to do, even under adverse circumstances, it is entirely possible.”

He added that this is one of many examples that rural schools can produce excellent scholars.

“When you have these kinds of performances, it is encouraging, because sometimes we get carried away thinking the child has to go to a Corporate Area school or a 'name brand' school in order to do well, but there are so many examples to show that this is not necessarily the case. What we have to do is support our schools, and support the community to support education, because it really takes a village to grow a child,” he said.

Lesa will be attending St Hugh's High School for Girls — which was her second choice school — in the next academic year.

“Immaculate High was my first choice, but I'm still happy that I got into my second choice school,” she said with a grin.

But the joy of starting high school is made bittersweet by trepidation when she thinks of leaving her rural cocoon.

“I'm excited to start high school, but it's so far away from where I live now,” she said, looking off into the distance. No longer will she be able to walk to school when her parents have no money to give her for transportation.

Her father offered: “More time if she gone to school without lunch money, and I go out on the road and see my brethren and he gives me a $200, I can walk around the road and go give her, but when she deh so far now, I can't go do that. When she a leave from here now to go so far, me haffi make sure she comfortable.”

Angus, however, is committed to ensuring that his daughter gets to see her full potential, an opportunity that he did not have.

“Me a did bright boy a school too yuh know. I used to get pure 98 and 100 in school. But when I did my Common Entrance [Examination] them say them couldn't find any paper for me, so I never got my results. After that I just stop go school and start go bush,” he said.

“I just want her to get her heart desire. Lesa haffi make it. A just God Himself me a talk to, 'cause me nuh know who fi talk to. Me put her in front a God, because she never really have the things them, but she apply herself. Me just want the help fi push her. I would really want a decent work, because me willing fi go the extra mile fi her.”


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