MONIQUE Bailey is proof that a student can do well no matter the high school he/she attends, provided they decide to put in the work required to succeed.
However, neither she nor her mother Rose Bailey were always convinced of that.
Monique was placed at Tarrant High School in 2003, despite having scored high marks in the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) examinations — performance in which determines the secondary school placement of Jamaican students.
“I felt terrible and I started to curse the Ministry [of Education] because I said my child got good grades and why should they place her there,” Bailey told Career & Education.
The little girl had scored between 80 and 90 per cent in all the subjects of the GSAT, save communication tasks in which she scored 12 of 12. This notwithstanding, she was placed at Tarrant. Her mother decided to send her there for a year, with the intention to transfer her in year two.
That decision was not welcomed by Monique, who said she was overcome with shame at the prospect of attending the institution, particularly when her friends talked about the traditional high schools they would attend.
“I felt terrible, I felt really bad. I remember coming home and crying about it,” she told Career & Education.
However, in the first year of school, Monique did exceptionally well and opted not to pursue a transfer. She instead stayed on for another four years and during that time got involved in a slew of extracurricular activities. She became deputy head girl and then head girl and was the valedictorian for her graduating class.
Monique also excelled at her academics, earning Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects — two with distinctions, five with credits and one with a pass. Her performance the CSEC exams allowed her to matriculate into St Hugh’s High School’s sixth form programme to complete her secondary school education.
On the occasion of her graduation from Tarrant, Monique won for herself several trophies, thanks to her performance not only in academics but also for her contribution to and impact on student life.
Now a third-year student at the International University of the Caribbean, the 21-year-old and her mother admonish parents who are quick to writeoff non-traditional high schools. They have also noted with annoyance the peppering received by Education Minister Ronald Thwaites for his announcement that parents should accept their children’s placement, following the release of the most recent GSAT results.
With school set to begin in another few weeks, Monique advises parents to give such institutions a chance, though she is well aware that some of them do not have as much resources as traditional secondary schools.
“Tarrant did have limited resources, so did the other non-traditional high schools. But what they tried to do was offer all that they can to the best of their potential. As a student, what I tried to do was to use all the resources that I had at my disposal to the best of my ability,” she said.
“They did not have the biggest library, but they tried to use it efficiently, so that every child got the chance to use the library. They did not have the biggest computer labs, but still every child got the chance to do their SBAs (school-based assessments) or whatever it was that they needed to use the computers for,” Monique added.
“It isn’t as bad as it seems because it’s really what you the student go in and put in that you would get out. You have so many students like myself who have done well,” she said further, noting that she had got better passes than many of her classmates from primary school who had gone on to attend traditional high schools.
According to Monique, instead of focusing on the negatives, she had tried while at Tarrant to find ways to improve the school. For example, she started the sign language club after her friends expressed an interest in sign language, which she had been doing since age nine. She was also a peer counsellor and was very involved in the school’s 4-H club.
Monique admitted that the transition to St Hugh’s High was a bit shaky at first, primarily because it was not a co-ed, but she excelled there too. She became a prefect, continued the sign language club, became the activities coordinator for the Inter School Christian Fellowship and was a part of the sixth form association. And, she noted, the pressure to excel academically was there as much as it was at Tarrant.
“Parents should not really look down on the nontraditional schools because no matter where you go, teachers do expect you to do well. While I was at Tarrant, teachers expected you to perform to your best,” she said.
Monique is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in general studies at the International University of the Caribbean where she continues to do well.
Her course of study allows her to major in psychology and minor in media and communications. One of her dreams, she said, is to help bridge the communication gap between the hearing impaired and those who can hear, by producing documentaries on the community and doing interpreting.
As a member of the Faith Cathedral Deliverance Centre in Kingston, Monique has been to Barbados, the Bahamas, St Kitts and Nevis as well as the Cayman Islands as a member of her church’s sign language group.
Two weeks ago, she became the recipient of a scholarship valued at $50,000 from the church’s pastor and Political Ombudsman Bishop Herro Blair during their Sunday morning service.
She beat five other tertiarylevel students to get secure the prize. Blair said that while all the students had qualified for the scholarship, Monique had proven herself an exceptional young lady and one deemed most in need of the money by the church’s selection committee.
“Her mother is seriously ill and all her mother’s salary is going into taking care of her illness and it was her mother who was the one who was sponsoring her somehow all this while,” he said.
Bailey was diagnosed with stage three cervical cancer in February this year. Despite the trauma of dealing with her mother’s illness, Monique still manages to score no less that a B-plus average in her studies.
Meanwhile, she said people often enquire why she did not enrol in a traditional university, such as the University of the West Indies or the University of Technology.
“Sometimes, I am like ‘Oh my God, again’?” she said. “But again I have the same attitude: I am going to do my best, I am going to make it, God is going to bring forth something fruitful in my life.”