Careers & Education

Penwood High students shine in CSEC math

BY DENISE DENNIS Career & Education staff reporter dennisd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 09, 2012    

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ANTONIO Burton, Nicholas Tyrell and Rushion Hales — all grade nine students at Penwood High last year — have demonstrated what hard work and a little commitment can achieve when it comes to mathematics.

Antonio, 14, earned a grade two in the subject at the recent sitting of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations while Nicholas and Rushion, both 15 years old, earned grade ones. The teens are now being hailed as shining examples for other students at their institution, which is located in the inner-city community of Olympic Gardens.

"Just like how I can do it, they can do it. They just need to put their minds to it and practise and do what the teacher says, because the teacher is going to want you to pass," said Antonio, who has dreams of one day owning his own business.

The educator who inspired the trio was Ricky Harrison; he took up the position as a math teacher at the struggling high school last year. Immediately, he began his search for math potential, sending out a notice to the students in grades nine and 10; any student who wanted to do CSEC math exam at the next sitting should register for classes with him.

Six students responded. They began a study regimen, which saw them beating the books in the mornings, evenings, at weekends and on holidays. But while Antonio, Nicholas and Rushion stuck to the programme, the others did not. As a result, they were not successful in the exam.

"The three students who didn't pass, I had to 'run them down' in order for them to come to class. Although they had signed up to do [the classes and the exam], they didn't want to put out that extra effort," Harrison said. "But the three students who passed, they came to me in the mornings, at lunch time, after school and on Saturdays. If the other three had showed that interest, at least they would have passed. But they weren't consistent."

Harrison's teaching experience started in 1986 at Kingston High, where he was instrumental in creating the cultural group, the Kingston Drummers. He later went to England, where he did a master's degree in business at the University of Leicester. After completing that degree, he got a job there at a school of continuing education, teaching mathematics.

Ten years later, he returned to Jamaica and got the job at Penwood.

"I saw a lot of mathematical potential in the students, so that just gave me the idea to give them the mathematical experience at the CXC level -- whether they pass or not," Harrison said.

A virtual learning software he brought back with him from England was among the tools he used to prepare the boys for CSEC math. He also got their parents involved.

"That was very important. I would call them [the parents] maybe once a month to provide updates on the progress of the children," Harrison said.

He began to teach them from the CSEC math syllabus last September and finished in January. Weekly tests and revision followed, in the run-up to the regional exam.

From those tests, Harrison would highlight the mistakes, itemise each question and make comments so the students would knowhow to avoid the mistakes. The tests also served to familiarise them with the format of the exam.

For Antonio, the experience was a tough one.

"It was very hard. Sometimes I got home late from class, like 6:00 or 7:00 pm because we were doing a lot of practice to get better and better," the youth told Career & Education. "But now it feels good to know that I can do it."

Nicholas, on the other hand, found the consistent studying a little easier to handle. He has encouraged his schoolmates to remain committed to academic excellence and said critical to making it a reality was believing in themselves and refusing to yield to peer pressure.

"Anything you set your minds to, you can do it," said Nicholas, who intends to pursue computer programming as a career.

Harrison has noted his hope that the boys' achievement would serve to motivate other students at Penwood High.

"This is the first time the school has achieved these passes at the grade nine level. If these guys can do it at the nine grade level, that means anybody can do it once you take the subject seriously," he said.

Harrison has advised other math teachers to remain committed to the profession.

"If you are going to do a mediocre thing, it's not going to work. But if you are committed to the students in terms of paying attention to the details of their work and to the students' weaknesses, I think there will be better results," he said.

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