Careers & Education

Schools use powerful names to inspire students

BY LUKE DOUGLAS Career & Education senior reporter douglasl@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 02, 2012    

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THE launch of the civics programme incorporating the teachings of Marcus Garvey at a school named in the National Hero's honour in St Ann's Bay was a reminder of the number of institutions named after persons who have made a positive impact on Jamaica and the world.

Ironically, many of the schools that bear the names of great leaders are not performing at a level befitting the accomplishments of the people in their titles.

However, principals of these mostly non-traditional high schools say they use the achievements of those whose names they bear to inspire students to improve their performance, and plan activities to perpetuate their legacy in the children's minds.

At Claude McKay High in James Hill, Clarendon, September 15 each year is celebrated as Claude McKay Day. The small community, where McKay was born in 1889 and spent his formative years before going on to become one of the leading poets and writers of the Harlem Renaissance in the United States, hosts a number activities in his honour.

"The 15th of September is Claude McKay's birthday and every child in this school must learn about Claude McKay," principal Glennor Wilson told Career & Education. "We have started a Claude McKay Foundation. We have a symposium on his work, we have performances, quizzes, competitions. We journey to where he was born, where he played marbles, where he swam in the river. We have many activities to keep his memory alive."

Additionally, a section of the school's library with several of his works is dedicated to the literary giant, the principal disclosed. She also uses a DVD of the television programme Hill and Gully Ride on McKay to spark interest among the students.

McKay, who died in 1948 is perhaps best known for his poems If We Must Die and Home to Harlem.

Located in the inner-city community of South West St Andrew, Haile Selassie High experiences a number of challenges. But principal Lorenzo Ellis tries to use the name of the former Ethiopian Emperor, who inspired the establishment of the world-famous Rastafari movement to spur excellence in his students.

"This is the only school in the western hemisphere named after an Emperor," Ellis proudly declared.

April 21 has been declared Founder's Day, and each year the school collaborates with the Rastafarian community to commemorate Selassie's visit to the island in 1966.

"We invite persons from the Rastafarian community to speak about Haile Selassie and put on a cultural show," Ellis disclosed

He said Selassie donated the land on which the school was built, with the institution being completed in 1969.

The celebration is improved each year, with features, including films of Selassie's life and visit to Jamaica, exhibitions of pictures of the Emperor, and last April the Rastafarian community staged a re-enactment of his visit, complete with a motorcade from the Norman Manley International Airport, stopping at Mico University College, a salute at the school, and ending with a show at National Heroes' Circle.

The school has also redefined its core values using words from the letters of the word 'Haile'.

"H is for honour, A for accountability, I for industry, L for leadership and E for excellence. From these core values, we have built a vision statement — Building a culture of excellence. I speak about that every day at general assembly," Ellis said.

The principal admitted that it was a challenge inspiring the students even with an icon like Selassie. Many of these students have been low achievers academically who come from poor economic backgrounds.

"It's not a natural thing that they gravitate towards, but we have to try and build an understanding around it. We have to come with new and creative ways to deal with their realities and challenges," Ellis said.

While not achieving high numbers of academic scholars, the principal said there were "encouraging passes" in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations in subjects like social studies, physical education, electronic document preparation, and management.

The school has set a target of 55 per cent passing grades from its CSEC entries next year, up from 46 per cent this year.

Over at Edith Dalton James High in Duhaney Park, St Andrew, principal Ray Howell organises a function each February to perpetuate the memory of the outstanding educator and legislator for whom the school is named.

Born in 1896, Edith Dalton James began her long and distinguished career as a teacher at age 19 and was a four-time president of the Jamaica Union of Teachers, the forerunner organisation of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA).

She was a foundation member of the People's National Party and was a member of the Legislative Council from 1959 to 1962. She died in 1976 and the school was opened the following year.

"Each year, we get in touch with people related to her and get them to speak at the school. Last year, I met one of her past students. We also invite guest speakers from the Jamaica Teachers' Association," said Howell, himself a former president of the JTA.

Howell said while efforts have been made to inspire the students with Dalton James' life, he admits that more can be done.

"Every interview that I do, people are always asking who is Edith Dalton James. We have photos that we have blown up and put in the foyer. Most students are aware of who she is, but we need to do more because every year, it is a new set of students [entering the school]," he said.

The principal said he was unable to give percentage passes in the various subjects in CSEC, but said a few students performed brilliantly, despite entering the school with low Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) scores.

"A student who got 10 subjects overall came in at grade seven with seven out of 12 in communication tasks and an average in the 40s in GSAT," he said.

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