BY LUKE DOUGLAS Career & Education senior reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
FIFTY high school students, most of them from inner-city and lower income families, are enjoying an exciting summer as part of the Dream Jamaica Academy, which runs for four weeks this month.
A summer camp with a difference, Dream Jamaica ensures students improve their performance in academic subjects, but also introduces them to exciting careers and takes them on fulfilling field trips, all at no cost to them.
"Dream Jamaica caters to high school students; to get them college and career ready. We have a unique classroom setting, which is not academic intensive, and we try to expose students to different career options, and provide access to information about scholarships," said the non-profit organisation's Executive Director Michelle Rankine.
Now in its fifth year, including the last four summers at the University of the West Indies' Mona campus, Dream Jamaica is the brainchild of Shemiele Da'Briel. In 2008, when the St Jago High past student visited her alma mater from the United States to donate some computers, she was concerned about how little the students knew about their career options.
"Speaking with students, they seemed a bit lost as to their next steps after high school," Rankine said.
The result was that Da'Briel raised enough money — mostly from Jamaicans living in Seattle — to take five students to an aviation camp in Los Angeles.
Convinced of the need for something more permanent, Da'Briel founded Dream Jamaica and has held an annual summer camp for students from first to sixth form. The numbers have grown from 20 in 2009 to 50 this year, with plans to reach as many as 100 next year.
Dream Jamaica organises students into clusters:
* Exploration for first and second formers;
* Career Discovery for third and fourth form;
* College Prep for fifth and sixth formers; and
* Internship for those entering university.
Each cluster has different objectives, so the youngest group may emphasise cultural field trips while for the older groups, there is greater focus on careers.
For example, on a trip to Beaches Boscobel, the younger students just enjoyed the facility while the Career Discovery cluster had sessions with the general manager, chef, and marketing department before they were allowed to have fun on the property.
Meanwhile, each student must fulfil the academic component of the camp, which sees them educated in, for example, mathematics and English, as well as complete a portfolio.
"We require differences in their portfolios. For the Exploration cluster, each student has a dream book with a dream collage, an essay, and a personal statement. They start learning how to do a résumé, cover letter, thank you letter, contingency plan, and study skills checklist," Rankine explained to Career & Education.
Representatives from corporate organisations are invited speak on various topics and offer themselves as mentors.
Interesting places visited by Dream Jamaica include KLAS Radio, the Jamaica Urban Transit Company, JDF Coast Guard, Caribbean Maritime Institute, LIME, Liberty Hall, Bank of Jamaica, Sun Valley Plantation Tours in St Mary, Jam Blue Coffee, National Children's Home, Port Royal for a beach clean-up, Crazy Jim Ice Cream factory, and Mayfield Falls in Westmoreland.
"This is the most exciting experience I have had in my life," gushed 12-year-old Alex Brown from Greater Portmore, St Catherine. "I have learned so much from every one of the teachers. I hope to come every year."
Brown, who enters second form at Jamaica College in September and wants to become an astronomy scientist, said he learned to "never give up or doubt yourself, but to just keep on trying".
St Jago past student Chevaughn Whyte, 19, is now a co-ordinator at Dream Jamaica, having been with the camp from its inception.
"It's a very inspiring programme. If you are a bit confused about what you want to do in life or need, or don't know what you want to become, this is the programme for you," said Whyte, who starts at UWI in a month's time.
"It has helped me improve my public speaking and has given me a high level of determination to strive for my goals. It gave me the drive to start an Aviation Club at St Jago in 2009," he added.
Crystal Hamilton from Christian Gardens in Portmore has been impressed by the range of presenters at the camp.
"We learned about self-esteem and to think before you say things about others," said the 14-year-old who is entering third form at Ardenne this school year.
"It's a good programme because it has helped me decide what careers I wish to pursue," added the future flight attendant, teacher and cosmetologist.
"Dream Jamaica is the place to be; if you are lost you will be found. You learn what you need to do to benefit yourself and your family," noted 17-year-old Trench Town resident Kevin Blackwood, who is awaiting his CSEC results. The former Excelsior Manning Cup footballer hopes to go to sixth form.
The students are transported daily to camp by three buses from Half-Way-Tree, Portmore and Spanish Town and also receive lunch. All of this is made possible through donations, Rankine said.
"We host four banquets per year, plus we have art sales, raffles, and a system for online donations. All the money we earn is matched by Microsoft," she said.