BY DENISE DENNIS Career & Education staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
THE Rotary Club of New Kingston (RCNK) last week handed over $2.3 million to the Swallowfield Learning Centre, as part of efforts to enhance the quality of its offerings to the children it serves.
The centre, established in 1997, is an initiative of the Swallowfield Chapel and serves the community of Swallowfield by helping to improve literacy levels among young residents and preparing students for the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT).
However, Swallowfield Chapel, which manages the programme along with the RCNK, recently had to reduce its allocation to the centre because of financial constraints.
As a result, RCNK appealed to Rotary's international network to source additional funds and was rewarded for their efforts. They were provided with US$27,000 (J$2.3 million) to be used over the 2012/2014 period.
"It's an absolutely amazing project and we can continue to expand on that. Our focus is getting the kids' general literacy up and also their social skills," said RCNK past president Richard Pandohie.
Classes are held on Saturdays from 9:00 am to 12 noon, with children provided with breakfast and lunch, as well as a social and spiritual intervention programme.
"[We are] taking these kids and letting them see that there is another way to approach even their conflict resolution and [another way to] approach each other. That is where the church plays a critical role," Pandohie said.
According to Camille Brady, ministry leader at the centre, over the years they have observed continued improvement in the children who participate in the programme. This year, for example, she said up to 60 per cent of the children who sat GSAT earned a place in a traditional high school.
"When we started, we recognised that there were several deficiencies with the students and they were performing at a level that was below where they should be," she said.
Three years ago, they started bringing in specialists and had diagnostic tests done to place students in groups based on their literacy level, rather than on their grade level, had been done previously.
The centre now operates four classes — pre-primer, remedial, pre-GSAT, and GSAT — all of them run by trained teachers and they have seen positive results.
"We ensure that each year we try to do just a little bit more, just to increase the performance level of the children and to improve the values of the children," Brady said.
She added that the centre held a parenting conference last year to encourage parents to become more involved in their children's education, but there is still a need for greater parental involvement. And due to the stagnant social environment, Brady said many children do not place emphasis on education.
"That [valuing education] is something that we try to instil in them and we try to encourage them, which is something they don't get at home," she noted.
Meanwhile, RCNK plans to offer mentorship to the children in the programme, made up mostly of boys, as a way to provide them with a father figure. They are also hoping to provide a library and computer room for the centre. But to make it all happen, Pandohie said they will need assistance from the wider community.