BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
The 22 Morant Bay High School fourth form students who took mathematics at the most recent sitting of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams have created history at the St Thomas institution - twenty one of them gained grade one, with the other receiving two.
As a result, the school has since introduced add math to the now fifth formers, a practice which will become a regular feature at the institution.
And if that's not enough good news, the school is also celebrating another achievement as 183 of the approximately 205 students who sat the CSEC exams gained five or more subjects, with some passing as many as 12 in one sitting.
Senior Vice Principal Lorveen Bell-Coates said her students have always been passing 12 and 13 subjects in one sitting, however, this is the first year that so many of them passed five or more subjects.
Bell-Coates cited the performance of her son Kadane, who gained 12 ones and a two in 2010 and another student, Lerron Smith, who yielded similar results in 2012, as two examples of this success over the years.
The school has an open timetable, which allows students to do as many subjects as they have the ability to do.
"This year is so exceptional because the good performance was spread wide throughout the group and we had far more students getting five subjects," an elated Bell-Coates told the Jamaica Observer North East.
This year's CSEC results saw the school receiving 100 per cent pass in agriculture science, building technology, clothing and textiles, food and nutrition, French, geography, home economics management, physical education, religious education, and social studies. The school also received 99 per cent pass in principles of accounts and principles of business; 98 per cent in biology and chemistry; 93 per cent in both English language and English literature; 94 per cent in human and social biology, 97 per cent in office administration; 92 per cent in mechanical engineering technology; 94 per cent in physics and 77 per cent pass in maths.
Bell-Coates said she is particularly proud of the boys as 18 of them received ones in English Literature, a subject which they do not usually master.
"We were also on the CSEC merit list for Jamaica for results in Caribbean history, clothing and textile, social studies and physical education," she informed.
A model which has worked well for the school, and one which is not generally employed at other institutions, is that the year supervisor also moves up the various grades with the students.
"Over the years the year supervisor goes with the children from first to fifth form so they act as the stability in their lives and almost like their parents," Bell-Coates said.
Year supervisor for the 2013 graduates Beverly McDermot concurred.
She has been at the school since 1980 and said she is particularly pleased with the performance of this batch of students who have outperformed the other three batches she supervised in her 20 years as year supervisor.
"When this batch first came in they were doing well but by the time they got to fourth form they relaxed a bit and so we were concerned about their end-of-year performance. So, the teachers met and we called in the parents and those who were not likely to be recommended were addressed by different persons and the students said they would surprise me".
She also lauded the dedication of her colleagues in ensuring that the students did well.
"Sometimes even late in the evening you find teachers here working with the students and sometimes we don't even get to have our lunch time," she said.
Male valedictorian Onandi White, who gained nine ones at the recent CSEC sitting, also credited their success to the dedication of the teachers.
"It has to do with the teachers, as they are very motivating and inspirational," said white, now a lower sixth form student, adding that they are concerned about the entire well-being of the students.
McDermot was equally elated that all 53 students who did the food and nutrition exams passed, with 31 of them receiving grade one.
Bell-Coates, too, attributed the students' success to the commitment of the teaching staff, which consists of a number of long-tenure teachers as well as several past students. This, she noted, was evident in the fact that the school has one of the highest compliance rates for completing the School Based Assessment (SBA) component of the CSEC exams.
"The students are supervised in doing their SBA by teachers who are not paid extra to do this, unlike what obtains in some other schools, and who stay back as late as possible to help them," she said.
"And when our students don't do their SBAs the principal, Mohan Kumar, calls in their parents and even if they have to sit here and do it we ensure that it is done," she told the Observer North East.
The students also benefit from an 'extended day' which sees classes going from 7:50 am to 4:10 pm.
The senior vice principal added that the school's non-teaching staff also take special interest in the welfare of the students and volunteer a lot of their time to ensuring that all is done to prepare them.
"We don't have a big business community here in St Thomas and so our guidance counsellors literally have to go and beg $500 here and there to help some of our needy students," she said.
Guidance Counsellor Lesa James-Richardson has gone a bit further than that, by staging a benefit performance of a play she wrote to raise funds for students in need.
She further boasted that the students have been able to succeed despite the limited resources the school has at its disposal. She cited the example of information technology which the school cannot afford to offer to the students before grade 10.
"We only have three functioning computer labs but we do computer science at CAPE and so we would need at least two more," she said, adding that the school also needs more space for a lot of the practical areas.
Another feature of the high school is that all students are required to do one practical subject.
"Regardless of how (academically advanced)the student is they have to do a practical subject," she said.
Although not a technical high school, the institution offers the entire gamut of practical courses.
"We [industrial technology department] send up about 100 students for CSEC each year, and our average pass mark is about 90 per cent in total," explained technical drawing teacher Andre Gray.
Given the school's lack of resources for the practical areas, Gray also emphasised that the commitment of the teachers is to be credited for the students' success.
"It is the determination and passion we have for the job. Because we are not a technical school we don't get to do the full amount of sessions and so to make it work we have to make ourselves available to give the students extra lessons and we don't charge anything for it," he said.
"Is night we leave here sometimes and so we sacrifice a lot of time," added Gray's colleague, Elvis McGill.
The institution gets the bulk of the top GSAT students in the parish, particularly from its main feeder school Lysons Primary, but Bell-Coates said they also receive some weak ones who they work with to bring them up to par.
She was particularly proud of one such student, who was only recommended to do Visual Arts in CSEC. He did so well, she said, that he was admitted to the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts under a special programme.
Bell-Coates, who has been at the institution for the past 32 years, said there is focus on extra-curricular activities as well, with 25 clubs and societies as well as various sporting events.
The school is also strongly supported by its past students.
Some of the past students who are now teaching at the school.
Students preparing various dishes in the crammed Homes Economics room.
This student is supervised by technical drawing teacher Oshane Johnson.
Technical drawing and electrical electronics teacher Andre Gray oversees the work of some students.
Principal of Morant Bay High Mohan Kumar.
Year supervisor Beverley McDermot.
Although some of the sixth formers, seen here studying along the corridor, do not have designated classrooms, the school has also excel in this year's CAPE exams.
Vice principal Lorveen Bell-Coates explained some of the strategies the school employs to ensure the success of the students.
These boys are supervised in their woodwork class by head of the industrial technology department Elvis McGill.
Valedictorians 17-year-old Onandi White who gained nine ones in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and 17-year-old Georgia Harris who copped 10 ones in the CSEC
These boys in their welding class.
(Photos: Lionel Rookwood)