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Prayers answered

Mt Alvernia High needed one new building, now they have three

BY MARK CUMMINGS Editor-at-Large, Western Bureau cummingsm@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, June 09, 2014    

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — When Mount Alvernia High School resumed its sixth-form programme with 35 students -- after a 34-year-hiatus — in September 2012 under less than desirable conditions at its former hostel, the board of management of the all-girls' institution had no idea where funds would come from to construct the much-needed classrooms to accommodate students.

Cognisant of the great need for the sixth-form programme, principal of the school, Therisa Cherian, a Roman Catholic who is a firm believer that prayer can move mountains, as well as the members of the board, remained confident that one day their prayers would be answered.

"We trust and we will continue to pray because all that you see here is the result of prayers. We just kept praying and hoping and the Lord has delivered, and so we thank God for His provision. We started out in faith and while we had hoped to get one building, we were blessed with three," Cherian told a small gathering of education stakeholders at the school on Thursday during the official handing over ceremony for buildings donated by the charitable organisation, Food For the Poor (FFP).

The new buildings at the 89-year-old school, located on 'the hill' in the resort city of Montego Bay, consists of two classrooms for the sixth formers, a visual arts block and a building for clothing and textile. Landscaping of the area also formed part of the entire project undertaken by FFP which, according to Clive Spencer, the organisation's project co-ordinator, was done at a cost of roughly $9 million.

On Thursday, Cherian lauded FFP for transforming "the once drab area of the school beyond recognition".

She later told the Jamaica Observer that the new buildings will allow for the creation of additional spaces for students who want to pursue courses at the grade 12 and 13 levels.

There are currently 94 sixth-form students enrolled at the school, but with the creation of the additional space the number is expected to increase to roughly 130 next year, Cherian pointed out.

Earlier, she outlined to the gathering the reasons that the school had taken the decision to resume the sixth-form programme, which started in 1968 and was discontinued 10 years later.

"It was discontinued when Montego Bay Community College was started, and we also had, at that time, difficulty finding trained teachers for the various subjects, so it was more economical to be at the community college, so our sixth-form programme was disbanded," she explained.

However, as time went by, it became very difficult for parents to afford the school fees at Montego Bay Community College, "so the Mount Alvernia school board, under the chairmanship of Greta Ffolkes, was always concerned about our capable students of Grade 11 graduating, but facing uncertainties due to financial difficulties, and not being able to progress further", Cherian said.

"Some parents were also badgering the school board to resume sixth form because they did not think that their daughters were ready for the liberal atmosphere at the community college," added the principal.

According to Cherian, who was appointed principal of the school in 2008, after spending 27 years at Montego Bay High, another all-girls' school, plans to resume the sixth form programme began in 2010 and "these were concretised into reality in September 2012".

She stressed that the school could start only with a cohort of 35 students due to limited space, adding that the only available space was the hostel building, even though the area was very small.

She explained that the idea to approach FFP for help stemmed from discussions the board had with Father Carl Clarke, vicar for education in the Diocese of Montego Bay, who suggested that the organisation should be asked to provide two classrooms.

According to Cherian, the idea got the blessings of FFP manager for the western region Hyacinth Lindo, who also chairs the school board; the Franciscan Sisters who own the property; the Diocese of Montego Bay, which oversees the school; and Bishop Burchell McPherson.

Following the completion of the buildings, she said, Food For the Poor donated desks, chairs, 12 regular sewing machines, three industrial sewing machines, and tables.

Food For the Poor's Director of Construction Services Marlon Stephens, in his brief remarks at the handing-over ceremony, urged the students to make good use of the building.

"Food For the Poor is especially pleased to be associated with the construction of Mount Alvernia, not only because it is a Catholic institution, but it represents the advancement of females, and also because it represents the creation of opportunities," he said.

Mount Alvernia High was founded in 1925 by the Franciscan Sisters with a handful of students.

In August 1959, it became a grant-aided school with an enrolment of 71 students.

Over the years, the population of the school increased rapidly, resulting in the construction of new blocks of classrooms to keep pace with the growing numbers.

Today, the school whose motto is: Ad Astra Per Aspera (To the stars through difficulties) has a register of 57 full-time and seven part-time teachers and roughly 1,400 students, 80 per cent of whom, Cherian told the Observer, are from a number of inner-city communities in St James.

"We have lots of them from Norwood, Flanker, Lilliput, King Street... and some from as far as Westmoreland," Cherian said, adding that

"the students come on their own merit and because they know that this school gives quality education".

"We are not about profiling, we are about teaching and learning and I am very passionate about what I am doing. I believe that this is God's will for me. I enjoy children because they are the hope for the country," added Cherian, who admitted that she is a disciplinarian.

"The students say that I am strict, but they also see what I am trying to achieve. Many persons are strict and harsh, I am strict but I am not harsh, I try to make them understand what I am doing," said the senior educator.

She stressed that one of her goals when she was appointed principal six years ago was to improve the quality of the examination results of the students.

"We were getting good results already, but I wanted to improve the quality. That means I wanted the students to get more distinctions. Now, within five years, we have a 100 per cent increase in distinctions, so we are now on par with Montego Bay High," she emphasised.

The other goals, she added, were to get the past students to contribute to the development of the school and to restart the sixth form.

The past students representing the South Florida and local chapters, she noted, were responsible for the recent refurbishing of the school's biology laboratory, which was also officially handed over to the school last Thursday.

Plans are also afoot to refurbish the physics and chemistry laboratories.

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