News

Robberies choking Walkerswood All-Age

Computers, toilets, food items taken in 8th break-in since 2011

BY RENAE DIXON Sunday Observer staff reporter dixonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 26, 2014    

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WALKERSWOOD, St Ann — Parents, teachers and other staff members of the Walkerswood All-Age School in St Ann have stated that they are fed up with a series of robberies which has been plaguing the institution.

The most recent robbery occurred some time over last weekend, with thieves removing food items from the school's canteen valuing at over $7,000.

According to school officials, items bought last week totalled over $7,000; however, there were other items in the canteen before that purchase.

The school has lost several items in eight robberies which have occurred since May 2011, with six robberies within the last six months. Among the items lost are three toilet boils which were removed from the students' restroom. The discovery of the missing toilets was made as the school prepared for the new term earlier this month.

Two weeks later, the school was to make another depressing find. Five gallons of oil, a half-a-bag of cornmeal, along with several other food items, including eggs which were to be used to prepare meals for the students during the course of last week, were taken.

The string of robberies has been disheartening for the teachers. According to Principal Marsha Henry, during a staff meeting on Tuesday morning, January 21, teachers openly cried.

"We have to start all over. We had a meeting this morning and teachers were crying," Henry said.

"It is as if the effort we have made is not appreciated," she added.

The school is still trying to recover from previous robberies which saw all six computers owned by the institution being removed, along with an HP laser jet printer, a camera, an IBM laptop, laptop bag, a television and a Toshiba DVD Player. A refrigerator was also taken from the school.

"Everything that can use to enhance teaching and learning has been taken away," Henry told the Jamaica Observer during

an interview.

She said that all the computers used in the library to help to enhance the children's reading were taken, along with the one computer in the administrative office.

"We are back at square one," she said. "All the computers that the school has ever owned were taken."

Henry said that she has to be doing things the old way; getting letters done by hand, for example.

Several of the items stolen were donated by Coldax Mart through the Digicel Foundation. Thieves have also made off with a Literacy Cart donated by the Foundation. The cart was one of 50 donated to schools across the island.

A safe at the institution, with important documents, was stolen last year. Henry said that she was preparing for national inspection and had put all her documents together when the safe was removed.

She believes that the culprits may have thought that the box contained money.

Materials bought to be used to make tablecloths in a dinning area for the school's 147 students were also stolen.

Following several robberies at the school in 2013, the Ministry of Education ensured that the school had adequate lighting and that all classrooms had doors. However, that has not deterred criminals who have repeatedly picked the locks and entered the school to remove items.

What has been even more unsettling for Henry and her staff is the way the criminals have been operating.

"They close back the doors, the windows and grilles when they leave, so you do not know that there has been a robbery until you actually go inside," she explained.

She pointed out that with the robbery of the toilets, she only found out that they were missing when the janitor went to clean the restroom, as the culprits had closed back the door and turned off the water leading to the facility.

During the robberies, charts and several other items used by teachers were also destroyed.

With work being done on the institution, workmen had left plyboard in a classroom at the institution, some of which were also stolen.

The school currently has no security guard or watchman and is not fenced and so it is forced to continue to operate at risk, until the situation is addressed.

"There is nothing we can do but try and protect ourselves," Henry stated.

She said students are depending on the school for meals, and so food items will still have to be bought although there is no guarantee that they will not be stolen.

Henry and her team are now awaiting plans by the ministry to have the school secured.

According to her, Regional Director Maxine Headlam, head of Region Three, and other personnel have been very supportive. She explained that Headlam is now looking to have security personnel placed at the institution.

Henry said that she has written a letter to the ministry outlining the urgency with which the matter needs to be addressed.

Parents staged a peaceful demonstration at the institution on Tuesday. They said that if nothing is done to address the issues faced by the school they will mount a bigger demonstration.

Henry said that the school has been receiving assistance from the Jamaica Defence Force, which has collaborated with the Ministry of Education to get work at the institution done. The Ferncourt High School has also been assisting with metal work to increase the security at the school.

"A number of persons have offered to assist," Henry said.

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