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Steer Town Academy silences critics

New school excels in science competitions, now representing Ja in Caribbean contest

BY RENAE DIXON Sunday Observer reporter dixonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 03, 2014    

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PROBABLY the most demotivating challenge Steer Town Academy has faced in its four short years is that of being labelled a school for slow learners.

However, the school has silenced many of its critics as it is now representing Jamaica at the Caribbean Youth Science Forum in Trinidad and Tobago which begins today and ends on August 11.

When the Jamaica Observer spoke to the team, comprising five boys and their teachers, days before they departed the island, the students were quite ecstatic to not only be representing their school, but also their country.

Steer Town Academy was selected to represent Jamaica after beating major high schools across the island to win three science-related competitions recently. The school won the Ministry of Education TVET Quality Award, the Agrotech 4H competition and, most recently, the Scientific Research Council's Young Innovators competition for its Automated Mobile Farm.

Buoyed by those triumphs, the school will now be seeking to make a bigger impression at the Caribbean forum. According to teacher Andre Yeeshui, the students will be presenting a device that can preserve milk, bread and other items for up to five days without the use of direct electricity.

"As a new school being able to represent Jamaica it's a great opportunity; we feel elated," said Yeeshui. "We know that we will do Jamaica proud."

Both students and teachers, he said, were proud as this is a first for the school. And they expect to win, as they did with their Automated Mobile Farm.

Teacher Deron Grant, who also works with the students and who is currently accompanying them to the Caribbean Forum, said the idea of creating an automated mobile farm was born out of the school's topography.

"The school does not have a flat area to farm, so we came up with the idea of a mobile farm," Grant explained.

Although they have reaped success in their last three competitions, Grant said preparations for the Caribbean Youth Science Forum have been difficult.

"It has been very challenging, because as teachers we have a lot of work to do," he explained.

However, Grant and the team told the Sunday Observer that they were overwhelmed at being able to represent Steer Town Academy and Jamaica.

"Words cannot explain what it means to us, as one of the newest schools in Jamaica," he said, adding that despite the negative perception many people hold of the school, Steer Town Academy has been producing quality students and will continue to do so.

The five boys who make up the team were also happy to be able to help portray their school's success.

One of them, Andre Gouldbourne, said when he started at Steer Town Academy he was crestfallen because people held the perception that only children who did not do well in the GSAT examinations were placed there.

"I feel very excited, because when I just started this school I was feeling very sad and ashamed," he stated.

Now the youngster said he is motivated to enter other competitions. Gouldbourne, who is now in grade 10, said he wants to leave a rich legacy at Steer Town Academy so people will be proud of the school.

"We want to know that when we leave, we leave a high standard. We want to know that the school is one of the best in Jamaica," he stated.

Captain of the team, Nicholas Patterson, said he, too, was overjoyed at the opportunity to represent his school and country. "I feel very elated, happy. I always wanted to represent my country in some sort of event and this is an opportunity and I feel very happy," said Patterson, who intends to study management information systems.

He explained that the team comprises students studying electrical science, chemistry, agricultural science, and building technology.

Gawaine Anderson, another team member, said representing Jamaica and Steer Town Academy was overwhelming.

"Words cannot explain how we feel. I just feel happy in myself," Anderson said.

His teammate, Dejon McCormack, concurred. "I feel very happy. It's my first time doing an extra-curricular activity. The first time it felt like a challenge but the first competition built my confidence. I feel very proud to represent Jamaica," he said.

The students were also happy for the opportunity to travel outside Jamaica as they had not been overseas before. They pledged to be great ambassadors for their country during the time spent in Trinidad and Tobago.

"We want people to know that Jamaica is a country of quality with very educated students," Gouldbourne said.

Principal Marcia Grant was also happy for her school's participation in the competition.

"It's a good experience for them. It will make Steer Town Academy known to the world now, because we are new. I am very happy that we can send our students there... we intend to win the competition," she said.

Grant said she was also happy that the students will show that the perception of the public is different from what really exists at the school.

"We are just happy that we can represent Jamaica. It's a good opportunity that can make us known to Jamaica," she added.

In addition to the introduction of a sixth-form programme, Grant believes participation in this competition will boost the image of the school.

In the meantime, Yeeshui said the school was grateful to the sponsors who assisted with purchasing airline tickets and the items needed for the team's travel and participation in the competition.

"We want to thank Supreme Ventures Limited, PetroCaribe, Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica and Irie FM," Yeeshui said.

But amidst their joy, Grant said he was disappointed that the team has not been congratulated or recognised by any governmental body, including the ministries of education and agriculture.

"I don't know if it's because we are in the rural area, a new school, or because our teachers are not well-known," he said.

However, the team, Yeeshui insisted, is determined to do well at the competition. "We expect to win, and even if we do not win, we will represent Jamaica well," he said.

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