A brighter future seen for Penwood High School

Staff reporter

Sunday, May 12, 2019

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The highlight of Education Week 2019 for students at Penwood High School was the staging of the institution's annual Open Day, held under the theme 'Building a Brighter Future, Educate and Empower '.

“That is our vision. We decided to infuse Open Day into Education Week because we want the students to be educated and we want to empower them with lifelong skills that they can actually use to develop themselves as citizens of Jamaica,” said Open Day committee coordinator Alsean Rowe.

“The vision of the school is to become a school of choice. This is hard work but we are committed to the task and we have been working assiduously. We have been working with students inside the classroom as well as outside of the classroom to meet the educational objectives of the institution,” Rowe went on.

To this end, Rowe said that the school decided to re-launch Open Day after years of it going dormant in a bid to showcase the work of approximately 250 students now engaged across seven vocational subject areas.

These included Electrical and Automotive Technology, Forklift Operation and Motor Vehicle Repairs, Family and Resource Management, Carpentry, Food and Nutrition, Electronic Document Preparation and Management (EDPM), as well as Business Administration and General Cosmetology.

“Our students were actively engaged in learning. They got a chance to familiarise themselves with the different areas because sometimes the students, having chosen particular subject areas, become so accustomed to just that. But with Open Day, they get to see what is happening in all areas.”

The students also got to access services from various institutions that were invited to be a part of the day's activities. Choice Business Solutions for example was there to put students in their database to follow up with them on summer employment opportunities.

“We also have ScotiaBank who came to open accounts for the students because when they go into the working world, they have to come back to us for references in order to open the account. So we try to make the process easier for them by having the Bank of Nova Scotia at our Open Day this year,” said Rowe.

The school's auditorium was abuzz with activity, with displays that ranged from the prototype of a townhouse produced by students of Family and Resource Management, to a fuel system and lighting system created by Automotive Technology students.

Automotive Technology teacher, Matthew McDonald explained that students at Penwood High are now being encouraged to enter technology fields.

“Currently we have an Industrial Department that comprises Automotive Technology, Technical Drawing, Construction Technology, as well as Welding Technology. We have approximately 25 students to each vocation and we believe that all students should be tech-vocationally savvy. So for us at Penwood High, we have encouraged students to do a vocational subject, and so far, the students are very much receptive to the programmes,” said McDonald.

Sandwiched between the tough neighbourhoods of Olympic Gardens and Cockburn Gardens, Penwood High School has been beset by several challenges known to plague non-traditional high schools.

“I can tell you that it is not an easy job because when our students come to us from GSAT and GNAT, their scores are five, 10, 15, so you find that the teachers here have to work double to bring them up to par to enable them to sit an exam,” said Donna McLaren, the school's Principal,

She explained that while the students perform better in the vocational field compared to academic subject areas, efforts have been made to improve the school's overall performance.

“The students are stronger in their vocational areas, but we are working with them to improve on the academic aspect of their education here at Penwood High. We do have remedial programmes because once they come to us at the level, we have to put some intervention in place and that is why we have two reading labs. So all the students have to do a test which is called the IDRI testing and then we place them according to that result,” she added.

McLaren noted further that the lack of parental support and guidance at home was another primary challenge for the school.

“Most of the burden falls on the school because our parental support is low. We have been trying to get the parents to be more involved and we ask them to invest more time into their children's academic and school life because most of our students don't have any support at home, so when they come to us, this is the only environment that can give them the support that they need.”

“I believe that it should be a partnership between us the school, and the household and communities that they come from.”

In the meantime however, McLaren emphasised that Penwood High has had some successes. For one, she said they are the number one performing school in Electrical Technology and Cosmetology in the region one Kingston and St Andrew school district.

Also, extra-curricular activities such as Taekwondo and Squash have become areas in which Penwood High school students have been excelling. For example, Deandre Elliot who is member of Jamaica's national Taekwondo team was introduced to the sport at the school.

“I was introduced to Taekwondo as a form of anger management at school from grade nine and from then I have been very successful at it. I competed in Orlando Florida, at Disney Land. I came third in about four fights and got a trophy competing from Jamaica,” said the grade eleven student.

“We also have some students who play Squash at the Liguanae Club, completely sponsored by the Liguanae Club, and one of the students he competed in the under-17 competition last year”, said McLaren.

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