The Little Authors of St Joseph's Infant School

BY SHANAE STEWART
Observer staff reporter
stewarts@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 02, 2019

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A programme aimed at honing the writing skills of above-average students is proving a source of pride and joy for the principal and teachers of St Joseph's Infant School on Duke Street, downtown Kingston.

According to Principal Rosemarie Clarke, the 'Little Authors' initiative, which results in the students writing books, is run parallel to an intervention programme that targets those who are operating below average “because we want to offer additional experiences to bring them to the level of their peers”.

“The students who we saw performing above average are the ones who have completed writing their books and are our Little Authors. Reading in particular is practised all the time, hence our library. The students are encouraged to go there and read, borrow a book, and after completing a book, they have to tell their teacher what the book was about. We focus a lot on literacy here at St Joseph's Infant,” Clarke explained.

Complementing that focus on literacy is another programme titled 'I Can Read; Can You Read?' which involves students reading on the intercom for the entire school. That, Clarke shared, makes other children extremely eager to participate.

“We have from the youngest class to the oldest class wanting to do this. They are also sometimes given sentence strips because we are encouraging reading all the time,” she said.

Shayne Dillon-Gray, the teacher at the helm of the Little Authors project, was a natural fit as reading, she told the Jamaica Observer, is her passion. She believes that children can learn to read from as early as possible, once they are guided properly.

“The Little Authors initiative caters to the five and six year olds who will soon be matriculating to the primary level. However, our hope is that we will have authors from all the different age groups in the school going forward,” Dillon-Gray said.

“What we did was to identify the students who wanted to write and we zoomed in on that to try to stimulate them and encourage them to do more.

“So, what we have done is to allow them to be writing stories, separate from the prescribed journal entries. They come in and sit for half an hour in the mornings and they write a sentence or two by themselves. They are able to spell the words correctly, all on their own. At times there are some small corrections, but nothing major,” she said.

Dillon-Gray also said that if she has to make any adjustments to the children's stories, they would say, “Miss, I don't like that. Is not suh it go.”

“They know exactly how they want their stories to go, and we currently have 15 authors. The content and illustrations in the books were created by the students. It's all their work,” Clarke said with pride.

According to Clarke, she began working on the books with the students in January this year and completed them in May in time for Mother's Day.

Finding a publisher, though, proved a bit difficult, but after a representative from Pelican Publishers witnessed the work of the students, the company was happy to seize the opportunity, and the rest is history.

“We spent long hours to complete the books, but it was worth it,” she said.

Meleisa Witter, manager of Pelican Publishers, said that the decision to join forces with St Joseph's was a no-brainer.

“To be associated with 15 five- and six-year-old authors who wrote their own story and also created their own illustrations was a very exciting venture for us. The decision was easy to make,” Witter said.

Last week, when the Sunday Observer visited the school, the students were eager to share the background information about the stories they wrote.

Six-year-old Dejahnee Lee, whose book is entitled I Can See Something Everywhere, said that she decided to write about that because everywhere that she goes she is able to see things all around her.

“My mommy said she was happy about my book and that she didn't know that I wrote a book,” Dejahnee revealed.

Her mother, Donisha Williams, said when she learnt that her daughter had written a book she was pleasantly surprised.

“The school had a Mother's Day treat and they had the books on display. They told us about the Little Authors Club and the Vice-Principal Mrs Solomon told me that my daughter had a book also. I actually got up from my seat, ran to the display to see the book and purchased a copy immediately. I am so proud of my little princess,” Williams said, beaming from ear to ear.

Five-year-old Michelle Cunningham's story was about her teacher, Dillon-Gray.

When asked why she decided to make her teacher the subject of her book, she said, “I wrote a story about Mrs Gray because she is very nice and sweet to me everyday.”

She added: “Writing is good and I love to write.”

Five-year-old D'Angelo Dacres, in his book, focused on rude behaviour, which he abhors.

He explained that one day he found himself in a situation in which he was not shown kindness and that was how he decided what his book would be about.

“I wrote about a boy who was bigger than me who hit me, and I really don't like that behaviour,” D'Angelo said, adding that the book ends with him forgiving the boy after he apologised.

Principal Clarke said she would love to have the books mass-produced and sold in book stores, not as a profit-making venture but to expose other children to the writings.


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