Regional

Nurturing communication skills in Merrywood

Monday, June 17, 2019

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SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Yanique Brown, senior teacher at Merrywood Primary School, 45 kilometres north-west of here in a rugged terrain on the fringes of the Cockpit Country, fully understands that patois forms a crucial part of Jamaican culture.

The senior teacher also knows that unless her students learn to speak and write proper English, life could prove very difficult for them in a rapidly changing world.

Brown and her colleagues in the small school, with a population of just over 50 students, saw the evidence of very poor communication skills in every examination.

“The children were not writing well. They would write and spell the way they speak, so for example instead of writing the word ' brother', they would write 'breda',“ said Brown.

“We had to do something,” Brown told Jamaica Observer Central.

With the assistance of the small staff of just four teachers, including Principal Marva McKinnon, she developed a programme to integrate communication skills training, not just in all aspects of school life, but also among the children's parents in the heavily forested and isolated Merrywood community.

A room was identified and patterned to serve as a communication skills improvement centre, featuring innovative word and picture charts, books and writing paper, all designed to encourage children to spend time there and express themselves.

The school received specialised help from Melissa Campbell, guidance counsellor at Elderslie Primary and Infant School, who conducted parenting workshops focusing on matters such as ' How can I help my child to improve communication skills?', 'How can I be more involved in my child's life?' and in general terms how to be a good parent.

Thursdays were designated 'No Creole Day' with children encouraged — using drama, song and other forms of entertainment — to speak English and translate Patois to English.

Now deep into the 2019 school year, McKinnon says the benefits of the communication skills improvement programme are very evident.

“The English language is being expressed better,” McKinnon stated emphatically, following a function to formally open the Communication Skills Improvement Centre.

“The children are trying to speak Standard Jamaican English, and I think as the days go by especially [because of] Creole Day, it gets better... sometimes we have a good laugh but it is a learning process for the teachers and children,” the principal said.

As part of the effort to further improve, McKinnon is dreaming of getting the Internet connected at her school, and acquiring laptops to help her students prepare for the “the world out there”.

Most of all though, McKinnon is pleading for “decent” road access to her school. As the situation now stands, road conditions are so deplorable she has to visit the garage with her car every few weeks, and even people who would have wanted to attend the communications skills centre, politely declined.

“Fortunately, all four teachers grew up and live in Merrywood,” she said.

McKinnon says she is pleading for “help please” from political representatives JC Hutchinson (JLP), Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth North Western and Councillor Mugabe Kilimanjaro (Ipswich Division - PNP).


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