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Uphill struggle

School says students having hard time after fire destroys SBAs

BY SHANAE STEWART
Observer staff reporter
stewarts@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, May 13, 2019

VISUAL Arts students at Seaforth High School in St Thomas are struggling to cope, after losing their School Based Assessment (SBA) pieces to fire recently.

Seaforth is one of the island's top schools in visual arts and on May 4, the pieces they prepared to submit to the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) this month, were destroyed when the Visual Arts Department went up in flames.

The pieces were a part of their Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exam. Twenty-eight students were affected.

The technical drawing, cosmetology, and building technology departments suffered water and smoke damage.

The fire occurred shortly after 5:00 am.

Principal Calbert Thomas, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer North & East at the school last Wednesday, said the Visual Arts Department has been a vital part of the history at the institution and said the fact that all the memories are no more is difficult to deal with.

“The Visual Arts Department is the signature of the school in regards to the school getting certain accolades,” Thomas said.

“All the paintings in my office came from the Visual Arts Department. The walls in the school were done by students from the department and so the unit has played a significant role in enhancing the growth and development of this institution. The school is about 47 years old and we would have lost that legacy of work done over the years,” he added.

Seaforth's master Teacher in Art Caroline Miles told the Observer North & East that the school is known for its great art pieces which can even be found on display at the Institute of Jamaica in downtown Kingston.

“Everything was destroyed, we lost every single thing and that has greatly affected the spirit of the students. We are a top-tier school; the students have always done their best and I think that is why they are affected so much. The Friday before the fire, the students were here in the wee hours trying to complete preparation work for their exams and I asked them to take one design home, but everything else was lost,” Miles said.

She shared that after packing the SBAs away she told her students that they would not be seeing their works again.

“I don't know when we will be able to pick up the pieces because as you know, there are no two pieces of art that are the same. The effort that is put into a piece of work is never the same either. The moment in time that the students did the pieces, how they felt, and the spirit of the work can never be recovered,” Miles said in distress.

“I am going through the motions; I'm on autopilot right now. This was one of our mammoth years. This year there was a different energy and when there is so much success, and then the pieces are just gone, it is hard.

“The journals were destroyed. It was a journey of when the students started in grade 10 and so the memory of that very first morning in fourth form has been lost,” she said while holding back tears.

Student Rennon Patterson said his classmates were still in a state of shock. He said several are depressed and will not be able to come up with the same art piece.

Added to that, Principal Thomas said the teachers are still devastated and in disbelief, and the students are not in a frame of mind for exams.

However, he said the school community has been giving them as much support as possible.

He also said that based on the preliminary report received from the fire station, an electric malfunction (short circuit) is believed to have caused the fire.

“Since the fire, I have constructed a makeshift area to house the students who are preparing for exams. For us to come back to any form of stability where we can function we need machines, tables and tools that the children would have used.

“They lost the hotplates, printing press, computers, and all the essential things that would have been used in the department to create masterpieces,” he stated.

The principal said that if they could get some help to assist the students in getting to a place where they can comfortably redo the pieces lost, he would appreciate it greatly.

“We are now housing the students in the school's holding area and once the students begin working with the machines, it will get extremely hot, so we will need some industrial fans that we could put in the ceiling,” Thomas said.

“If we could get six that would be good, but if we could get 10, we would appreciate that,” he added.

At the same time, the principal extended thanks to the schools in the parish that have so far offered assistance.

“Yallahs High School donated about 40 desks to the department, Paul Bogle High donated five tables, Morant Bay High donated one, and Robert Lightbourne High has promised to loan us two. We are grateful for the assistance,” he said.