WESTMORELAND, Jamaica — Teachers and students of Grange Hill Primary School in Westmoreland can now enjoy more contact hours following an $111-million expansion.
The project, which was undertaken by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), saw the construction of an eight-classroom block, eight toilets which included two stalls for the physically disabled, a sick bay with bathroom, a guidance counsellor's office, a staff area with bathroom, an office, and a tertiary sewerage system that helps them recycle treated water.
In addition, the more than 800 teachers and students at the institution also benefited from resources such as laptops, projectors and classroom charts.
At the official handover ceremony on Thursday, school principal Clayton Smith spoke of the significance of the long-awaited upgrades.
"The community was yearning for this. They actually applauded when they realised the building was starting and they were waiting to hear how soon the children were able to occupy," he disclosed.
But even Smith pointed out that with the expansion the school needs more space.
"Eight classrooms were not enough to actually take us off the shift system but we are thankful for that which we have received,” added Smith as he underscored that significant progress had been made.
“With some amount of instrumentality and dedication from my staff and myself, help from Couples Negril, and other local businesses, we have managed to create five other makeshift areas, so that we could begin operating officially as a whole-day school as of September [this year]," he stated.
Smith explained that concerns raised in 2018 about the level of crime within the community was what fuelled calls for the shift system to be aborted.
"We realised that our students, some of whom leave school at 12:30 pm, had enough time during the course of the day to learn all kinds of stuff; and those who came in late had enough time to do a lot of things that we didn't want them to do. So it really helps our children to be out of trouble," Smith reasoned.
He said he is happy with the new system as it has lessened anxiety among students and staff.
"There are times when the area is very dark. We have cane fields on the three sides and it meant that leaving here, especially when the evening gets a little dark early, some of our children would be going home in the nights. So we are happy that we could make this transition. We are happy that our children, those who are on the morning shift, didn't have to get up again at 4:30 am to be here early for school,” said Smith.
The educator, who noted that the handing over ceremony comes two months ahead of the school’s 100-year anniversary in January, lauded the efforts of JSIF, Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the Ministry of Education for their role in making the transition a success.
In accepting the principal’s thanks, JSIF Managing Director Omar Sweeney explained that the project had been no easy feat.
He said for an investment like the one received by Grange Hill, schools have to showcase strong leadership and good results in order for the ministry to support the investment.
"A lot has been achieved today, a lot more than the block and steel of the building, it has been years of leadership, years of performance, years of planning and strategic management that has brought us to be able to say to the Caribbean Development Bank, for instance, that the Grange Hill Primary School is certainly worthy of investment," Sweeney said.
Member of Parliament for Westmoreland Western, Morland Wilson also welcomed the rehabilitation project and praised all the entities that played a role in its successful completion.
"Grange Hill has suffered from some chronic issues around social cohesiveness — crime and violence. With this school it is [a combination of] a lot of commitment and government policy to have better social infrastructure for the people of Grange Hill, and Westmoreland in general," Wilson stated.
State minister in the Ministry of Education Marsha Smith continued the expressions of gratitude.
"I'm really happy today that you have here the eight new classrooms. I was pleased to hear that, though it has not [completely] met the needs of the school that the community has rallied around the school. I think it is important for us to know that the five additional spaces that you are going to use in the school for 2023 going forward has been established through partnership with your business community and your community and civic leaders," she said.
"The improved educational facilities will benefit not only the students and staff but also the families and communities who have long yearned for enhanced educational opportunities. This accomplishment also aligns with the vision 2030 outcome of world-class educational training and is in harmony with the United Nations Sustainable Development goal number four, which advocates for quality education," Smith added.
She also had a message for students of the institution.
"To every student at Grange Hill Primary school, I encourage you to seize this opportunity with enthusiasm and dedication. Your education is the most valuable gift you will ever receive and it has the power to change the trajectory of your life," said Smith.