From high school dropout to CEO
Members of the Ocho Rios College team (standing from left) administrator Paul Green, founder Kerine Davis, and teacher of allied health Andrew Clarke interact with students during summer school session. The students — all from allied health — are (from right) Neiceon Poyser, Selenea Grant and Neshia Dormer. (Photos: Akera Davis)

OCHO RIOS, St Ann — At age 16 Kerine Davis's educational journey came to an end. She got pregnant with her first child, Prince Roy Davis, while attending Oracabessa High School as a fourth-form student. She was labelled as a high school drop out.

Fast-forward to 26 years later and Davis is now the founder and CEO of Ocho Rios College where she has the opportunity to mould and educate impressionable youngsters. Some of her students have found themselves in a position similar to the one she faced as a teen, while others are simply looking for an extra push to achieve their goals.

Davis gets a lot of satisfaction from seeing the impact she is having on others' lives.

"I love what I do and I will continue to make my mark with much passion. I not only love to teach my students in the classroom setting but I provide them with a lot of life lessons once they pass through this institution," she told the Jamaica Observer.

Ocho Rios College CEO Kerine Davis (centre) with a member of the administrative team, Paul Clarke (left) and marketing officer Lakin WynterAkera Davis

"I especially love to focus on the students who failed along the way or think there is no hope," she added.

Her brainchild, Ocho Rios College is a hospitality-based institution aimed at equipping students with the necessary skill sets and training to thrive within the sector.

"Sixty per cent of our students are working overseas, and many of them also get employed in local hotels because we are linked with Moon Palace and Silver Sands so we send our students straight to those locations once they complete training," Davis told the Observer. "We provide them with vigorous training so [that] wherever they go, they excel."

The college, which has been in existence for 11 years, began with a leap of faith.

DAVIS... I especially love to focus on the students who failed along the way or think there is no hope

"When I started the school I had zero dollars. I just took a chance and advertised it in the North Coast Times because I saw the need for a school. Through that advertisement we got 40 students; and at that point I didn't have the building or anything to start a school — but I'm a risk taker," said Davis.

The idea to start a school came to her while she was operating an Internet cafe in early 2012; it was just after she had graduated from HEART/NSTA Trust with a certificate in business administration. She realised that not only were people struggling to complete their projects, but crafting résumés was also a bit difficult for many of them.

"While going to HEART I used to need help to do my projects because, as a high school dropout, I still needed assistance. So from there I decided to open the café because I thought: 'People must be out there that need my help too.' When they came in I realised many of them did not know how to put a résumé together and so from there I got an idea to not only help with résumés but to also prepare them to go on interviews. That blew up," Davis said of the popularity of the service.

She then decided to delve even further into the field of education. But it was no easy feat for the Falkland, Ocho Rios, native to establish a school and then keep it afloat.

"I remember going overseas to care for an amputee just so I could get money to finance the school. Sometimes I even say to myself that, 'If I had known this would have been so hard I maybe would have never started in the first place,' " said Davis.

But with the support of her colleagues and relatives, she persevered. She eventually closed the Internet café in 2015 to focus on operating the school.

"I didn't choose education, it chose me because I didn't have any plans to go into teaching — but I wouldn't have it any other way," said Davis.

Never one to forget her humble beginnings, she is determined to succeed.

"The principles that my parents taught me was my guiding star, and I also knew that I wanted better for my children because by the time I was 30 I had three children," said the 42-year-old.

Never one to shy away from hard work, her first job was as member of the maintenance staff at a fast food chain.

"When I had my son, hard times hit and so I started hunting jobs, and I went from place to place almost every day until I finally got something. On my first day I was given 900 chickens to clean, and I did it. Upon cleaning them I had to marinate them and put them in the cold room and then I had to scrub the jerk grill — and trust me my two hands felt like they were damaged because the grill was so hot," Davis said.

She then moved on to work as a waitress at another fast food restaurant in Ocho Rios.

"I learnt a lot from there, and that is how I end up in hospitality. I was sent to Holland to work because I was highlighted again for quality customer service, but when I came back I decided to do something for myself and I got my own taxi," said Davis.

She was in the transportation business for six years.

She then decided she wanted more and so attended HEART and got a certificate in business administration.

"It was never easy for me but I would tell anyone who might be in a rough state right now to stay focused and have a mind of your own. Don't worry about failures because they make you stronger," Davis said.

Her focus will continue to be on developing and strengthening the offerings at Ocho Rios College.

"The school has come a far way and it is moving in the right direction but right now it needs stakeholders to help it to build. From day one we struggled with financial difficulties but if I find that right person who wants to invest it will be able to serve not just St Ann, but Jamaica overall," she said.

The institution has positively shaped not only the lives of its students but staff as well.

"It has pushed me and moulded me into a person where I get to develop a version of myself that needs to be expressed; it has done a lot for me. I started as a worker then went into being part of the administrative staff," Paul Green told the Observer.

Andrew Clarke, who has been a teacher of allied health since 2015, spoke of the joy he gets from equipping his students with the knowledge needed to excel.

"I like working with the students so I can give them something to go and make a future. Ochi Rios College offers something good to all students and when they leave they get gainful employment. I'm so happy to be a part of that," he said.

So is Davis.

But even with all she and her colleagues have achieved so far, Davis is still aiming for more. She is enrolled at the Micro University College where she is actively pursuing a bachelor's degree in institutional management and leadership.

BY AKERA DAVIS Observer writer

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