Little London High London Bridge welfare programme to assist needy students
From left student Alyssa Hinds; guidance counsellor Shanice Coombs-Richards; student Shanoy Davis; student Aisha Shaw; guidance counsellor Randal Gordon; Acting Principal Terry Henriques James; student Jada Bramwell; Acting Vice-Principal Nicole Ferguson; and student Rodane Banton share lens.

LITTLE LONDON, Westmoreland — Two years in the making, Little London High School launched its student welfare programme, called London Bridge, aimed at assisting approximately 30 per cent of the institution's more than 700 population who are in need.

The idea started in 2001 when one of the school's guidance counsellors, Randal Gordon, joined the team. With the school coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gordon saw the students' need and had discussions with his then Vice-Principal Terry Henriques James, who is now acting principal.

The programme was then submitted to the Ministry of Education Region Four Regional department as part of its annual guidance programme.

"I started here in 2021. Upon starting the journey as the counsellor here at Little London High, I realised that there was a need for a lot of things in terms of welfare for students. The welfare ranges from food, clothing, toiletries, and the list goes on. We realised that students were...absent for a number of periods, and late for school," explained Gordon.

Guidance counsellor Shanice Coombs-Richards holds a copy of her poetry book, The inevitable life experience through the lens of a Caribbean Woman, which is sold on Amazon.

"So I just decided, myself and my colleague counsellor, to reach out to stakeholders — both internal and external stakeholders — to gather some help for these students," added Gordon.

The counsellor said the initiative, under the theme 'Bridging the gap for a brighter future', is a partnership between the school's administration, parents, and the students as well.

"We thought to bring all of them together and make it work for the greater good for the school population. The London Bridge Project was born out of that discussion. We would have sought to engage several stakeholders already. Most of the stakeholders that we would have engaged would have given us positive feedback in terms of what they would be providing and what they would give in the future," stated Gordon.

Already, some have made cash commitments while others have donated items such as toiletries, personal care items, shoes and socks.

Among those who have made pledges and provided support are clinical coordinator for the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA) Dr Delroy Fray, Heritage Pharmacy, Eclipse Enterprise, Chandon & Sons, Samuels Hardware, Jamaica Giant, and Travellers Beach Resort.

Another guidance counsellor at the school, Shanice Coombs-Richards, who is a poetry book author, has committed 10 per cent of sales made on Amazon towards the programme. Her book is titled The inevitable life experience through the lens of a Caribbean woman.

Coombs-Richards, who has been at the institution for the past year, said there is a breakfast component to the programme that will be launched soon.

"We realise that a lot of our students don't have a hot meal before coming to school, not because they don't have the time but because they don't have the resources," stated Coombs-Richards.

"The goal of the programme is to put a smile on someone's face. We have different things that we hope to give out. We have, apart from a meal, things like a pair of shoes. A student may not be able to purchase a uniform, shoes, whatever it is [so] we are going to ensure that we assist them financially and let them know that we are a family here and we are here to support them," added the woman counsellor.

Another issue identified by the guidance counselling team is students who are unable to pay for their exit exams. As such, the counsellors are calling on the public to support the programme.

For her part, Henriques James spoke of the programme's benefit to the institution.

"I'm very elated about the London Bridge Project. The long-term benefits of this project are that we will have our students attending school regularly and we will ensure that we cater to the holistic development of our children, having them being better able to understand themselves and to give of their best in school," started Henriques James.

"I am really in sync with the project and I will endeavour to ensure that other stakeholders come on board to support this very great initiative that we have for our students. So, we are thankful for the project and for all our stakeholders, our external donors, etc. We are really happy for them coming on board and to give back to Jamaica, making our future a very bright one for the students who are actually disenfranchised and their parents are not able to afford... We want to let them understand that when they walk through the gates of Little London High School we are a family here and we cater to the whole child, so I am very thankful for this initiative," added Henriques James.

BY ANTHONY LEWIS Observer writer

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