MONTEGO BAY, St James — Savannah Fellows had long set her sights on getting her secondary education at Campion College, the prestigious high school in St Andrew that, for years, has lured some of the country's brightest students.
So when the 12-year-old Vaz Preparatory School student achieved an almost perfect score of 394.1 in this year's Primary Exit Profile (PEP) exam, she knew she would have been placed at the school of her choice.
"I am very excited and happy that I got my first choice. It wasn't easy, but I had studied, so I was very prepared for it. My parents are not really working and sometimes they don't have the funds, so I have to put in the work," Savannah said, crediting her drive and ambition to her family's financial hardship made worse by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
That hardship, however, is proving to be a hurdle for Savannah, and her sister, Tassiana Wilkins, is making a desperate plea for help from anyone who can.
"We really just need a scholarship or grant… anything that could help with acquiring books or the school fee. I know that there were some scholarships that are out to the public and I applied for two, but I haven't received any information," 20-year-old Wilkins told the Jamaica Observer while explaining that she has responsibility for Savannah as their mother, Shushana Forbes, is overseas working part-time and going to school.
Explaining that she recently secured a part-time job in hope of helping her mother out financially, Wilkins stated that acquiring a scholarship for Savannah, whom she describes as a hard worker, would ease the family's burden.
Wilkins, who is a student herself, told the Sunday Observer that she places great importance on her younger sister's education.
"I am trying to purse law, so I can only work part-time and our mom is a stay-in nanny which means that providing tuition for the both of us can become challenging," said Wilkins.
"We are desperately trying to get any scholarships or grants for her because she is a really hard-working student. She puts in the effort and works to the point where she did not have much time for extracurricular activities in prep school. She was always in the book, but now that she has started summer school at Campion College I see that she's branching off trying to get more active in sports to see if she could get any type of help through that means," Wilkins stated.
Forbes, the girls' mother, told the Sunday Observer that she is beyond proud of her daughter's PEP success. She is, however, concerned about the financial constraints her family is currently experiencing and is pleading for a scholarship on behalf of Savannah.
"I'm so excited, I am at a loss for words. I left to come overseas to seek better, but we know that things take time. I do work four days a week and I go to school part-time, but the economy is a little bit slow," the mother explained.
"It was really rough with the pandemic and I am a single mother for the both of them. I told Savannah to work for a scholarship because in times like these we need one. I did send her to a good school, but it was rough especially for the last two years. We fought through it and she finished strong. Getting a scholarship for Savannah would really ease some of the burden off of Tassiana as well," Forbes added.
Though she admits that it has been a tough journey, Wilkins said she is proud of the hard work her young sister has done to achieve this milestone in her journey.
"It has been very difficult, especially when I was trying to sort myself out with school. So between her and school it wasn't easy. Then it was another task to find jobs while getting her to school on time. It has been a struggle, but thankfully God was with us and we were able to share her success," Wilkins told the Sunday Observer.
"She was even surprised by her scores because she had a bit of doubt and struggles along the way. We had to put in the work by having her do classes seven days a week. She had regular school then extra classes and after that we would do tireless studying at home. Sometimes she would get so overwhelmed that she would cry and want to give up, but I had to just encourage her — and she didn't disappoint us," she added.