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JIS News

The anxiety surrounding the prospect of placement in a secondary school has now subsided for children who sat the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) in March. Last month, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture announced passes for the 2005/06 school term, which begins in September.
The Trench Town and Rollington Town Fire Stations played an integral part in helping primary school students residing in those communities to prepare and in some cases, gain favourable passes in the GSAT.
The fire stations aided the high-school bound students in their preparations for the examination through a Homework Programme, which was held after school throughout the academic year. Some 90 students from the two communities were facilitated through the Homework Programme. While the Programme is intended for Grade Six students sitting the GSAT students from Grades Five and Four have also been accommodated.
Speaking recently with JIS News, Deputy Commissioner of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Neil Findlay, explains that the Homework Programme was launched in January 2003 with the concept having originated from past Board member of the Brigade, Colonel Bruce Barkley. Colonel Barkley at the time, felt there was a need on the Brigade’s part to “give back a little to the community”.
Subsequent to the Colonel’s suggestion, the Brigade decided that Trench Town and Rollington Town should be the two communities to pilot the Programme in their respective stations.
Mr. Findlay says the two were selected based on the reasoning that “these areas are thickly populated and we thought it would be more effective in those areas.we also thought of some of these youngsters who hang out on the roadside, and believed it would be a good thing to assist them to do their homework in a structured manner under supervision”.
When the programme was established, the Deputy Commissioner points out, persons in the communities were notified, and principals of schools in the area were asked to promote it. As a result, enrolment increased and 29 months later, according to Mr. Findlay, “we don’t have a problem in terms of people coming in because it has spread through the communities.”
Persons responsible for managing the Homework Programme at the fire stations prepare lessons for the students, sometimes based on dialogue with teachers, which helps with the appropriate textbooks being used.
He discloses that the annual cost of operating the Programme presently stands at $270,000, and funding was sourced through the Jamaica Fire Brigade’s recurrent expenditure budget. Mr. Findlay says money is spent on providing snacks for the children after classes, and periodic allowances are given to volunteer teachers.
Sponsorship from several donors, he notes, offsets additional costs, and the children directly benefit as they are provided with stationery, schoolbags, and other items.
Mr. Findlay says attendance by the students participating in the programme is high, with an average of 90 per cent enrolment being recorded.
At the Rollington Town Fire Station, Assistant Superintendent, Floyd McLean heads the Homework Programme and is ably assisted by a number of fire fighters. Meanwhile at the Trench Town Fire Station, volunteer teachers, Shandra Harriott and Latoya Williams, who both hail from the community are the persons in charge of that programme.
Miss Harriott tells JIS News she became involved in the programme after being asked by a community member in Trench Town, who believed she was up to the task to be a volunteer teacher. Miss Harriott recalls that while she entertained the possibility of becoming a teacher when growing up, she instead opted to pursue her present career as an accountant.
Describing her involvement as an English Language tutor in the programme for the past two years, she says, “The experience for me has been good because as you go along you learn how to deal with children and their different backgrounds”.
“You learn from them as you teach,” she continues, “as well as they learn from you, not just academically, but also emotionally. You learn how to reach out to them in a way that their parents, peers, or anybody else, would not be able to reach out to that individual child.”
Speaking of the work the children do through the programme, Miss Harriott explains that the tutors assist the children with homework assignments from school, and also seek to identify their weak areas in Mathematics and English Language, and provide the appropriate scholastic aid.
“For areas they are weak in at school, we try and find out what they are, and work with them to strengthen that area,” the volunteer tutor says.
As to the impact of the children’s participation in the Programme on their schoolwork, the tutor says, “they have been improving in school.parents have gotten the feedback from the teachers and I get the feedback from the parents,” she proudly points out, adding that the children have further benefited by not merely improving their academic abilities, but also have learnt how to better relate to people and being more polite.
Deputy Commissioner Findlay notes that the Programme has the whole-hearted support of the Ministry of Local Government, Community Development, and Sport, under which the Jamaica Fire Brigade falls. He disclosed that there are “definite” plans in the making to expand it further to include other fire stations.
“We have had discussions aimed at spreading it a little wider,” he says, explaining that the long-term vision was to expand the Programme outside the Kingston and St. Andrew region to rural parishes. Mr. Findlay says the Homework Programme has been working so well at the Rollington Town Fire Station that “we have been approached by the Rollington Town Development Committee and asked if we could assist up to the grade nine level.”
He says though no concrete decisions have yet been made in respect to expanding the programme to include grade nine students, it was an option the Brigade was giving some consideration to. Thoroughly happy with the achievements of the two-year old Homework Programme, the Deputy Commissioner tells JIS News, “I would say it has been a success and we want to see how best we can maintain that success and go beyond that to improving where we have areas to improve on.”