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Story Highlights

  • The quiet, farming community of Above Rocks in St Catherine, is home to the St. Mary’s All-Age School, which is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year.
  • Residents of Above Rocks have a close affinity to the institution. Many generations of family members are proud to say they have walked the halls of St Mary’s All-Age and have returned to the school to work as teachers and other members of staff.
  • Principal, Simone Gillespie, says the school has been doing well academically. She notes that the institution received a reading room from the Digicel Foundation, which has helped to improve literacy and numeracy levels.

The quiet, farming community of Above Rocks in St Catherine, is home to the St. Mary’s All-Age School, which is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year.

The Roman Catholic institution was established by Father Joseph Dupont in 1842. The original structure, part of which is out of use, was erected in 1940, with additional buildings erected in 1988.

Currently, the school has a population of 263 students, with a staff complement of 16 teachers.

Residents of Above Rocks have a close affinity to the institution. Many generations of family members are proud to say they have walked the halls of St Mary’s All-Age and have returned to the school to work as teachers and other members of staff.

Among them is Jacquelin Brown-Hope, who is the institution’s vice-principal.

“What makes it special for me here is the fact that we are a family,” she tells JIS News.

“It has been an integral part of me to ensure that I give back more than what I got as a student, and seeing the children excel and moving from one level to the other has been my greatest achievement,” she notes.

 

Principal, Simone Gillespie, says the school has been doing well academically. She notes that the institution received a reading room from the Digicel Foundation, which has helped to improve literacy and numeracy levels.

The facility, which opened in April 2013, caters to students who are below grade level and those who are advanced.

Ms. Gillespie notes that focus is placed on ensuring that students are well rounded as “we are mindful that it’s not just academics that make the students become good leaders in society”.

“We think that because we have a rounded approach to how we teach and develop our children… they perform well academically,” she says.

“That contributes to the academic performance – all those extracurricular activities – because if you are motivated and driven in other areas of life, it naturally spills over into your academics; so we try to take a holistic approach,” she adds.

She informs that a programme was created to tackle behavioural problems among boys, which not only resulted in a dramatic improvement in behaviour, but also academics.

“We know that… boys are not performing as well as girls right across the board. So here we have a unique approach. We have our Building Outstanding Students for Society (BOSS Club), where we target boys of a certain age to kind of give them mentorship. We have male teachers who mentor them, so that we can drive them towards academic success,” Ms. Gillespie notes.

Other clubs and societies at the school include literacy (reading and spelling), mathematics, environmental, and school challenge.

St. Mary’s All-age has also been doing well in sports, particularly table tennis. They were all island primary school champions between 2007 and 2014, placing third between 2016 and 2017.

With the success of the table tennis team, a number of students were invited to the national junior team, including grade-six student, Shamoy Lamont.

Shamoy recalls the joy of representing Jamaica at a regional table tennis competition.

“It made me feel very happy because while I was playing, the (team) was encouraging me and I was encouraging them. I was happy and we all worked together and put in effort to make our country place second in the championship, because Dominican Republic beat us by six points,” Shamoy says.

Activities to mark the school’s 175-year milestone includes a fun run on February 27; open day and concert on April 24; and a football match on June 17.