Saturday, February 27, 2010

Because so many ask......

When Americans come to the island for missions experiences the first question most ask is, "Renee, what is your Jamaican School like?" She is the only "missionary kid" that is not home-schooled here in Jamaica. I am going to use this blog to give a description of her school where she spends most of her time!

Belair School is located in Mandeville and currently has 600 students. The catalyst for the schools beginning in 1969 was the multinational corporations, Alpart and Alcan. Alcan established its alumina plant in the 1950's, however, because of the strain the new families coming to town put on the existing schools,they invested in the expansion of Manchester Prep School. When Alpart came to Manchester Parish in 1969, there was a big thrust to upgrade the Manchester Prep School even more to facilitate the new families moving in. Alpart also accepted all responsibility for the salary and accomodations for the headmaster from the United States.

The first headmaster was Perry Bendicksen. His greatest concern was the fact that the parents didn't want their children to have to go through a huge shift after being in Jamaica for a few years to then returning back to the states for college. The educational system here was British. So to accommodate that, Alpart funded the construction of a secondary school. It was called Belair Secondary School and was actually planted in the location it is today.

As headmasters changed and shifts began to happen in Alpart, "Jamaicanization" began to happen. It became totally Jamaican in 1984 and Dr. Dudley Stokes became the first Jamaican headmaster.

In 2007 when we were determining if Jamaica was the next step for us as a family, Renee's school availability and access to continued Susuki violin training was at the top of our priority list. Now 3 years later we look back and can only rejoice because of her development. Belair was the right place for Renee. She started 7th grade in 2008 and today she is almost finished with grade 9!

I will never forget our first tour of Belair when we were simply here to investigate. The differences between Belair and Carver Middle School in Springfield, MO are monumental. There were more questions than answers back then for sure. How would she acclimate to the huge changes that were coming? How would she make friends? How would she understand the dialect? How would she continue on this high academic standard she had already set for herself? How would she be able to feel successful rather than punished? How would the teachers react to her being a different race and color? How would her classmates react? How would she MAKE IT, basically was the question.

I don't think I can ever forget the look on her face when we began the tour with the principal leading the way. At times it was a look of terror and at other times a look of adventure. There were moments of sheer fright and other times big smiles. I knew that if any kid could do it, Renee could. When we actually moved here 3 days before her 7th grade began, we had to believe that indeed God had directed our steps but in looking back it was a step of faith to even believe that!

We arrived on the island to actually live here the night before Hurricane Gustav. We found ourselves at the Mandeville Hotel for the first 3 nights. There was a skeletal crew at the hotel with limited food choices of course due to the suddenness of the storm. We thought that the sound of the generator was just a norm! Very quickly we realized that the budget would not maintain hotel living so we went searching for a place to lay our heads. Our home was not going to be available until our shipment arrived by boat. We were in a little bit of a limbo just waiting. The problem was Belair was going to begin school very quickly! We had to get uniforms made and the correct socks found. We knew from the information they sent to us in the States that everything had to be exact. So fortunately we found a seamstress and began the process. I remember it was a really crazy time because the uniforms were not ready and I went pleading.....WE HAVE TO HAVE AT LEAST ONE UNIFORM!!! She has to go to school in the morning!!

Thank God those days are over! It was really crazy along with our living arrangements, getting a car registered, teaching, visas, everything was NUTS! The only thing that was calm was Belair! God orchestrated even her homeroom teacher, the one she would spend time with, the one who understood the most where Renee was at emotionally, the one who gave her time and even her first official lesson speaking Patois....Miss Mead. We will forever be indebted to this most wonderful and gifted teacher.

Here are some photos of the school entrance. As most places in Jamaica there is a security guard on duty and he allows or doesn't allow people onto the campus.

The school building is built around a courtyard,most if not all schools in Jamaica are built that way.The courtyard is in the center and the classrooms are around it. An interesting difference is that the students don't move from class to class. They have one or 2 classes per grade and the teachers go to them. There is a small staff room however a teacher doesn't have their private desk or own classroom, etc. except for art, music and PE.

Here in Jamaica a snack shop is called a Tuck Shop. Belair's "Tuck Shop" is where the students buy lunch, and snacks. Interesting tidbit, this is an area that we tell Renee she may struggle with when we go back to the States for her senior year. The Tuck shop is open all day long. Whenever you have a free moment you can stop in and get what you need. It doesn't close as the American school cafeteria does.It doesn't have tables or even much space to get in a line to order. The students have access to a couple of round cement tables in the courtyard but Renee typically eats her lunch in the art room or the music room where she hangs out with some of her favorite teachers and subjects! Here are some photos, standing in line at the tuck shop,her music teacher Mr. Anderson,eating in her classroom with her friends,and the art room.

A year long event happened in Renee's first year at Belair and that was the 40th year celebration. Renee, even though a brand new student, was asked to play her violin for many occassions. It was a wonderful honor. A student passed away this year and she was asked to play at his funeral. So along with playing in churches where her daddy preaches she has many opportunities to play for special events, even those that have been televised. I am sure that this gift was part of God's plan to help her acclimate as well as she has.

Because of wanting to be sure Renee was in a safe place, worried mommy that I am, I began volunteering at the school right away. I found myself in the library assisting a wonderful teacher that has been employed at Belair for 20 years. I help Ms. Volaitis process the books along with shelving them and assisting her with varied tasks and classes. I love it! It is an honor to bless the school that has invested so much into Renee's life and I will hold dear to the personal memories I will take from the school as well.

Another adjustment that Renee had was PE. I remember the first Parent/teacher conference that took place. Incidently they happen after the term is over. Her grade in PE wasn't a "Renee" kind of grade! We were concerned. Mind you, every sport takes place outside, on the field, in the blazing sun, in the afternoon, without a bubbler nearby, etc. So in speaking to the PE teacher I told him that she is not used to the heat and when we pick her up on PE day, there are some days she can hardly get all her stuff in the car, she is so exhausted.There were a few PE days of tears. He said to us, "Oh don't worry, by next semester she will get it!" I have to say now in her second year of Belair, PE is becoming a favorite! She did get it! Netball, extreme heat, running like Usain Bolt....well almost!, cross country, football (soccer), sprints, she is getting it!

In Literature class Renee portrayed Juliet. Here is a photo of her with her teacher, Mr. Sinclair and Belair's wonderful principal,Ms.McCathy.

I could go on and on about Renee's friends, her achievements, her special awards and her wonderful life. Of course everything is different, but she looks at life through the eyes of wonderment and excitement for what her future holds. Belair is part of God's plan and although different....significantly wonderful...

1 comment:

  1. Debbie,

    Kudos! Or should I say, "I give you props!" ?
    THAT was a great piece and really helped me to get the feel of Renee's school and life in Jamaica! Also now that Renee is used to the Jamaican accent maybe she won't make fun of my Boston accent anymore...? Naaah! I know she will! Just thought I'd try to staaahhht to get her to appreciate my accent! And, YOU say "bubbler" and THAT'S Boston! Wow...that it's so COLD and SNOWY right now I could use some of it!!