Jamaica Observer / The Programmes Coordination Division, more popularly known as the Junior Centre, has been in existence at East Street, downtown Kingston since May 31, 1940. As a functionary of the parent body – the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) – the Junior Centre’s mandate is to: Provide the facilities for young people to acquire knowledge and develop skills in the various art forms so as to foster their intellectual, aesthetic and cultural growth, which is summarily captured in our tag-line: Unlocking Potential…Transforming Lives.
This mandate is accomplished through offering visual and performing arts, computer skills (including animation) and reading instruction for children 6-17 years old during the regular after-school, Saturday and summer arts programmes, and by offering other enrichment activities to assist their holistic development.
The Centre also operates a research and lending library and reading corner. Currently, there are two Junior Centres in operation: one at 19 East Street, Downtown Kingston, and the other in Greater Portmore, St Catherine (between the library and the post office). The latter opened on May 9, 1996, thereby extending its creative influence to the then newly developed community of Portmore.
Although children are the main focus, there are activities tailored for adults 18 years and over. At the East Street Junior Centre, English and Computer Skills classes are offered, and under the Advanced Training Opportunities (ATOP) Programme, there is exposure to music, drumming and dance.
Since September 2015, the Simón Bolívar Cultural Centre (SBCC) was added to the Division’s operations. The SBCC educates and creates awareness concerning the life and work of the liberator for some of the Latin American countries, the great Simón Bolívar, which parallels the ethos inherent in Jamaicans and in the Caribbean culture of freedom from our enslavers and the right to self-determination.
A WALK DOWN MEMORY LANE – The Junior Centre story
In 1939, Father Phillip Sherlock persuaded Robert Verity to join the staff at the Institute of Jamaica. Father Sherlock recognised that Jamaica lacked a facility where children could explore the world of books, music, and art. Both men had the idea that they would create a place where children could have access to books and records, paintings and sculpture, free of charge. Not only would there be libraries and galleries, there would be classes where children could learn to draw and carve, make pottery and music. This would be “The Junior Centre” of the Institute. Bob Verity was tasked to make it happen.
Zeroing in on the contribution of one of the Centre’s stalwarts, we focus on Carmen Verity (nee Lawrence). Her association with the Institute of Jamaica officially started when her father ensured that his children carried on the tradition of the love of reading by joining the library. She thoroughly enjoyed going to the IOJ’s library and getting absorbed in the happenings of another world through books. She also liked going to the Institute, which was the genesis of the current Hope Zoo, to see the crocodiles, yellow snakes and pelicans. As she grew up, she became a member of a youth society that practised music, and they relied on the Institute to provide information on their chosen activity. It was not until 1945 that Mrs Verity accepted the charge of being the librarian.
The Junior Centre was the key that unlocked and positively shaped many lives. Some of these are:
Barbara Gloudon – journalist
As a child growing up in Kingston and attending St George’s Primary School, she also attended the East Street Junior Centre and was a member of the library. She was an avid reader and remembers borrowing a wide range of reading material. She recalls taking to school a book by the author Beatrix Potter which she had borrowed from the library. She not only took the book to school, but dared to hide it in her text book and proceeded to read it while the teacher was delivering her lesson. Needless to say, the book was confiscated to be returned at a later time. Gloudon credits her love for reading and her general love for communication to her time spent at the Junior Centre.
Desi Jones – drummer extraordinaire!
He began attending the East Street Junior Centre in 1966 when he was seven (7) years old. It was at the Centre that he learned to read music, and when he became proficient on the conga drums he backed the Eddie Thomas Dance Group. As the years went by and his musical talent grew, he became a founding member of the group Chalice in 1980. He also learned about Jamaica’s history through reading the books at the library, and fused the two exposures in 1983 to write the book The Art of Reggae Drumming. In 1988 he founded the Skool Band, which backed many local and international artistes. It all started at the Junior Centre.
Astley ‘Grub’ Cooper – leader of the Fab 5 Band
At the age of seven, Grub Cooper, his brother Conroy Cooper, along with other students from the Salvation Army Institute, attended the East Street Junior Centre, where he participated in the arts and music programmes. At the age of eight he started learning to play the recorder. Mrs Verity exposed them to a wide variety of music, including listening to educational music programmes which were broadcast on radio.
Grub Cooper has never forgotten the role the Junior Centre played in exposing him to a wide range of music genres during his formative years.
Douglas Orane – retired Chairman, Executive Director of GraceKennedy Ltd
He also sojourned at the East Street Junior Centre. At age seven he began his journey there with particular interest in the art classes, which “opened up a whole new range of possibilities for how to create using one’s mind”. Although he became an engineer, the creative foundation laid facilitated a synergistic approach to life, as he notes that the best scientists and engineers use their imagination to “find and create solutions”.
Orane served as a formidable force in the business arena, particularly while at GraceKennedy, and attributes his business acumen and his accomplishments in part to embracing his creative side and the balance it provided resulting from his initial interaction with the Junior Centre. He shared that he created the album cover of the work titled, 100 Years After, by the great trombonist Don Drummond!
Dr James Peart, MBBS, DCH
Dr Peart stated that it was at the East Street Junior Centre that he developed an appreciation for the finer things in life. It was there that his love affair with music and art began. He started participating in the activities at age six and he learned to play the recorder, which he still plays today. At the Centre he participated in the staging of concerts; there were professional musicians visiting the Centre, and art exhibitions were held. Dr. Peart remembers the exhibition of Albert Huie, and the occasions when the late Louise Bennett-Coverley visited.
The library at the Centre also provided opportunities for reading. Under the guidance of Mrs Verity, there were avenues for recitation and reading aloud. Dr Peart was exposed to music, art and drama, and by the time he started attending Wolmer’s Boys’ School, he was able to read music, and continued practising there.
He described the Centre as a melting pot of cultures, as children of diplomats also participated in the activities. That situation enabled him to relate with persons whose backgrounds were different from his own. He concludes that the Junior Centre helped to mould him into a total person, and he is thankful for the exposure he received and for the persons he met there.
In 2002, a 10-year-old boy named Roneil Brown commenced classes at the Greater Portmore Junior Centre. He joined the art class, but decided he was “no good at it” as all he could produce were stick men. Encouraged by his instructor, he attended classes regularly and found that he was improving. His consistent approach bore fruit: He eventually created murals for schools, exhibited at the Liguanea Arts Festival in 2011 and 2012, and enrolled at the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts, where he studied painting.
Other past students include:
Members of the musical group Nomaddz
In addition to the visual and performing arts, reading and computer skills activities, the Junior Centre offers enrichment activities to aid in the holistic development of young people. Some of the enrichment activities include:
HUSH Children Symposium
The HUSH Children Symposium, held annually since 2011, was birthed out of a need to have negative issues affecting our children and youth brought to the fore, in order to facilitate examining these concerns, to highlight the impact that they have, and to bring some measure of understanding, healing and closure to those who may have directly/indirectly been affected by them. The exploration of the various topics also sought to dissuade the youngsters from pursuing undesirable paths in life by having experiential testimonies shared with them, complemented with knowledge-sharing by the professional experts in the given field.
S.P.Y. Factor Programme (Stimulating Potential in Youth)/Heritage Fun Time
The aim of this programme is to broaden the knowledge base of the students by developing their investigative skills and exposing them to other facets about the world around them; exposing children to varying careers and enhancing their general knowledge.
Having children learn to prepare healthy and tasty foods, particularly local cuisine.
Annual Parenting Seminars
To offer parental support and assist parents in performing their parental roles more effectively.
The Programmes Coordination Division is also responsible for planning and hosting the following programmes:
Lunch hour concerts (Held once per quarter and free to attendees)
These concerts are held once per quarter and are free to students who attend from various schools in and around the corporate area. These concerts have been a feature of our special projects at the Institute of Jamaica since 1942.
National Art in Schools Exhibitions
These exhibitions are the National Exhibition for Art and Craft in Schools (for High, Technical High, Junior High, and All-Age Schools) and the Junior Art and Craft in Schools Exhibition (for Primary and Preparatory Schools). These exhibitions are held in alternate years and are geared towards promoting the arts, giving the schools exposure, encouraging and recognising children’s art, and encouraging freedom of expression.
For further information, contact the Programmes Coordination Division (Junior Centres and Simón Bolívar Cultural Centre).
Telephone: 922-0620-6, Email: [email protected]orcentre-ioj.org.jm
Telephone: 989-7509, Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 967-0378-80, Email: [email protected]