Jamaica Gleaner /
Nothing will daunt the fervour of principal Patrick Phillips and the academic staff at Bog Walk High School in their quest to add value to the approximately 2,000 students.
Phillips and his team are faced with the seemingly uphill task of pulling the school from near the bottom of the ranking for effective schools.
The National Education Inspectorate (NEI) rated Bog Walk High ‘unsatisfactory’ following an inspection of the St Catherine-based institution in November 2012. Among its various findings, the NEI pointed out that the teaching and learning of English and mathematics needed immediate support.
The school began the process of adding value by administering a diagnostic tests to determine each student’s level of readiness for learning.
“Those students who test very low are placed in two dedicated classes where the teacher does an inter-vention with them throughout the year,” said Phillips.
“They improve by 50 or up to 70 per cent, and at the end of the year, many are able to move into the regular grade eight,” added Phillips, as he noted that the teachers of these two remedial classes were trained to teach at the primary level.
The Bog Walk High principal said this teaching approach, which the school implemented five years ago, has now been formalised by the education ministry through the Alternative Pathways to Secondary Education (APSE) programme.
Beyond this remedial intervention at grade seven, the school has implemented several other strategies to add value to the students’ education.
Kevin Smith, head of the Mathematics Department, has organised monthly math camps on weekends, which involve teachers sleeping in classrooms and contributing their time freely.
“We are sacrificing our weekends and holidays to ensure that there is significant improvement in student performance in mathematics over time,” said Smith.
He disclosed that students contact teachers, using WhatsApp messaging, in the nights and parents check with teachers about students’ performance via text messages during scheduled periods. In addition, the education ministry’s regional office has assigned resource persons to upgrade staff skills.
Slow but steady progress
The St Catherine-based Bog Walk High School has seen some progress in the performance of its students, but this is not enough for the academic staff.
The average pass rate for mathematics in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination moved from five per cent in 2012 to a high of 19 per cent in 2015, followed by 12 per cent in 2016, reflecting a national decline.
The school has been having “moderate success” in English language and has insisted that each grade 11 student sit an exit examination, reports Elaine Reid, head of the English Department.
She told The Gleaner ‘s news team that the school has been doing “reasonably well” in the CSEC examination, with 50 per cent passes for English A and a 60 per cent pass rate in the City & Guilds examination in 2016. The CSEC pass rate is moving from 13 per cent in 2012.
The strategies used to improve the teaching and learning of English include:
– Assessing students at grade 10 and assigning them to an examination (City & Guilds or CSEC) according to their -strengths.
– Staging of English marathons for grade 11 for City & Guilds and CSEC examinations at least twice per year.
– Keeping extended day/extra classes for grades 10 and 11.
– Establishing writers and debating clubs to develop students’ writing and speaking skills.
– Issuing of motivational certificates.
“Since the NEI (National Education Inspectorate) assessment, we have been tracking the students to see how best we can assist them to matriculate. We now see students, who came in at low Grade Six Achievement Test grades performing at 70 and 80 per cent, with the bulk at 50 per cent,” said Reid.
School principal Patrick Phillips said, “When I see a grade four I jump for joy. Where we have taken them from, to achieve that grade, I give kudos to the teachers. That’s a big value added.”
He disclosed that at the end of five years, many students have passed five, six and seven subjects in the CSEC examination and matriculated into tertiary institutions.
Phillips noted that the school has incorporated performance-based assessments into its standardised tests or added assessment vehicles, such as projects and presentations, to facilitate student understanding.
According to the principal, these multiple forms of assessment require students to apply what they are learning to real world tasks.
Student learning includes technical and vocational subjects. Phillips is adamant that every child leaving Bog Walk High must be empowered with a certified skill. So, they sit the National Vocational Qualification of Jamaica (NVQ-J) examination at grades 10 and 11. The subjects include carpentry, food and nutrition, housekeeping, and electrical installation.
Arts + sports = success
Principal of Bog Walk High School in St Catherine, Patrick Phillips, strongly believes that the achievement of his students in co-curricular activities has had a positive effect on their performance in the academics.
“We use the extra-curricular activities to motivate students and improve their self-esteem,” Phillips told The Gleaner .
Phillips is delighted by the school’s proud record in the performing arts, including being crowned the 2016 champion for the National School Band Competition. The band has won the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s (JCDC) gold medal award on several occasions and performs at events for business places in the community. Bog Walk High has also won the JCDC Children’s Gospel Song Contest several times.
While not yet a big name in sports, Bog Walk High has produced track star and Olympian Jevaughn Minzie. The school has had measured success in Headley Cup cricket, daCosta Cup football and rugby competitions.
Four of the Under-19 rugby players were among the national team that played against Canada. The school boasts 100 per cent passes at grades one and two in CSEC physical education and sports examination.
Of course, the school administration has not ignored the social and behavioural aspects of its operation. This is the responsibility of the Social Studies Department, headed by Petrina Nelson, which coordinates several activities, including a ‘keep to the right to get to classes on time’ campaign and an awards ceremony to recognise students with average over 70 per cent.
In the meantime, Phillips and his team await the reinspection of their school by the National Education Inspectorate to determine how much progress they have made since the first-cycle inspection of five years ago.
STRATEGIES FOR IMPROVED STUDENT LEARNING
The school, in recognition of the shortcomings found by the NEI, has done the following to improve students’ learning:
– Provide access to quality professional development for all school staff per term. Additionally, departments have been mandated to host their own professional development activities in areas they deemed necessary.
– Facilitate collaboration time to enrich and extend teachers’ repertoire of instructional and assessment strategies to meet the needs of learners.
– Dedicated classroom and teacher for students needing special attention in grade seven.
– Installation of SMARTBOARD.
– Introduction of Brag Board, which displays names and photographs of students who are excelling.
– Visits to the governor general by students who have achieved 70 per cent and over in internal examinations.
– Annual awards ceremony to highlight students who have achieved in their exams as well as academic, administrative and ancillary staff members who have performed well in their various departments.
– Hosting of past students as role models.