The Centre of Excellence programme is achieving success in improving the performance of students in six upgraded high schools, many of whom were functioning below grade level. University of the West Indies (UWI) Lecturer and consultant to the programme, Dr. Joan Ernandez, says that while the targeted institutions are reporting different results, they are moving in the right direction. “We are on track with improved grades. We have more children getting ones and twos, we are seeing an increase in the number of grade threes because we have failing students coming over into threes now,” she tells JIS News. “Quality is moving, the number of passes are moving and we are achieving the target of getting far more children to sit the exams and to pass them and getting better grades,” she adds. The programme, funded through a $100-million facility provided by the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) and The Victoria Mutual Building Society (VMBS) was set up in 2008 to improve outcomes in six rural high schools, where students were found to be reading below grade levels. It is in support of the Ministry of Education’s efforts to provide quality educationin rural communities to support social transformation, by injecting much needed technical and financial resources to improve student achievement, teacher quality, and organisational effectiveness. The targeted schools are Mile Gully High and Porus High in Manchester; Seaforth High in St. Thomas; McGrath High in St. Catherine; Godfrey Stewart High in Westmoreland; and Green Pond High in St. James. Ms. Ernandez says that these schools often receive Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) students, who score anywhere between 20 per cent to 50 per cent on the Language Arts test. “So, it means that they have been getting, over the years, a number of students, who cannot read and write; they are not literate. What we find is that students would come in and are unable to access the grade seven curriculum because their reading and writing skills are very poor,” she notes. Through the Centre of Excellence Programme the aim is to transform these schools into model institutions for teaching and learning, which can be replicated across the education system. Focus is placed onteaching and learning support, diagnostic testing, remedial education, student exchange (twinning project schools with schools in the Diaspora), student leadership, mentorship, co-curricular activities and after-school programmes, and engaging the local community. School plants are also refurbished and resources are injected to improve science and computer laboratories and resource centres. Teacher training is a major component of the programme, with teachers benefiting from instruction in student-centered learning approaches, instructional technology and other computer-related skills, classroom and behaviour management, and the use of management information systems. Their skills in areas such as Mathematics, English Language, Science and Information Technology are also upgraded. “The centres encourage the teachers to come out of their comfort zone, to move away from the chalk and talk. They provide the teachers with suggestions and resources that can be use to make the classroom more student-friendly, hence conducive to learning,” Dr. Ernandez tells JIS News. Dr. Ernandez explains that an intervention was worked out for each school based on a situation analysis conducted. “We do not have a common intervention for all schools. What we do is look at the situation as it exists in each school and deal with it on its own merit,” she points out. She explains that at McGrath High for example, “we would look at their intake from GSAT, we would look at their current situation with grades eight, nine, 10 and so on. We also look at their trends in CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) performance, staffing, staff qualification; is there a reading specialist, is there a literacy resource room. We then meet with heads of departments to develop school improvement plans and literacy improvement plans that are tailored to the needs of the school.” She says that the objective is to get all staff members on board “to have a vision for the school in terms of not just the CSEC passes but getting every single child at least to minimum literacy before they graduate.” According to Melissa Gordon, Head of the Language Department at the Porus High School, the programme has had a positive impact on the teaching and learning experience at the school. “The programme is data driven, so it forces us as teachers to be more accountable to for the overall performance of our students. The collection and analysis of data have to be done on a regular basis and this helps us to better plan for the diversity within the classrooms,” Ms. Gordon says. At Porus High School, at the beginning of each year all students entering are administered a reading test using the Mico Diagnostic Reading Assessment. This allows a better feedback on their performance in reading. Intervention programmes are then structured around the students’ needs. “Students become active participants in their learning, using reports to track their own progress and set personal targets,” Ms. Gordon states. Kareem McLeod, Head of the Language Department at the McGrath High, tells JIS News that the programme emphasises the use of graphs to compare students’ performance. “Literally seeing the students’ performance on paper was quite shocking but it helps. She says that one strategy the school uses is to group students according to their ability levels, which allows them to learn from each other. The programme will conclude at the end of the 2012/2013 academic year.
FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. – Tony Bussey knew for a long time that his mammoth waistline threatened his health.But it wasn’t until two years ago, when he felt his 567 pounds endangered others during the wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alta., that he finally found the motivation to shrink it.“That had a huge effect on me,” said Bussey, 43. “It was at that moment I felt, ‘Enough is enough, Tony. You can’t keep going on like this. You’re affecting other people now.’”Bussey was working his regular shift in the tire shop at Suncor Energy’s oilsands plant in May 2016 when the order came to evacuate the facility in the face of a wildfire that was raging dangerously close. Buses pulled up to take employees to Suncor’s airstrip.“They took me from the back of the line to the front of the line because of my size,” he recalled.“They put me at the front of the bus, but they wouldn’t sit anybody next to me. Nobody could fit there. I was spilling over into the next seat,” he said.“I couldn’t stop thinking, there’s somebody left behind. They’ve got to wait longer in this hell.“Everybody was wanting to get out there and get back to their families. A person now has to wait — who knows how much longer — because I’m too fat to sit next to.”The same thing happened on the plane out. Bussey took up two seats.“I got back to Edmonton that evening and … that’s when I started.”The five-foot-eight Bussey had been overweight for a long time, but it had finally reached the point where even size 66 pants were tight. He could only weigh himself at the shop on a scale normally used for heavy machinery.Walking to his car left him breathless and he barely fit inside when he got there.“There wasn’t one morning where I didn’t wish I was somebody else”.He was too big to start anywhere but small.His first walks were five minutes long. Then they were 10 minutes, then 15.He cut out junk food and soda and switched to a diet low in carbohydrates and high in proteins.By that September, he’d lost 100 pounds.Now, he’s lost more than half of his original weight and, at about 240 pounds, wears a size 34. Putting on socks is no longer an ordeal. His walks are measured in kilometres and he rides the bus to work every day like the rest of his colleagues.“I haven’t felt this good in years,” Bussey said. “I used to dream of this moment.”Perhaps best of all, the world has opened up. Now that it’s easier for him to get around, he’s been back to his Newfoundland home for the first time since he came west. He’s taken his daughter to Ontario and flies to visit her instead of driving.He’s applied for his first passport.“I’ve always loved travelling,” he said. “It’s a dream of mine.”Bussey knows the fire caused destruction and heartbreak. He knows it destroyed homes and memories and cost billions. But it did do one good thing.“That fire saved my life. I’ve gained a whole new one.”— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow him on Twitter at @row1960