Jahhalcyon reaps SEA rewards
By Leiselle Maraj Monday, July 9 2012
Some have called the Athenian Pre-secondary, located at Deane St in St Augustine, unorthodox with their focus on play as much as academics.
This is only the fourth year the school has had a class write the Secondary Entrance Assessment examination, but within those four short years, the school has been able to guide several children to SEA success. This year, one student has placed among the top 200 students.
Under the care of Principal Kezia Reece and the teachers of the school, Jahhalcyon Drayton came out of her shy shell when she joined the school at the Standard One level and transformed into a self-confident, outspoken and outgoing student. She is very happy and excited to be attending St Joseph Convent, St Joseph when the new school year begins in September.
“We are really excited. We’ve always wanted this school for Jah,” her mother, Analene Drayton said in a recent interview with Newsday.
“St Joseph produces young women of substance.
The foundation has already been laid here,” Reece said of her outstanding pupil. Even before results were announced, Jahhalcyon was chosen as the school’s valedictorian for their graduation exercise which was expected to take place last Saturday.
“When I selected her, I knew she best represented the school’s value system. She exudes the Athenian way,” Reece said, after describing Jahhalcyon’s high morals and ability to motivate herself and her classmates.
“My experience here was different from any other primary school. We went to the river, we climbed trees, we had Fun Fridays and we had snow cones. I feel glad that my parents chose to put me in this school. The teachers are encouraging and provided help whenever we needed it. They loved and cared for us,” said the scholar. Of the three subjects tested at the SEA level, Jahhalcyon’s favourite is Mathematics. “Maths is complicated. You could do anything with numbers once you know what to do with them,” she said. Her lifetime goal is to become a teacher. “I want to inspire people to do good things and help others achieve what they want,” she said.
Her proud parents were also happy with their choice of primary school for their daughter despite being dissuaded from taking her out of her former school and placing her in such a young establishment. Analene said she and her eldest son discovered the school as they passed it on the route home from his secondary school.
“We would pass everyday and slow down and always wondered what type of place it was. We would see young children playing on swings and slides and moving them for themselves. My son said to me this place looked like somewhere where children could play and have fun and still learn,” she said.
She made an appointment to see the school’s principal but had a feeling they met before. And they did. Reece had dissuaded Analene from uprooting Jahhalcyon and her brother from their first school to attend hers when the school was situated at a different location.
“I do not believe in having children move around so much so I told her to give that school a try,” Reece said. When the two did meet the second time, Reece welcomed her children to the school. “The environment here is good. Children are allowed to be relaxed but they know they have to do their best so that they could have their fun,” Analene said.
Jahhalcyon’s father, Larry said he was attracted to the school’s push for excellence in all areas. “We have been to football matches, swim meets and even seen them play and this school goes all out. Children here are free but they are not allowed to be disrespectful. It is a very excellent environment to grow children,” he said. At home, Jahhalcyon’s parents continued to encourage and talk to their child to motivate her to succeed. They purchased practice tests and the answer booklets and Jahhalcyon needed no encouragement to settle down after school and complete one test a day.
“She would correct them herself and go and look over the ones she got wrong. It was only if she did not understand why she was wrong she would come to one of us for help,” Analene said. Her parents also encouraged her to pray and recognise God was in control of everything.
The youngster did face some difficulty on the road to SEA. She had to deal with several deaths in her family and her father leaving the country to seek medical assistance for an ailment.
“Mummy went with him and during that time, my grades dropped. One day I was very frustrated and I called them and told them I needed them to come back because my grades dropped and they came back and waited until I was finished with SEA before they left again,” Jahhalcyon explained.
Aside from this incident, Jahhalcyon’s determination and focus on her goal was admired by her family and those around her. These qualities were fostered and groomed at her primary school.
Thirteen students made up the SEA class who were taught by separate teachers for Math and English, much like the secondary school system. Reece said this is done so that students will get an idea of a format where there are different individuals influencing their education.
At the end of Standard Four, the students would have finished the Primary School Syllabus. The teachers, Tristan Bonterre (English) and Kestra Marshall (Maths) were therefore able to focus on drilling students, administering practice tests and helping students develop their weak areas.
“With this system, teachers can focus on their strengths. Some SEA teachers may be good at one subject and not good at the other so they will focus more on the area they are interested in. With this system, teachers will be able to really coach their students,” Reece explained.
Each teacher has different techniques to help students visualise their goals which motivates them to succeed. Reece believes in a system of “Build, Burn, Build”, where students are taught to strive for excellence.
“Students take home practice tests to complete every week at home but on Mondays, there are simulated SEA exams at the school. After results are calculated, students are corrected on their errors but are also pushed to do better,” she explained.
Part of this system is to not isolate students from all the fun activities at school. “We do not believe that in preparation for SEA there should be no fun, no play, no friends or no life. Our students continue to be actively involved in school activities,” she said.
Students are encouraged to continue their involvement in music, sport and dance and are encouraged to enjoy them since it would be the last time they would be doing it and representing the school.
While the school follows the syllabus, they also pay attention to developing the child’s self awareness. “Knowing who you are contributes to excellence. When there is confusion of self, it muddles the mind and there is no performance,” Reece explained.
This particular SEA class was the first to be given extra preparation time by the Education Ministry as the examination was pushed to May from March when it was traditionally held. Reece said however, her students became mentally exhausted. “There is a peak period and after that they just became saturated with information and started to go down,” she said.
After discussing it with the students and parents, the school had a week of “no SEA talk” and students were allowed to relax, have small field trips and do light revision. “We know we want success but not at a cost. We will not run our children ragged. So they went off on a week of relaxation and were able to thrust forward for the last three weeks before SEA,” Reece said.
The week paid off. Students excelled and they achieved passes for secondary schools including Queen’s Royal College, St Mary’s College, St Joseph Convents, Trinity Boys, ASJA Boys, St Francois Girls and St Anthony’s College.
While many people have criticised Reece’s system of education, it has seemed to work so far. “People think they cannot work and play at the same time but once students and parents take each level seriously, this can be achieved,” she said.
The entire school participates in Fun Friday every week when books and lessons are forgotten and the children are allowed to play for the entire day.
The school also has boy days and girl days when children participate in activities which may be exclusive to each gender. And while the school’s graduates would need to adjust to the more regimented secondary school system, Reece ensures they are prepared to face the world outside the Athenian Pre-secondary. After SEA, students are socialised in what to expect at secondary school. This includes trips to secondary schools and to the University of the West Indies where they tour the compounds and get a glimpse at life at these higher education levels.
Students are told about peer pressure and bullying. “This is why self awareness and self identity is important. They are going from an environment where they are not called names (and) negative attitudes are not encouraged into a new environment. They have to know how to stand up for themselves. We teach them to remember to remain true to themselves and do not compromise themselves for their friends. They are given the responsibility to be leaders here,” Reece said adding that students are taught to introduce themselves to their new peers.
In this system, Jahhalcyon was nurtured and groomed to be a well rounded student. “I am quite proud of Jah despite my personal feelings about ranking students. I was in shock when I was informed about her achievement. It is refreshing to know we are one of the youngest schools and what we have been able to achieve in such a short space of time. It goes to show despite the criticism, we can achieve,” she said.