New chapter begins for youth of Flanker in St. James

The educational prospects of preteens in the innercity Montego Bay community of Flanker have received a boost with the strengthening of a new program. USAID’s Community Empowerment and Transformation project (COMET) in collaboration with the e-learning company, GoGSAT, launched the second phase of the online Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) coaching program for Grade Five students who attend the Flanker Primary and Junior High School. This phase will allow the students to have almost a year of free online coaching in GSAT practice tests in preparations for GSAT exams in March next year. GoGSAT allows children of primary school age to have access to nearly 4,000 English, Math, Science and Social Studies practice tests.

Hugh Miller, principal of Flanker Primary and Junior High, is hailing the second phase of the GoGSAT Project as a “welcome program, which couldn’t have come at a better time.” Referring to the program as a “Godsend”, Mr. Miller points out that some months ago; the student population had seen a marked decline owing to an eruption of violence in the area. The principal noted that during the turmoil, the school lost some of its brighter students to other educational institutions. He adds that with the calm returning, students have begun to return to the school and “the GoGSAT program is a motivating factor for students and parents.”

The Flanker Peace and Justice Centre as well as the Flanker Primary School serve as hubs for the GSAT e-learning program. Students use the computer lab at the school from Mondays to Fridays, while the Peace and Justice Centre accommodate them from Mondays to Sundays. Under the first phase of the program the project provided sponsorship of 45 Grade Six students who reside in Flanker. “We saw a noticeable improvement in many of the students,” Mr. Miller said in an interview. Under the second phase of the program another 45 students who are now Grade Five students (who will move to Grade Six in September), are participating in the program.

Commending the program for providing students with a wider scope of exam material than they were accustomed to, Mr. Miller says because of the interactive nature of the program teachers can leave the students to do the tests and concentrate on assisting students who are slower learners.

At the launch of phase two of the GoGSAT program all students who participated in Phase One of the program were presented with certificates. Marilyn Nash, Executive Director of the Flankers Peace and Justice Centre who is also a resident of Flanker expressed gratitude to USAID and GoGSAT for “creating a brighter future for the children of Flanker.” Commenting on the program, she continued, “It is a wonderful thing. It is a challenge for a large number of them to afford extra lessons so GoGSAT is certainly a great help for them in their preparations for exams.” Mrs. Nash added, “I was really happy when they informed me that they (the project team) want to work with the Grade Five students now”.

Addressing participants at the Launch of GoGSAT Phase Two in Flanker, Sharene McKenzie Civil Society Specialist, with the project, challenged private and public sector entities to match the efforts of the project in committing support for GSAT students in other areas of the island. She declares that the communities stand to reap rich benefits when the children are educated.

The USAID Community Empowerment and Transformation Project was launched in Grants Pen in March 2006 and was extended to Flanker and Central Village/White Marl during 2007. The USAID project is supporting the rollout of Community Policing by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) in 19 JCF divisions. The project is also partnering with the Social Development Commission in community empowerment and transformation across the island.

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