Sun | Jun 16, 2024

‘We have to be turning back students’

Highway project puts basic school under pressure

Published:Thursday | April 27, 2023 | 12:51 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer
Winsome Symister, principal of the Bethel Basic School in Bull Bay, St Andrew, said her school is in need of additional classroom space to meet demand after another early childhood institution was demolished to make way for the highway.
Winsome Symister, principal of the Bethel Basic School in Bull Bay, St Andrew, said her school is in need of additional classroom space to meet demand after another early childhood institution was demolished to make way for the highway.
Along with space constraints, staff and students of the Bethel Basic School in Bull Bay, St Andrew, also have to contend with a dust nuisance as work progresses on the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project.
Along with space constraints, staff and students of the Bethel Basic School in Bull Bay, St Andrew, also have to contend with a dust nuisance as work progresses on the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project.
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SINCE THE 2021 demolition of African Martyrs of Uganda Early Childhood Institute (ECI), which was situated in Ten Miles, Bull Bay, St Andrew, the bulk of students seeking placement have turned to Bethel Basic School for enrolment.

But with limited spacing, Principal Winsome Symister has identified the need for expansion to accommodate more of the community’s children to ensure that no child is left behind.

The African Martyrs of Uganda ECI was flattened due to being in the direct path of the ongoing major road development undertaken as part of the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project (SCHIP).

Similar to this, the African Martyrs of Uganda Roman Catholic Church, which established the community-based basic school, was also demolished.

According to a 2018 Early Childhood Commission inspection report, there were 56 students attending the school, ranging in age from three to five years old.

Speaking with The Gleaner on Monday, Symister expressed that the institution was in desperate need of an additional classroom to separate the two- and three-year-olds, who are currently sharing one class space.

“We have to be turning back students,” she lamented, adding that she was only able to employ two teachers from African Martyrs of Uganda ECI before it was demolished.

Symister further explained that her plan is to transform her current office, which is located on ground level, into the classroom needed; and build another room atop the building to serve as her office space.

A quotation for the supplies needed was drafted for $524,843.50.

The 60-year-old institution, she said, will find it difficult to gather the funds to actualise the construction of the room, coupled with sourcing financing to cover labour costs.

With a student population of 50 and six teachers, Bethel Basic still aimed to function as best as it could, despite taking in a little more than its capacity.

“Persons are registering children and so to accommodate more we just want another classroom,” she said.

In addition to this, Symister is also looking to erect proper fencing around the school grounds, as the current wood enclosure was being eaten away by termites.

Though her efforts in appealing to past students of the institution for assistance have not yet yielded results, Symister remains positive that the funding will come to aid the operations of the school and to accommodate more kids.

She is reaching out to the general public for assistance to make these plans a reality.

Symister also pleaded for frequent wetting of the roadway as the dust from construction work being carried out continues to be a nuisance to the staff and children. She said that students continue to be absent from school, attending up to three days a week because they have fallen ill.

This is a pattern that has been evident among the teaching staff as well because the school, which is located along the main road, continues its battle with the dust.

“Sometimes we find that the children who are asthmatic, they might come Monday and Tuesday and because of the dust, you don’t see them for the rest of the week. One time a little boy had to be hospitalised almost every week,” she said.

“When I reach Harbour View, I have to get on my mask because is [a lot] of dust,” she said, of her own journey back and forth from the institution.

asha.wilks@gleanerjm.com

How you can help

Persons interested in aiding Bethel Basic can contact the administration at bethelbasic_1963@yahoo.com or call 876-530-9601.