Papine High banks on $100m classroom block to boost results
St Andrew school anticipating end to shift system in cramped spaces
Papine High School is looking forward to the construction of a new three-storey block as it aims to eliminate the shift system and increase students’ contact time with teachers up from roughly three hours daily and improve overall academic performance.
The structure, which is expected to cost over $100 million, will house 13 new classrooms, laboratories, and staffrooms.
The contract for the first phase of construction – a wastewater treatment system – has already been awarded.
Chairman David Mais told The Gleaner that the additional space will make the learning environment more comfortable, noting that teachers currently have to conduct lessons in confined spaces and under extremely strained and demanding conditions.
Rose-Marie Davis, head of physical education and sport, said that over her many years of teaching at the Gordon Town, St Andrew-based institution, staff have constantly complained about the large number of students to be taught in small classrooms.
“I am a teacher who loves to walk up and down the aisles when I teach,” she said, noting that this could not be done because of the cramped space.
The school currently has six classroom blocks, two of which are two-storey buildings.
Headmaster Leighton Christie said that the space can accommodate 1,270 students. But with 250 pupils entering in grade seven, which has capacity of 220; another 500 kids in grades eight and nine; 220 children in grade 10; and more than 300 students in grade 11, the school has surpassed its capacity.
Last year, an average of 45 students were in each classroom across the grades, while the rooms were built to accommodate 25.
This year, the school is seeking to reduce the numbers to a maximum of 35 students per class, which Christie admitted to still too many, but the school will have to make do for the time being.
NOT ENOUGH TIME
Teachers and students have complained that the shift system only allows for three hours of lessons as opposed to the required five, a situation that affects academic performance.
Christie reported that the majority of students entering grade seven perform at the beginner level in both English language and mathematics.
As a result, the school will be heavily relying on the Alternative Pathways to Secondary Education (ASPE) strategy developed by the education ministry so that by the end of grade nine, more students will be at the proficient level.
The ASPE programme helps students to perform at their highest level based on aptitude, interest, and ability via three pathways.
“So, we are going to break up the classes, pooling them, putting them on pathways. We are reducing class sizes. We are putting more teachers to work ... so that we can move those students from developing in a systematic way,” the principal explained.
Christie said that some parents have sought transfers for their students after confirming that the school was still operating on the shift system. In addition, Papine High loses some students to other institutions such as Merl Grove High, Jamaica College, Mona High, The Queen’s School, and Excelsior High because of athletic scholarships or other reasons.
Despite the challenges, he is anticipating that the students will also do well in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and City and Guilds exams once more emphasis is put on bolstering these areas.
The education ministry has also assigned mathematics coaches and two special education coaches to the school to bolster these efforts.
“We are hoping for big things and greater things and we just want to get the students to love maths and to love English because, without these two subjects, they are not going to advance very far, and we have their interest at heart and we will continue to do what we can,” Christie said.
The principal further noted that the school had been seeing improvements in academic performances prior to the pandemic, but those gains have been reversed. He is hoping that with the school resuming face-to-face instruction in January this year, an improvement will soon be realised.
Christie said that most of his students are practical-oriented and suffered in online classes.
“Now that we have them before us, we have to make sure that we do everything for them to begin to express themselves in a practical way and in a theoretical way,” he added.
A gap in extracurricular activities also exists, according to Amelia Leverage-Ellis, acting head of the Science Department, who said there was not enough time to accommodate all students.
Leverage-Ellis said that she has long desired to see the establishment of a technical vocational club, but with the afternoon shift ending at 5 o’clock and most students relying on transportation, it is just not possible.
She said that safety concerns would arise if the students were to stay behind for even an hour to engage in these activities.
“We really don’t have the time here at Papine High. Our timetables are jam-packed and we still don’t have enough time to complete our curriculum, so we will really benefit from being on one shift so that we can benefit from extra classes and extracurricular activities,” she said.
Chairman Mais said that several initiatives were approved for implementation this academic year, which held considerable promise and excitement for the school.
One of these initiatives entails the creation of a tissue-culture field, greenhouse improvements, the building of a tilapia pond, the renovation of the music room, and the creation of a recording studio.
“We are absolutely focused on making our students safer, more secure, happier and giving them the best education that we can,” he told The Gleaner.
Recent improvements include the construction of a gazebo, the refurbishing of old basketball and netball courts, and the installation of new perimeter fencing for the school’s two-acre farm to guard against praedial larceny.
“The students that I have spoken to are very much more comfortable coming to Papine High School than five years ago,” Mais said.
He added that his goal is to raise the students’ self-esteem to at least the same degree as those at Jamaica College, for example.
“We have students that are walking along Hope Road, they see Jamaica College,” he said, noting that the institution had strong alumni groups and infrastructural developments.
“We don’t have that alumni, we don’t have that support. Therefore, the ministry needs to look at levelling up some of these schools like Papine so that you will have other so-called traditional schools,” Mais said.