It was difficult for students and well-wishers to hold back their tears at the fifth staging of the National Child Month Committee’s (NCMC) annual Youth Academic Achievement Awards ceremony a week and a half ago, when 16 of the top students from non-traditional high schools across Jamaica were recognised for outstanding academic performance in the 2017 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations.
The NCMC awardees, who were nominated by their teachers and guidance counsellors, passed over five subjects and were involved in community service and volunteerism.
In an emotional and intimate ceremony at the Grand Caribbean Suite at the Knutsford Court Hotel, master of ceremony and retired educator Allison Peart hailed them “stars of the earth”.
Britney Huie of Irwin High School in St James received a monetary prize for copping the award for Top Girl and Overall Top Student. Huie, who also presented the awardees’ response, attained 10 CSEC subjects with seven ones and three twos.
Emroy McKenzie of Kemps Hill High School in Clarendon was also awarded a monetary prize as he took home the Top Boy award for being successful in nine CSEC subjects.
Among the NCMC awardees was past head girl of Yallahs High School in St Thomas, Dacia Dixon who was accompanied by history teacher Anna-Kay Soares.
Dixon, who attained three ones and five twos in the examinations, told the Jamaica Observer that she was happy non-traditional high schools were finally being recognised.
“You know, they normally look down on us and I feel very elated and hope that they will continue to highlight non-traditional high schools because our performances were high. so I am glad for that,” she said,
The young woman also served as student council president, president of the Junior Achivement club, and was a member of the Yallahs High, 4-H club.
As she shared her ambitions of becoming a chartered accountant, Dixon, who currently attends the University of Technology, Jamaica, said, “My dream job is to work at Scotiabank and then move on to the Bank of Jamaica, then hopefully become the best accountant in Jamaica and then over the world,” she added, bursting into laughter.
Another NCMC awardee, Vernal Headley, past student of Hopewell High School in Hanover, passed 10 CSEC subjects with five ones and five twos to secure a spot in Herbert Morrison Technical High School’s sixth form programme. He told the gathering how he had to “mentally block hunger” most school days.
“I think this event is a tremendous one,” he told the Observer. “It encourages us to go forward in our academic (pursuits), despite the difficulties that we’ve been through.”
Though he acknowledged that the trend of celebrating achievement in traditional high schools over non-traditional still prevails, Headley commended the NCMC for making some changes to the status quo.
“I see where they have done interviews to get other students’ opinions from non-traditional high schools, and they saw that that was a concern and a true issue,” he stated. “So I think this plan will make us actually feel a part of an institution and that that institution is a good insitution, despite that it’s not a traditional one; passes are still coming from these schools as well.”
Before the presentation of awards, guests listened as Olivia Lazarus of Excelsior High School did a rendition of There Will Be Mountains, encouraging the awardees to never quit on their journey. Her performance preceded the speech by guest speaker Oneil Josephs, lecturer and programme director of engineering at UTech.
Josephs, who himself hail from a background of poverty and adversity like the awardees, and who was introduced to guns, drugs and gang violence in high school, encouraged the NCMC awardees to continue to defy odds and expectations.
“These exposures deprived me, at the time, of meaningful opportunities for a bright future through education. In other words, I wasted my high school life,” he confessed, adding that the time wasted set him back three years in his personal development.
Josephs said he eventually settled into his academic pursuits, receiving first class honours in engineering at UTech and later, a full scholarship to study for his masters at the University of Nottingham in England.
The message resonated with awardee Omarie Davis. A resident of Tower Hill in St Andrew West Central, a community often associated with poverty and violence, Davis said he was particularly motivated when he learned that Josephs grew up in the same community.
“I especially liked the motivational speech that Mr Josephs gave since he is from my community and he was there back then when the crime was more serious,” said Davis. “That helped me to open my mind wider and see how I can push forward and achieve what I want, no matter where I am from.”
Davis, who served as deputy head boy at Penwood High School in St Andrew, where he attained seven CSEC subjects, told the Career & Education about his ambitions to become an entrepreneur.
Davis’ mother, Joewaine Davis, a higgler by trade, told the Observer that she constantly encourages her son to “try hard and come out to sump’n”.
“I’m feeling so good!” she exclaimed. “I’ve never come here before so I feel so overwhelmed and I like how him perform in school and all that. Mi always tell him to try and come out to something ’cause mi nuh waan him come out like how me come out. Mi want him fi guh higher and higher and come out good.”
In addition to Huie, McKenzie, Dixon, Headley, and Davis, the 2017 NCMC awardees were Shadia Franklin of Troy High a, Romonia Downer of Albert Town High, both in Trewlany; Sadiki Lindsay of Aabuthnott Gallimore High in St Ann, Janelle Hallwood of Port Antonio High in Portland, Anthony Higgins of Tarrant High in St Andrew, Tyra Hepburn of Bridgeport High in St Catherine, Toriann Ellis of Denbigh High in Clarendon; Joshoy Stephens of May Day High and Jayda Morgan of Winston Jones High, both in Manchester; Deandrea Green of Roger Clarke High in St Elizabeth and Deandra Smith of Salvation Army School For the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Meanwhile, trained educator and guidance counsellor and chairperson of NCMC Dr Pauline Mullings shared with the Observer that it was actually students who came up with the idea to have a youth academic award.
“We have an annual youth forum in November and we usually highlight the theme and ask the young people to discuss it and tell us if they think we are living up to it, what is it that we need to do, what can be done,” she explained. “They do it in debates, in drama and in discussions and so on and in one of the forums, six years ago, it came out that we award athletes and talk about them; we talk about the DJs, but when it comes to education, people are not really highlighted,” she said.
She added that the committee felt it was best to highlight students from non-traditional high schools, who are not usually recognised.
While Mullings expressed pride for the awardees, she however, registered disappointment that no awardee was nominated from Kingston — for the second year in a row.
“I am concerned…We have so many non-traditional schools in Kingston where students are doing very well. But it speaks to the fact that whenever an adult is not involved with the child it can be challenging,” she stated, noting that it was the teachers and guidance counsellors from the various non-traditional high schools who were responsible for nominating students.
Other parsishes which did not nominate students were St Mary and Westmoreland.
The NCMC, which was formed in 1953, ensures that the month of May is recognised as Child Month annually and each year identifies a theme that embodies the challenges and aspirations of Jamaican children. This year the theme was A.F.F.I.R.M Me!, with each letter standing for ‘Acknowledge’, ‘Friend’, ‘Favour’, ‘Influence’, ‘Respect’ and ‘Motivate’.
Source: Jamaica Observer