Tuesday, April 15, 2014

JCDC Creative Writing Exhibition at St. James Parish Library

Dorothy Noel, Guest Speaker

The JCDC Creative Writing Exhibition Tour Official Opening took place at St. James Parish Library on April 3, 2014, with a small but appreciative audience. The schools present were Naz Prep and Herbert Morrison Technical High, with their teachers. Other schools which had confirmed their attendance didn’t put in an appearance, much to the disappointment of the hard-working organizer and Chairman of the function, Ms. Natalie Morris. After her opening remarks, she introduced Ms. Joan Pinkney, Licensing and Membership Manager of JAMCOPY, who brought greetings and explained the purpose of JAMCOPY
Joan Pinkney
Then came samples of creative writing. I read an excerpt from my silver-medal winning novel “The Last of the Marogs” in which Delroy travels through time and finds himself in a Taino village, at the beginning of the sixteenth century. It is the last book of the trilogy which began with “Delroy in the Marog Kingdom”.
Dario Shields
Dario Shields read an excerpt from Ghetto Born, God Raised, a book inspired by his mother and his circumstances. He hopes that through reading the book, persons will learn lessons about life and themselves. A student from Naz Prep read a poem by fellow student, Zari Gourzong. 
Mikail Clarke

Mikail Clarke, Grade 10 student at Cornwall College, a winner in the JamaicaVision 2030 essay competition, recited the poem “Mi Black, Mi Proud”.  He is also Junior Mayor of Montego Bay. Although young, his bearing, self-confidence, acting ability and awareness definitely qualify him for this position. 
Natalie Morris asking for more 'Open Mike' participants

                 The guest speaker was Ms Dorothy Noel, retired Publishing Manager at Carlong. She gave a wide-ranging address entitled “You can be a writer, too”, and began by quoting Indian Film Director, Mira Nair’s famous line, “If we don’t tell our stories, who will?” People should also write to develop self-confidence and as an outlet for artistic expression, as did Ben Carson, the famous neurosurgeon, in his book “Gifted Hands”. Then she outlined the qualities of a writer for the 5 categories in the JCDC Creative Writing Contest - poetry, short stories, novels, plays and essays.
All writers, she stated, have fertile imaginations, have a voice, edit and rewrite, read good books and are well read. Reading helps writers to see how celebrated authors use language and themes. For short stories and novels, Ms Noel recommended Diane Browne and Hazel Campbell, Jamaican children’s writers who have been published by Carlong. Her mention of Olive Senior’s “Summer Lightning” prompted me to reread stories in the anthology of that title.
For poetry, Ms Noel praised Kei Miller, whom she described as Jamaica’s best young poet. She urged us to read his new collection “The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion”, which illustrates the way in which a poet reaches for deeper levels of meaning. In relation to plays, the writer must bear in mind that the script is to be performed and therefore requires directions as well as dialogue. In order to maintain interest, the rhythm should vary. She also stressed the importance of having others read our work, and reiterated the point that writers need to edit and rewrite.
      After Ms. Noel’s address, and the Chairman’s closing remarks, we all moved to the entrance hall of the library where the Exhibition was set up. Ms. Morris then declared the Exhibition open. 

Naz Prep students reading award-winning poems

Opening of Exhibition

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mountambrin Piano Recital - Mikhail Johnson

Nestled in the cool, rain-blessed hills of Westmoreland is Mountambrin, the home of Dr. Russell Gruhlke -  optometrist/farmer, Canute Gruhlke - manager of the property, and Lesbert Lee - wood-carver. It consists of the original house where Alex Haley wrote "Roots", a number of individual cottages in unusual architectural styles, the Mountambrin Tower, with views of the Westmoreland Plains,  and the Theatre Gallery, all surrounded by luxuriant vegetation in lovingly tended gardens.
If you are a lover of Classical Piano Music, be sure not to miss the recital there by Mikhail Johnson on Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014 from 2-4 p.m.

To reach Mountambrin, on the road from Montego Bay to Sav-la-Mar, take a left turn at Whithorn and drive a little over a mile up the road to Darliston. Turn left along Toad Road, signed to Mountambrin.  If you doubt you are on the right track, don't worry. After a mile you will reach your destination. Admire the views and vegetation along the way.
After parking, take the opportunity to stroll around the gardens and admire the sculptures before the concert begins.
Garden with Westmoreland Plains in the distance

Mikhail will be playing:
Bach Partita No.1 in G major (Praeambulum)
Beethoven Sonata No.6 in F major (1st and 2nd movements)
Debussy Prelude (from Suite Bergamasque)
in addition to works by  Rachmaninov, Teleman and an Original Composition by Mikhail himself.

Admission JA$1800.00, All Tickets will be Available at the Gate
Sudents with Id. JA$500.00
Music Student with Id; Free
Meals and Drinks will be Available for Purchase - dinner US$14.00

On Saturday, March 22, Dr. Russell Gruhlke had an informal get-together  to show appreciation to  Gayle Rich, the person behind the Music at Mountambrin. For over ten years, she has been bringing musicians from the US to play at Mountambrin. (See 'The Boston Piano Quartet'.) 
Patrons and musicians and their families enjoyed an appetizing meal of chicken, both curried and baked, with fried breadfruit, yam and green beans grown on the property. Dessert was a delectable mix of star apple and jackfruit (a Mountambrin speciality) with ice-cream. The diners generated lively conversation and much laughter. 

Jose, Canute, Elaine & Dr Rus  enthralled (Gayle's photo)
Among those present were Dr. Russell Gruhlke, Canute Gruhlke, Lesbert Lee, Gayle Rich, Steven Woodham, Elaine and Jose Oxamendi Vicet, Helen and Winston Williams, Bunny Rose, Mikhail Johnson, Maria Jose Parker, her husband Geoff and their two young children.

After dinner, we were treated to a wonderful concert. First, Steve Woodham on violin, accompanied by Maria Jose on the pano played:

From Porgy and Bess By Gershwin:
     My Man's Gone Now
     A Woman is a Somtime Thing
     It ain't Necessarily So
Theme from Schindler's List by John Williams
Liebesleid by Kreisler
Nigun by Bloch 
In the Style of Albeniz  by Shchedrin
Nocturne by Chopin
Mazurka by Wienawski
Danza Espanola by Manuel de Falla, and, 
Milonga sin palabras by Astor Piazzola, dedicated to Bunny Rose, 

 The lovely music of these world-class performers was enhanced by the acoustics of the Theatre Gallery.
Dr. Rus and Gayle Rich

Then Mikhail Johson took to the stage. He played some of the same pieces which he will play on Easter Sunday, together with pieces he played at his debut recital. Mikhail, in addition to
being exceptionally talented, practices consistently to strive for perfection.  
For the finale, Bunny Rose, famous for his cabaret performances, sang a variety of favourite songs, accompanying himself on the piano.

Bunny Rose and Steven Woodham  (Nov 2012)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Books for Young Children by Jamaican Authors

   In October 2012, I wrote a blog post about Books by JamaicanAuthors for Children aged 8-14. I have at last completed  a follow-up post about books for younger children.  Thanks to members of the Jamaican Author’s Group for their input. All the books listed below have delightful illustrations. Although I've not included the illustrator's names, applause is due to them for adding to the Jamaican flavour of the books.

Probably the best known are Kellie Magnus’s Little Lion books, available on the Jackmandora website   and on Amazon. They are:
She has also published two board books ‘A Book for Baby’ written by herself, and ‘Trixie Triangle’ by Michael Robinson for a Ministry of Education Project.

Jana Bent’s company, Reggae Pickney(TM), has produced a series of CD Storybooks  - the CD's have the full narration and reggae songs to help tell the stories:                

  1. Shaggy Parrot and the Reggae Band
  2. The Reggae Band Rescues Mama Edda Leatherback
  3. Brave Turtellini and the Reggae Band
Shaggy Parrot and the Reggae Band’ by Jana Bent and Friends is also available on Amazon.
You can like them on facebook under the name Reggae Pickney

Sharon Martini has written three delightful stories:
  1. ‘Max and Me’;
  2. ‘Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! I Love Bugs!’; and
  3. ‘Uh, Oh! Where Did Baby Go?’
all available on her website

LMH publishers lists 28 children’s books on their website.

The following seem appropriate for young children.
  1. Dale’s Mango Tree by Kim Robinson
  2. Patrick the Proud Parrot (activity book) by Kellee Merchant
  3. Ptolemy Turtle by Melisande Potter Hal
  4. Soon Come by Melisande Potter Hal
  5. The Adventures of Lumi and Twizzy By Gina Harvey Lewis
  6. When the Sun and the Moon Ran Away by Maizle Goulbourne
  7. Saving Joe Louis by Isabel Marvin
  8. The Beautiful Blue Shirt on Barry Street by Isabel Marvin
  9. Lucille Travels at Christmas by Jasmine Ntoutome
BlueMoon Books has two titles for young children:
  1. Pumpkin Belly and other Stories by Tanya Batson-Savage (who is also the publisher) and
  2. Bolo the Monkey by Jonathan Burke.
Arawak Publications has published several books for children, two of which would appeal to the younger ones. They are:
  1. Little Meeta by Jean Goulbourne and
  2. Every Road Leads to School by Kelly Griller

Olive Senior's Birthday Suit  is a most entertaining picture book, available on Amazon, but unfortunately not in bookshops in Jamaica. They claim that there would be a resistance to the price, hence will not stock it.

Irie the Caterpillar by Latoya Wakefield, an up and coming children's author, living in Montego Bay, is available as an e-book on Amazon. You can link with her on facebook if you would like a hard copy.

Prayers for School Days by Carolien Aiken is also available on Amazon.

Nancy and Grandy Nanny by Rebecca Tortello, published by Stationery and Office Supplies, is the story of our only national heroine, Nanny. Rebecca also wrote "My Jamaican ABC" which is a colouring book with text. This is one of the few books I have seen consistently in bookshops. 
Gwyneth Harold Davidson recommended
Aiden and the Apple Tree by Johnathon Kelly, which she bought as an ebook app on Google Play 
     Most of the above books are designed for adults or older children to read to young children, while they look at the pictures. The reader may also stop and discuss the story with the child. The child who has heard the story many times may begin to point at the words as they are read, or even take up the book and retell the story as though they are reading, all valuable pre-reading experiences.
   However, few of the books can be read independently by emergent readers. Books in that category are carefully written to include vocabulary the readers would be expected to know, or be able to decode. One of my most tricky assignments in a course I took on Writing for Children was to write a story using only the hundred-word list supplied, and words rhyming with words in that list. The Ministry of Education has produced a set of such books in the series Literacy 1-2-3, but these are not available for sale in bookshops.
Also for young children are some books which have gone out of print, a topic worth considering in a future post.
     If you know of any other books for young children by Jamaican authors, please could you let me know. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

GSAT Ranking and School Size

The Jamaica Gleaner recently published an analysis of 2013 GSAT Scores, ranking schools according to their performance. The analysis revealed that the average performance of students attending Prep Schools exceeded that of Primary Schools. Most of the ensuing discussion focussed on reasons for this disparity. However, after taking part in the Twitter Chat on Feb 18, 2014, I was interested in putting together some data on the differences between rural and urban schools in St. James. I chose four rural, underpopulated schools and three urban schools for my investigation. I took data from Jamaica's Ministry of Education website  and the Gleaner's Survey.  The figures show that there are indeed underpopulated schools, with enrolments far below their capacity. They have enviable pupil teacher ratios, but abysmal performance. Their average GSAT scores are well below the  national average of 258, as shown in the table below. 

Parish: St. James
 School Name               %       Capacity    Current       No of     Pupil       # of           Ave 
                                 attend                     Enrolment  Teachers   Teacher  GSAT      Score      
                                                                                                 Ratio       entrants
Lottery Primary             82         260             53            6              27:1         6            211

Mount Zion Primary       93         150            38            3              19:1         3            161
Mount Horeb 
All Age and Infant          76         200            42            4              14:1         1            163
Salters Hill All Age        90         215            40            3              20:1          4            220
Granville All Age           73         710           385          26            18:1         74            239
Corinaldi Ave Prim        95         875         1,675         52            36:1       265            313
Memorial Primary         94         585          1,157         33            39:1       191           284

     Of the urban schools, Corinaldi Avenue and Chetwood Memorial Primary are overpopulated, but are performing above the national average. Corinaldi made it into the top 100 schools in the survey, and GSAT's top boy, Mark Brown, attended Chetwood.  What is is about these urban schools which makes them perform so well? Yes, they have good teachers and good principals, but that cannot be the only reason for their success. I contend that it is the parents who make the difference. Parents have choices and the more concerned parents are the first to register their children in what they perceive to be the better schools. Being concerned parents means that they have done the best for their children up to the point of entry to the primary school, with many of these children alreay being able to read. These children perform better, therefore raising the standard of the school even more. 
      The underpopulation of the rural schools occurs not only because of rural-urban drift, but because these particular schools are seen as non-performers. What may have begun as a result of weak leadership, ends with concerned parents removing their children from these schools. With the exodus of better students, the standard of these schools drops even more. I think the facilities could be better used if these schools were turned into basic schools, and the present students sent to the nearest suitable school. Mount Horeb All Age and Infant School is about 4 miles from Cambridge where there are both primary and secondary schools. Based on the numbers, there would only be 4 students per grade to transfer. There is always an outcry when a suggestion is made to close a school, but as far as I can see, these schools are not benefitting the children attending them. 
      One reason Corinaldi is able to do so well is the the classes, although large, are more homogenous in relation to the ability of the students. There is a six-stream entry and, as children are ranked according to ability, teachers can tailor their classes to suit the learning rate of their pupils. In an underpoplulated school, each teacher would have to teach two or more grade levels.
New Building at Chetwood Memorial Primary School
    Chetwood was able to increase its capacity with some funding from the Catholic Church, which enabled it to construct a new building with five classrooms, a library, a computer room and an office for the guidance counsellor. The school also boasts a computer based system of teaching reading, and achieved 95% mastery in the 2013 Grade 4 Literacy Test.
    Children are coming to Chetwod from as far away as Mahfoota and Retirement. Why is a student from Retirement not attending Granville Primary? Here is an example of a school that has got a bad name in the past. For whatever the reason was, there is no justifiaction for that now. When I did a bookreading there in 2012, I found the children to be well-behaved and attentive. However, as a good reputation takes a long time to build, the school is still underpopulated.
     The schools I chose for this discussion represent opposite extremes. Of course there are many rural schools which are not underpopulated and are performing well; and there are urban schools which are not overpopulated and are not doing so well. Attendance and punctuality  also impact schools' performance. All schools also have their quota of malnourished children, and children with undiagnosed and untreated behavioural and learning disorders. When members of the diaspora are deciding how they can give assistance, the problems may appear to be overwhelming. However, I think that their decisions should be based on available data, rather than on common misconceptions. I hope this post has helped to dispel some of these.
     Last but not least, I would like to recommend support of the Granville Reading and Art Programme, GRAP, spearheaded by Natalie Bennett. It is making a tremendous difference in the community of Granville.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Reading "Delroy in the Marog Kingdom" at Teamwork Prep School

View from Teamwork School
On Tuesday, February 11, 2014 I paid a visit to Teamwork Prep School, situated on Flower Hill Avenue, Coral Gardens, Montego Bay. The view from there is breathtaking.  However, my purpose was not to admire the view, but   to read from my book, DELROY IN THE MAROGKINGDOM, and from Jonathan Burke’s BOLO THE MONKEY, published by Blue MoonBooks. Latoya Wakefield came with me to get ideas for her own author presentations. She is the author of IRIE THE CATERPILLAR, which won Anansesem’s Best Short Story by an adult for
The frog is in the pot!
2013. (Anansesem is the Caribbean ezine for and by children .)

I read to a small group of children ranging in age from 6 - 11 years. Although Delroy in the Marog Kingdom is intended for children aged 9 - 13, the younger children, as well as the older ones, listened attentively. Perhaps my usual opening, asking two boys to play the parts of Delroy and Mario, putting the frog in the pot and clamping on the lid, caught their attention.
BOLO THE MONKEY was equally well well received by all the children. I paused at the end of the last sentence, “Just believe your dream and your dream will come…” “True,” they chorused. I reminded them that they,  like Bolo, will have to work to make it happen.
Reading Bolo the Monkey
February 14, 2014 is International Book Giving Day. Please consider donating one of these books to the school you attended. Delroy in the Marog Kingdom is available at Fontana Pharmacy and other outlets supplied by Novelty Trading. Bolo the Monkey is available at Sangsters. The copy I read to the children I have given to Latoya, to donate to the Granville Reading and ArtProgramme. If you are interested in donating any children’s books to that organization, you can drop them in Latoya Wakefield’s box, at Western Dental, upstairs in Baywest.  Presentations will be made at the Granville Health Centre 3:00 - 5:00  p.m.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Prison" Schools

Given all the furor over Minister Thwaites's presentation in Parliament of the Ministry Paper “A preventative Initiative in Schools to Ameliorate Jamaica’s Crime Problem” January 20, 2014, I decided to read the source document. There is a one-line reference to a JCF study, which identifies certain schools as being the schools the individuals in the study attended. Based on this, the press chose the unfortunate headline “Prison Schools” and a statement of fact was interpreted as a cause and effect relationship, naturally upsetting teachers and students at the named schools.
The Ministry Paper also said 
 “Criminals are not born; they are formed – often by neglect or poor socialization. The major positive environments in the formative process are school, church and/or family.  Every child goes to school at some time. There is no other institution with such potential for positive socialization. As such, law-abiding habits ought to be expressly connected with the school experience.
And: “Studies show that many who end up committing serious crime were frequently absent from school; exhibited cognitive or social abnormalities; were not assessed or treated adequately; had little or no effective  family/ teacher support and dropped-out/ “graduated” with inadequate or no certification.”
Can we disagree with these statements?
In response, the Ministry of Education plans a special intervention in 56 seriously affected schools (it didn’t say whether any primary schools are included) to
1. Identify troubled, deviant and seriously disadvantaged students
2. Assess and address their situations
3. Prevent drop-outs

 The Ministry of Education gives the following projections:
 The MoE also proposes a system-wide intervention beginning in 2014. It will:
1. Administer a test to determine  the social and emotional state of at-risk students  - first in an early grade and later at an intermediate level, for example Grade 9, in selected schools
2. Complete development of Regional Referral Centres to treat with major dysfunctional tendencies
3. Offer teachers in primary schools training in counselling, parental engagement and primary therapies related to challenged children
4. Request a revision of the courses in Behaviour Management in all teacher training institutions to ensure that they cover the emerging behavioural challenges being displayed by students
5.  Appoint Social Workers in Education Regions who will network with relevant Ministries and Agencies
6. Provide instruction to Principals on how to identify and respond to disturbed students
7.  Implement a programme to detect and address disruptive conduct and drop-out risks in certain grades by September 2015
8. Expand opportunities for students to become involved in uniformed groups, sports and creative arts and thereby to engage and reform those with negative tendencies
9. Engage the Police and Military as part of a team to periodically attend the most vulnerable schools in a non-threatening way to befriend, promote order and reinforce positive constructive behaviour.
Given the potential of schools, I hope that intervention in the early grades of primary school, together with parental engagement, will be given top priority. Many of the at-risk students exhibit disruptive behavior disorders, for example ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) from grade 1 or earlier.  The incidence of this condition has been found to be 5% in developed countries. It is therefore likely that in every average-sized primary school class in Jamaica, there would be 1 or 2 children with this condition. These children are often shouted at, or sent out of the class, and sometimes beaten. They are certainly not given the kind of attention they need in order to learn. In her book “A Teacher’s Guide to Understandingthe Disruptive Behaviour Disorders”, Dr. Pearnel Bell recommends that these children should be diagnosed, after which parents, social workers and teachers should work together to help them reach their maximum potential, and give them a sense of usefulness and belonging. Too often, they label themselves as outcasts from an early age. Any desirable behavior they exhibit should be affirmed 100 times a day (about every 5 minutes)! See my posts of August and September 2013.
     In addition to children with ADHD, there are children with undiagnosed sight and hearing problems, malnourished children and children with learning disabilities, all of whom need special consideration in a class where they can get individual attention. Currently, in many schools, children across the whole ability spectrum are put together in one class, so as not to stigmatize the children, but I question the wisdom of this.  At the end of Grade 2, assessment of such a class showed that 5 boys and 3 girls were reading below grade 1 level; 3 boys and 2 girls were at grade 1 level; 3 boys and 6 girls were at grade 2 level; no boys and 10 girls were at grade 3 level; 3 boys and 7 girls were at grade 4 level and above. The more competent readers, being better able to follow instructions and work on their own, can follow the prescribed syllabus; but the priority  for non-readers and less competent readers should surely be to start where they are and work at their pace, with a strong emphasis on social skills, preferably with a specialist teacher.  In the same way as small potholes are less expensive to fill than big ones, early intervention is less costly than late intervention, and infinitely better for the children.
     My hope is that the Ministry of Education will follow through on the projections listed above; and that they will keep the public informed of the progress, making sure the progress is given the same prominence in the press as “Prison Schools”. It is also up to us to keep them on their toes.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Go Green with Composting

A bucketful of kitchen waste
My objective in writing this blog post is to encourage people in Jamaica, who are not already composting kitchen and garden waste to start, and for those who are already doing so to encourage others.
When a leaf drops from a tree in a forest, it slowly decomposes releasing nutrients that are re-used by the tree. One aim of composting is to allow waste organic matter to break down in the same way, naturally, producing humus which is a good soil conditioner. In the end, organic matter breaks down to carbon dioxide, water and minerals. A second aim of composting is to get rid of unwanted vegetable matter, including kitchen and
Kitchen waste covered with dry leaves
garden waste, at source, without burning it or having it taken away by a truck. It seems to me to be an unnecessary use of scarce resources in Jamaica to pay people to carry, in a gas-guzzling truck, material which in 6 months of composting would be reduced to one hundredth of its original weight and volume.
Much has been written about composting, explaining methods which can be used if you live in an apartment or if you have a small or a big yard. My question is, why don’t people compost more? Some people think it is a complicated process, but you do not need a big yard space, or a purpose built unit. You can collect the kitchen waste in a
Finished compost  (ackee seeds need to be taken out!)
covered container such as a bucket until it is convenient to take it to the compost heap. This can be as simple as a bucket-full of kitchen waste covered over with dry leaves or grass clippings. The next bucket-full is put on top of the dry leaves, and more leaves are put on top of that. After about 3 months, that pile can be left to decompose and a new pile started. If you turn the old pile, so that the fresher material is at the bottom and the more decomposed material is on top, it will break down more quickly. After about 6 months, all that is left is the humus, which you can mix with soil for your potted plants or in your garden beds.   
     When the same material ends up in a landfill or a garbage dump, it is mixed up with all sorts of stuff such as metals, glass and plastics, which do not break down, so it is of no use to anybody.
My preferred method is to have a countersunk heap, in a hole about 1 foot deep by 3 ft square, which can be covered with soil when it is finished.  Given the rocky terrain in my yard, that is not an option.
If you don't have a compost heap, try it nuh!