Watford Hill Primary School: A Model for the Jamaican Diaspora

Something wonderful is taking place at the Watford Hill Primary School; it should be a model for the Jamaican Diaspora.  

The Watford Hill Primary School was established in 1896, is owned by the Jamaica Baptist Union (JBU) and is located in the parish of Hanover in the rural community of Woodlands. It is a small school with 77 students and 3 teachers, a part time reading coach, and the principal. Most of the students are from the community with only a few from other neighboring communities.

Some eight years ago, Atlanta Jamaican Glenda Erskine and her siblings started the Douglas and Linda Walker Foundation at the Watford Hill Primary School where they once attended. The foundation has since implemented a canteen breakfast and other programs.  The results have been remarkable.

According to the school’s principal Jason Richardson, “because of the materials supplied by the foundation, the school has seen significant improvement and received 100% mastery in the 2014 sitting of the Grade 4 Literacy and Numeracy Exams.  This is a national examination for all Grade four students in Jamaica. The government uses this exam to measure the performance of primary schools across the island.”

The foundation has supplied the school with a constant supply of contemporary workbooks with much emphasis on hands-on-materials in the areas of math and Language Arts.  This approach reflects Glenda Erskine’s commitment to her preferred teaching style before her retirement from teaching. When she visited the school this year for two days she interacted with the students and actually taught class, using the Versatile to reinforce lessons in both math and phonics.

A mentoring program was started in January of this year.  A stipend is provided for teachers to work with underachieving students after school to bring them up to grade level. Money is sent to the school in the form of post-dated checks to eliminate problems due to postal delays. Checks are then cashed on the appropriate dates and the funds used as specified.

Providing breakfast, teaching learning aids and a stipend to the teachers has improved the academic performance in the school. This coupled with strong leadership and effective teachers augur well for the future of Watkins Primary.
Brenda is making an appeal to alumni of Watford Hill Primary to help the school add an extra room – a Resource Center, which is badly needed.  The site is being prepared and construction should begin shortly.
Brenda is an advocate for early intervention and feels investment in primary education yields rich dividends. It is her wish that others in the Diaspora would follow suit and establish foundations in honor of loved ones to benefit primary schools in Jamaica.   Foundations can adopt a school, a family, or even one child, depending on the funds available.

Brenda is the wife of Dr. Noel Leo Erksine, professor of Theology and Ethics at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and author of several books including, Plantation Church, From Garvey to Marley: Rastafarian Theology, Black Theology and Pedagogy, King Among the Theologians, and Decolonizing Theology.