For the past few months we have been working with the Association for Chemical Engineering Students (ACHEMES) at UTech to bring ELiTE to Jamaica. We had planned to recruit students from Jamaica College, Papine High School, Mona High School, and other local schools to participate in our classes that would be centrally hosted at UTech.
When I arrived in Jamaica however, I learned that the UTech Student Union (Student Council) had their own summer program during the same time period called “Teach the Youth” to provide a free summer camp (which includes lunch) for over 600 students ages 8 to 18 in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. It seemed like a natural partnership to gain more local support for our program and would allow us to reduce our operating costs since the Student Union had already made arrangements for transportation and food. Their program was set to begin Monday July 4th so our team was prepared to begin teaching with them that day as planned.
When Monday rolled around, we learned that their students had not yet been registered so they could not make an accurate prediction on how many students we would actually have. The program start date would be delayed until Wednesday.
Each day Student Union volunteers are bussed to the Kintyr, August Town, High Light View, and Tavern communities to support their daily programming. The communities are a bit volatile and have unstable relationships with one another so it would be necessary to support all 4 sites simultaneously. We designed a block scheduling system so each student had two classes a day, every day, for three weeks. After a break for lunch students would be placed into new groups where they would then work on a comprehensive design project that spanned for the entire three weeks. As an Example Usain (Bolt) would have Electronics and Energy Sources on Monday, Water Resources and Business Technology on Tuesday, Electronics and Energy Sources on Wednesday, and Water Resources and Business Technology on Thursday. Usain would spend his afternoons working on the design project. Fridays would be spent on field trips, listening to guest lecturers, and working on the design project.
On Wednesday morning we were informed that the Student Union was still working on their program logistics and did not have an accurate prediction for the number of students. Rather than have us begin as planned with the students who did show up to the site, we were told that we should just wait until next week.
I was quite uncomfortable with all the uncertainty. We had teachers. We had materials. We had a very well planned out program. There was no way we were going to sit around and wait until Monday morning only to be denied access to our students, again. I opened my computer and pounded out my frustration into the keys. Within an hour of sending my carefully crafted email I received a phone call from the top. We were finally able to negotiate with the Student Union President directly. She apologized for the ineffective communication through select channels within their organization and we were able to move forward with a new agreement for how to facilitate the next couple of weeks.
By Wednesday afternoon the Teach the Youth community facilities had reached their capacity and there was little room left to breathe, let alone room for our experiments and activities. The best course of action would be to bus 60-80 students from the 4 community centers to and from the university each day to create space in the centers, and provide our team with the ample resources that the university has to offer. This new relationship would require yet another schedule, rearrangement of lesson plans, and a reallocation of staff.
A few minutes after sending Wednesday morning’s email (before I spoke to the president), we decided to move forward with Plan B or C or D or… I lost count at this point. We assembled our team and ventured off into the community on foot to visit all the local schools in the area giving pitches to students, teachers, administrators, and just about anyone who would listen. 3 hours and close to 5 miles later, we had a new group of students.
The rest of Wednesday was spent working and napping. Once refreshed, we linked up with our friend Ruth for a much needed night out on the town. We attended a launch event for IrieZine Media, a new Caribbean publication from Jamaicansmusic.com to highlight and promote music and culture in the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe. We ended the night at Devon House with one of the performers, Conkarah.
Much of Thursday was spent working at the University. In the afternoon we made a follow-up visit to Papine HS to formally accept a group of special needs students that one of the teachers suggested may benefit from a hands on program like ours. Following the visit to Papine, we ventured to Jamaica National Children’s Home, an orphanage for parentless children, to meet with the director and offer a few final spots to students in their community.
I am happy to have reached the end of a very stressful week. After work tomorrow we will probably clean and pack for a weekend adventure across the Island. Look for another post Sunday evening with final reflections before the program begins Monday morning. There I will summarize the program details, introduce our instructors, and provide a detailed schedule for the next couple of weeks.