B B Coke High advancing despite challenges

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JUNCTION, St Elizabeth — The novel coronavirus pandemic has caused serious dislocation of students and teachers, but BB Coke High School remains committed to eventually becoming a school of choice in south/central Jamaica.

School Principal Evadney Ledgister told the Jamaica Observer last Wednesday that in prior years the school was underrated, but that the institution’s academic performance has been streadily improving.

“I started at BB Coke in January 2013. [When] I came to the school there were…parents who were not so interested in sending their children [here]. What I got when I came here is that most of the students who came, they came because they couldn’t have gone to other places, probably they didn’t get through or their parents didn’t have the money,” she said.

“I came and I found teachers who are hard workers…Over the years, 2013 until now, every year our performance academically has improved with each passing year,” she added.

Deliberate efforts to motivate teachers, students, and parents have paid rich dividends, Ledgister said.

“We motivate our teachers by many times simply saying, ‘Thank you, you are doing great,’ and we have had award ceremonies for teachers. When we get our results we thoroughly analyse and we share it with our teachers and our parents,” she said.

“Every single year we have at least two functions that we use to empower our students. We have our award ceremonies, our grade empowerment dinners and luncheons that assure our students that [they] are at the right place,” she said.

“We had put in a lot of extra classes and we reorganised our curriculum. When I came to BB Coke High School, students could only matriculate to teachers’ college and nothing is wrong with children matriculating to teachers’ colleges. But, for me, the door must be open for every child. That whatever professional field that the child wishes to enter, the child will be qualified from here to enter that field,” Ledgister said.

In 2015, the school added the science subjects chemistry and physics to its curriculum as, according to Ledgister, biology was being taught in “isolation”.

Skills training is also an important element of education at BB Coke High School.

“We ensure that our students leave school studying at least one practical area,” Ledgister said.

“We not only do CSEC [Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate], we do City and Guilds because in England and in the US [it] is higher rated than CSEC. Our students have a real good curriculum to choose from,” she added.

Named in honour of a legendary political representative of the 1950s and 60s, BB Coke High School evolved from Junction Junior Secondary School, which was established in 1971.

In the early years, the school developed an unwanted reputation for indiscipline, Ledgister said.

Such perceptions are changing, not because of punitive measures but as a result of programmes focused on building motivation and pride, she said.

Contributing to the growing sense of pride has been sporting success in recent years. BB Coke High School won the rural schoolboy knockout tournament, the Ben Francis Cup last year, triggering jubilation in Junction and neighbouring communities.

“All the boys of grade 11 who were on that [football] team, bar one, matriculated to sixth form,” Ledgister declared.

“Over the years we have been national winners for the under-19 rugby, the only school in rural Jamaica to do that to date,” she added.

Despite the novel coronavirus outbreak and its consequential termination of face-to-face school in March, examination results matched expectations, she said.

“ … Since 2014 we have had improvement, especially over the last three years,” she said.

“We are steady with English. Mathematics is the only area that I am not satisfied about. We are growing, but not at the level that I am expecting. In English language for the past three years, each year we have had close to 100 students passing and another 50 passing City and Guilds,” she added.

Of the 167 students who sat CSEC, 96 passed English language, with approximately 60 passing City and Guilds.

Ledgister said BB Coke High School did well in the sciences, which she described as an area viewed by some people as a weak point for rural schools.

In the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE), passes improved from 30-odd per cent in 2016, to over 50 per cent this year.

“This year 55.6 per cent of our students passed their CAPE subjects with grades one to three,” she said.

Among the exemplary students is former ward of the State, 18-year-old Ainsley Rhoden, who recently spoke to the Observer.

Rhoden attained five CSEC subjects prior to his nine passes recently, with seven distinctions, totalling 14 CSEC subjects.

Rhoden, who was a ward of the State at the Manning Child Care facility in St Elizabeth, had transferred from Newell High School to B B Coke High School to pursue science subjects.

The Trench Town native is currently enrolled at the Caribbean Maritime University with the help of a scholarship, pursuing a degree in logistics and supply chain management.

However, his long-term goal is to become a medical doctor.

Ledgister told the Sunday Observer that the school is pushing to reach students, including those without access to online learning during the current novel coronavirus- induced lockdown of face-to-face school.

“… Consistently we have about 50 per cent [of students] logging on to online classes. The higher up you go [grade level] is the more the students log on with the exception of grade seven,” she said.

“Sixth form is 100 per cent, grade 11 is up to 80 per cent…We have been working with our parents and community…The e-mail and the letters reach the converted, so we had to [resort] to a town cry, going into all the communities that we know our children come from, to reach them,” she said.

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