Jamaica – Trench Town Week 2

Some comments from our mentors that joined us for week 2 of teaching at Boystown School, Trenchtown, Kingston.

As we travelled down the bumpy and unkept road towards the school we would be teaching at, our taxi driver avoided a herd of goats, which are commonly found roaming the streets of Jamaica. Undoubtedly that would be somebody’s food that night- curry goat being a local Jamaican dish. Jamaica is a world away from the United Kingdom, where the majority of our roads are well kept (although arguably the M1 is always undergoing roadworks), goats are rarely found wondering the street and more to the point the education system is easily accessible, free and fairly good.

Trench Town located in Kingston, is an area filled with crime, drugs and poverty; three things that can be extremely distracting and destructive to anyone, including the children we were teaching. The first day teaching in Boys Town was exactly how i expected it to be, the kids were energetic, distracted and loud. We established a ground rule of not speaking when somebody else was, the consequence of doing so meant you would be evicted from the class and if you continued you would be sent home!

On the first (and for some of the second day) that rule was broken left right and centre! A 16 year old named Rockwell who had not been in school for a number of years after being expelled, was one of the students who kept breaking our ground rule. Early on the third day after expelling him from the classroom, i personally went to speak to him and as he had broken the ground rule for around the 100th time I told him we may be sending him home. What happened next was truly remarkable and shows the self-awareness and willingness to learn that many Jamaican children possess, as well as the harsh reality that many children in Trench Town face each day. Rockwell upon hearing that he may be sent home, immediately pleaded to stay. When asked why, Rockwell explained that if he was sent home that he would inevitably get into trouble. The area of Trench Town is rife with crime and Rockwell was fully aware having been in trouble before, that being in a classroom was almost a way of escaping the streets and instead be around positive people his own age. Furthermore, Rockwell explained that he wanted to learn more and that at home he is not given the opportunity to learn anything. He went on to explain that he had already learnt how to communicate effectively and how to debate and described it as fun! After Rockwell returned to the class he was more focused, less disruptive and he was able to channel his confidence and energy towards debating. As a result Rockwell and his team reached the final of the Boys Town Debate Mate Cup and finished in second place!

My experience at Boys Town was amazing and my only hope is that more patience,guidance and opportunities are given to the children. In a community where crime,drugs and poverty are as normal as a cup of tea in the UK, it is crucial that we raise aspirations and help these children to reach their full potential. One thing is for sure these children are intelligent, confident and enthusiastic however, if this is not nurtured it could be wasted on the streets of Trench Town.

One of Debate Mate most simple, yet challenging goals is to leave behind a sustainable debate club; ultimately a club run by the pupils for the pupils.

In our United Kingdom core programme it takes months of hammering home a message that the club belongs to the pupils combined with constant supervision from our University mentors to ensure that our young debates step up to the mark and take control of what is ultimately their club. What we witnessed in week two of boys’ town programme truly surpassed all of our expectations. On only the second day of week two did Juvany – an older pupils who completed the programme the previous week- with no prompting or encouragement led the lessons alongside myself. Juvany, initial acted simply as a peacekeeper in what was an entertaining yet rowdy class; however, his role soon became far more than that of a simple moderator. I began explaining the balloon debate and it was soon apparent that some pupils were somewhat confused; Juvany took control. He helped explain the game, showing an example of how to do it and encouraging those younger than him to take part. Watching this young man grow in stature and pass on his new knowledge to those his junior was something special. Only a week before he had no idea what a debate was and in just over 5 days he was now leading a debate class to 20 pupils. On the surface it was a success of how his leadership and communication skills had flourished but the greatest success of all is knowing that once Debate Mate leaves Boy’s Town, a debating legacy is being left, a legacy that will be continued by the pupils.

Scarlett’s lasting memory of our time at the fantastic Boystown school:
My favourite moment of DM Jamaica didn’t actually take part in teaching time. It was after the competition at Boystown, and Pad and I were with Rockwell interviewing him for the film. His team had lost the final and handled it terribly – kept yelling that they were thieved out of the title, refusing to shake the other sides hand and generally being fairly aggressive about the whole thing. This really worried me as I was concerned that they hadn’t taken on board all of the skills we had tried to teach them – of channelling frustration and anger through verbal, rather than physical, communication. His team was particularly vulnerable. Each of the 4 students could fly off the handle at any time, and I was frustrated because it seemed as if we hadn’t gotten through to them at all. So, when I tentatively raised the question of the final during the interview, I was worried about the response I might get. Instead, he looked up at me, smiled and said “miss, we all good now”. I asked him what he meant and he said that the two teams got together after the final and talked about what had happened. They apologised for the way they had handled it and shook hands. I asked him why they did that and he said “because teacher taught us that what happens in the debate stays in the debate”. I was beyond proud when he said that, and couldn’t stop smiling at the thought of these two teams coming together at their yard – strewn with rotting food, used bullets and the general air of uncertainty – to resolve their problems over the debate and shake hands. DM win!

A blog on our experiences working with students from the Flanker community, Montego Bay, coming soon!

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