Change From Within

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Judging from this post’s title, I can make the assumption that you may be expecting a heartfelt story about how I have changed my ways after some major internal revelation. While I have certainly changed some of my views and habits since being here, Change From Within is actually the name of one of the most inspiring programs I have ever had the privilege of being exposed to.

Pauletta and Barry Chevannes created Change From Within in order to prevent students from “falling through the cracks” of the Jamaican school system. Their particular focus is on the male students. Unfortunately Mr. Chevannes has since passed on, however, we had the privilege of welcoming Mrs. Chevannes into our humble abode in Yallahs. Joining her was Omar, a student that participated in Change From Within, and is now a primary school teacher himself. In order to fully understand the impact of Change From Within (which will hereafter be referred to as CFW) I should give you a little background on how the school system works here in Jamaica. I will try to keep it brief—I promise.

1% of students at Yallahs High School attend college. That stat blew my mind. One in every one hundred students is able to further his or her studies in a manner that seems so normal in America. There are a lot of factors that contribute to the small number. Heavy emphasis and technical and vocational skills begin when students reach high school. Students are separated into “streams” (basically ability levels), and the only students that are considered for college acceptance are those at the top of the highest stream. Makes sense right? Think again. In many instances, stream placement can be directly related to the student’s financial situation. Many times, families are not able to send their children to school every day, which results in a lower stream placement regardless of the student’s academic ability. Many students even drop out once they are old enough to help bring income in to their family. Finally, teaching styles are fairly old fashioned. “Chalk and talk” if you will. Active learning activities that engage all of the students are few and far between, which causes students to lose interest in school and eventually drop out.

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I hope that wasn’t too boring! I have found the Jamaican education system to be very interesting, so I could go on and on. Anyway…a major downfall of the system is that it does not cater to the interest of the boys. Besides CFW, I have seen a teacher presentation, read an article, and made a presentation of my own about how the education system does not cater to boys in Jamaica. When parents see that their sons do not have an interest in education, they pull them out so they can start working early. CFW was established because the Chevannes’ saw this happening at an alarming rate, and decided to intervene.

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In a nutshell, CFW targets “at risk” schools, and mentors the male students until they find their own success. They start with leaders, however, not just leaders at the top. They locate leaders all throughout the school to create a “circle of leaders” that collaborate to solve problems. Other adamant policies include focusing on the positives, and to keep students as active and engaged as possible. Finally, CFW works to involve parents. As Mrs. Chevannes herself said:

“The true methodology is to increase the self-esteem of students, teachers, and parents. This decreases violence and increases academic performance among students.”

Omar, the gentleman that came with Mrs. Chevannes, explained how CFW exposed him to influential places and people he never would have otherwise. He didn’t go too in depth with his back-story, but he did share that he grew up without a father figure. Understandably, this was a factor towards his priorities as a child to be far from school. His elementary school was one of the first for the CFW to work with, and he was lucky enough to be one of the first students. They taught him ways to incorporate active learning into his studies and exposed him to resources that could help send him to higher education. Now, he is a fifth grade teacher at a primary school in Kingston, and was happy to report that he makes an effort to make sure his boys get similar positive experiences as he did, all thanks to CFW.

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I would love to hear more stories like Omar’s, or about more programs similar to CFW. I’m sure they are out there, and if more citizens were exposed to how powerful they are, a greater push towards modern teaching methods and better training for teachers could be made. As an education major, I may be biased in saying that everything starts with education. A solid early childhood can mold a child to be the best they can be, while a less than stellar one can do the exact opposite.

Since I did not get pictures during the presentation, all of the pictures I have included are of the Jamaican children I have met in Yallahs. Each of them has the potential risk factors that Omar had, but many also have the same promising future. It is these faces, and ones similar to them from all around the world that inspire me to become a teacher, and keeps me motivated to do so every day.

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