Students of the Savanna-La-Mar Infant School in Westmoreland are now benefiting from a much-improved learning environment financed by the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund at a cost of $46.2 million.
An upgrade to an old timber frame building, the newly constructed block includes four classrooms, a kitchenette, sick bay, and male and female bathroom facilities.
CHASE also donated classroom furniture and kitchen equipment to the 109-year-old institution.
Speaking at the official opening of the early childhood institution on May 31, 2023, Principal, Praise Thompson-Brown, said the construction of the new wing was a dream come true.
“[It] is worth the seven months wait. Throughout the process students and teachers endured many inconveniences but having seen the finished product all the stakeholders have concurred that it was all worth it. There is now prestige and grandeur associated with this new block; so much so, it is now referred to by staff members as the upscale gated community,” Mrs. Thompson-Brown said.
The Savanna-La-Mar Infant School serves approximately 300 pupils. Over time, the school leaders have had to convert office spaces and other areas into additional classrooms.
The school’s shortcomings have prevented the facility from meeting the standards set by the Early Childhood Commission (ECC). This is due mostly to a less-than-ideal physical environment and its inability to provide adequate space to facilitate children’s development and comfort of the staff.
However, Mrs. Thompson Brown is confident that the new classrooms and the amenities will change this.
“We are now one step closer to becoming certified by the ECC, as we continue on the same trajectory of improving the dilapidated building to a state-of-the-art building for all the classes. Rome was not built in a day. So, four classrooms down, 10 ten to go” the educator said.
In the meantime, Chief Executive Officer of CHASE, Mr. W. Billy Heaven is challenging the school’s stakeholders and the wider community to take care of the investment.
Noting that the project suitably fits within the remit of his organisation, he said CHASE was moved to assist the school because “the students, like many others island wide, deserve no less than the best.”
Consequently, CHASE remains committed to assisting early childhood institutions with acquiring the essential elements of a decent learning environment including modern infrastructure and age-appropriate facilities, highly trained teachers, and well-resourced programmes.
CHASE also supports the development of early childhood materials to enhance the cognitive development of children, improving the nutritional status of pupils in basic and infant schools, and providing scholarships for specialist training in Early Childhood Education (ECE).
He emphasised that, “there is an overwhelming need generally for quality and affordable ECE and we must seek to meet this need for all children.
“Early Childhood Education must be a priority since it can be the single greatest difference between success and failure. It represents the beginning of the journey for a better life for many young persons, and providing an environment such as this, is the strongest possible statement we could make about the opportunity we are giving them to succeed and become better citizens,” the CEO added.
To date, CHASE has invested J$5.3 billion in early childhood education. Of this amount $300 million has been invested in infrastructure development and equipment in Westmoreland.
“In the language of business ECE is the growth sector, and it represents the future of our country. It is an economic driver not an economic drag even if the budget is tight.”
The CHASE Fund also dedicates 25 per cent of its funding to the country’s education sector.