Community Dinner June 4, 2009

Grandiosa, Montego Bay, Jamaica

Attendees: The staff and principal of Wee Care Basic School, Ms. Jeanne Robinson-Foster, Judge Rosalee Feurtado, and the 2009 Bellarmine University Service Abroad Group

Recap of Evening Events


Dr. Adam Renner opened the evening with a welcome to the staff of Wee Care and other distinguished guests.
Dinner was served.

Prof. Gina Stiens offered opening remarks regarding our work together for the evening.  Gina provided a brief history of our 12 years of work in Jamaica, supplied some of the reasons for this work in Jamaica, and envisioned what our future work could look like together.  Gina introduced Prof. Sonya Burton.

Sonya led our critical literacy exercise for the evening, which was engineered to deal with the generative theme of “education.”  As we were already divided into smaller groups of 4-6 (with members of the staff at Wee Care and Bellarmine group proportionally represented at each table), Sonya instructed the groups to discuss three items: (1) the purposes of education, (2) obstacles to realizing these purposes, and (3) the good things already in place that bring us closer to these purposes.

A stimulating forty-five minute discussion ensued in the small groups.  Sonya called us back to order and we discussed our responses as a large group.
Regarding education, the groups reported that the purposes were to:

  • Prepare individuals to enter the society and wider world
  • Gain knowledge about emotional, social, and spiritual selves
  • Acquire good financial sense
  • Learn skills, not just for occupation, but also ones that help to live in families, work in communities, and operate within the government
  • Provide consistency for the students
  • Offer positive role models
  • Build a foundation for literacy
  • Raise the human being for life-long learning
  • Affirm diversity
  • Foster curiosity
  • Create problem-solvers
  • Construct community

 As for the obstacles, the groups reported on the following issues:

  • Poverty
  •  (some) Parents not knowledgeable about educational process
  • Transportation to school
  • Small classrooms
  • Homework (not getting finished?)
  • Teachers that shouldn’t be teachers (who just get into the profession for the money)
  • Resources/materials
  • Nutrition
  • Lack of structure within some schools to remediate (and prevent students from falling further behind)
  • Drop outs hanging around school distracting other students

A wider question then emerged of who is the appropriate person/group to remove the obstacles.

Since the discussion of the first two questions took quite a bit of time in groups, not much interaction took place on what was already going well, though the distinct impression was evident that Wee Care is already doing much to overcome the obstacles—making sure that parents feel a part of the school, making sure that the kids get a hot meal every day, making do with the space allotted, working extra hard for the benefit of the children.

To conclude our large group discussion, we talked about where we go from here and what we can do together in the future.  Perhaps this is one way to begin to overcome the obstacles (though more structural/systemic work will be necessary to mitigate the obstacle of poverty).Two main suggestions were shared: (1) the Bellarmine group should work within the already established curriculum at Wee Care (to this end, a curriculum packet was shared for the youngest group so that we can weave our lessons into the already-set framework; need to get the packets for the middle and upper groups); (2) our time in Jamaica can be an opportunity of trading instructional techniques.  Perhaps lessons can be produced, jointly, such that we do some teaching (observed by staff at Wee Care) and then the Wee Care staff offers some teaching so the Bellarmine group can observe.  This way we can take away the most valuable practices in each other’s teaching—noting our need to both teach and learn from one another.

One other suggestion was offered by Ms. Robinson-Foster related to the potentially high illiteracy rate of students graduating from high school.  Ms. Robinson-Foster thought that, perhaps, English instruction should be approached as a second language given the prevalence of patois spoken among much of the population.  Some discussion ensued on whether or not this issue was contributory to the illiteracy rate (though it is presumed those among the ranks of ‘illiterate’ are, actually, literate in patois).  This is an issue that deserves deeper investigation: illiteracy rates? (potentially multiple) causes of illiteracy? best practices to curb illiteracy? affirmation of value of knowing two or more languages (patois, English, etc.)? role of critical literacy in improving issue?

Moving into next year’s work then, the Bellarmine group will (1) plan to work within the curriculum of the Wee Care Basic School, (2) plan to continue to provide needed materials, (3) seek to support the personal educational efforts of the staff at Wee Care, (4) plan for a similar community dinner (and would like to consider an opportunity to meet with parents at some point), (5) work to figure out ways to broadcast the very good work of the staff at Wee Care to the Ministry of Education, Sam Sharpe Teacher’s College, other Jamaican schools as well as US schools, (6) investigate the issue of illiteracy further, and (7) continue to work democratically and horizontally, attempting to minimize our intrusion and consistently bringing attention to our gratitude to be able to learn from the wonderful educators at Wee Care.

Respectfully recorded and submitted on behalf of all attendees at the community dinner.  I invite your feedback.  Please respond by any means articulated below.


Adam Renner
Associate Professor
Bellarmine University
2001 Newburg Rd.
Louisville, KY 40205
502-272-8135 (phone)
502-272-8189 (fax)
Skype: adam_renner