At the end of last year's trip, or governing board met with the Jamaica Link Ministries board (the Jamaican side of our mission) about possible plans for this year. Usually, the Jamaican Ministry of Education and Jamaican Link Ministries (JLM) send their chosen teachers to our conference for 3 years; however, these teachers were being so responsive to the trainings and consistently utilizing their training information in their own classrooms that the Ministry of Education and JLM along with the TWJ board decided to allow these teachers to attend for a wrap-up conference of 2 days instead of the usual 3. This way the TWJ American teachers could provide some technique type instruction couples with classroom management techniques, an area in which the Jamaican teachers have asked for assistance. After witnessing the excitement of teachers over the giveaways of differing levels of reading books in the workshops year-to year, the governing boards also decided that TWJ would build a school library for one of the schools with teachers in attendance for the previous 3 years of workshops. Reading is a consistently lower-scoring area on tests in Jamaica, and so, teachers and the government alike have continuously asked for reading instructional strategies in these workshops. Building the library enabled the Jamaican teachers further resources for utilizing the reading instructional practices TWJ was teaching them.
Working with fundraisers individually, book and supply drives through local elementary schools, and through fundraisers with North Texas chapters of Kiwanis clubs, TWJ teachers were able to gather just under 6,000 books for Jamaica. In April and May of this year, the TWJ teachers met to sort books for giveaways and for the library, to label the books under the Dewey system for the library, and to box and load the books on a U-Haul truck for shipment to Jamaica. 2000 of those books were used for conference giveaways to help build classroom libraries and to enable teachers to have books to incorporate workshop-learned teaching strategies in their own classrooms. The remaining 4000 books went to fill the new library at Farm Elementary and Middle School in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
While most of the TWJ team worked with the 100 teachers in the professional development conference, a small team of 3 teachers went to Farm Primary to set up the books in the new library. Since summer school was in session at that time, the principal--who had been an attendee of the TWJ conference for the previous 3 years--invited the students, teachers, and custodians to take a "sneak peak" and to help open some of the boxes of books! So many smiles and exclamations of "Wow!" were present. One 26 year-old Jamaican literally cried at the sight of the complete set of Harry Potter books! He had never seen the whole set in one place before, much less been able to have even one of the books to be able to read. (He is a huge Harry Potter fan--has seen all the movies but has never read one of the books--like so many of our kids in the states, but for a completely different reason.)
Later in the week at the dedication ceremony, in the presence of many dignitaries from the Jamaican Ministry of Education and the Jamaican press, as well as in the presence of the teachers and PTA board members of Farm Primary, the Teaching With Jamaica team was thanked and the library was hailed as an important tool in increasing the literacy of not only the Farm Primary students, but of the community as a whole. The plan is, under strict check out procedures, to let not only students but parents as well borrow books from the new library. As the Minister of Education spoke about the importance of reading for pleasure in increasing literacy, it struck me how they have the same basic struggle we in the states have of increasing reading understanding and test scores, but have far fewer tools at their disposal for combating this problem. (An irony in the face of seeing that most Jamaicans had access to Smartphones!) We also presented to the principal and librarian a picture book of Texas in which we all chose a picture with special meaning to us on which to leave a note for the patrons of the library.