February 7 - St. Andrew Success

Howard Campbell is a teacher at St. Andrew High School for girls, just down the road from us in Halfway Tree. He is the head of the computer labs and the coordinator for all kinds of technology education at St. Andrew.We met him at the Harvard-Jamaica Association meeting where he had come with his friend Marvin, not because they were from Harvard or cared at all about a Harvard Alumni Association, but because they were educators interested in our project. In fact, it seemed that from experience both Howard and Marvin had learned that top-down organizations, such as the association we were forming and the school system in Kingston-St. Andrew were not the best way to get things done. They encouraged us to start from the teachers in the schools if we wanted to get in and start working. After seeing Wayne's demo, Howard offered St. Andrew as a good place to start. Yesterday we went to St. Andrew for the first time.

At 8am we had a class of 4th formers (10th grade). We were to do a demo with them in this period and then a workshop with them from 10-11 in the computer lab. When Wayne got Fruityloops up on the screen and started talking, the class was polite and paid attention. Once he hit the first kick drum, they began to look really interested. And as soon as he put up a little hip hop beat and then turned it into the grindin' beat, they were hooked. (Side note: from Cambridge to Kingston, it seems that kids everywhere are loving the grindin' beat and banging it out on their desks. Way to go Neptunes.) They started dancing in their chairs when he showed them how to make some dancehall. Next he made a song with the class, getting a few brave souls to make some noises and sing a bit and putting it together into a dancehall rhythm. At 9 they reluctantly left for their next class, seemingly a combination of a particular attachment to Mr. Campbell, interest in what Wayne was doing, and dislike of whatever they would have to do for the next hour.

While they were gone we installed Fruityloops on the computers. (There are two large computer labs at St. Andrew, used mostly for introducing students to different software applications, and for certain 6th formers, to teach Pascal programming.) The tech guy, whose name I forget, sprayed and wiped down all the computers, making it seem like they were not in frequent use, but considering the number of girls who came in to do work throughout the day, I don't think it is the case. The computers were, for the most part, in very good shape and quite fast. They had speakers for almost all of them and quite a few sets of headphones. As usual, each of the tech helpers wanted a copy of the software.

At 10, girls piled in and sat one or two to a computer. Wayne managed to hold their attention for a few minutes to repeat some basics. And they got started. I was glad I had watched Wayne so much and messed around on Fruityloops myself because there were too many questions for Wayne to handle by himself. Girls went at different paces and made every kind of music from dancehall to techno. As they would run into trouble, Wayne would go to them and give them a few pointers to keep them moving in a good direction. At 11 they were all still going strong. Howard came and told us that it was their lunch period, but if we didn't mind, they could stay. We didn't mind. Most of them stayed through most of their lunch period and came away with some pretty good little songs: Catherine, Shanika, Sydoney & Zelika.

Howard asked us to come back for the music club at 2 and when we got back, he gave us a little tour of the school. St. Andrew goes from 1st form to 6th form (7th grade through high school). It is a public school, but it only accepts girls who score in the top 5% on the entrance exams. The school has a large campus, and 1400 students. The feel of the place is wonderful: friendly, vibrant, happy. As we walked around girls yelled out "Wayne Marshall!" (enjoying the joke) and ran up to say hi to Mr. Cambell and to ask him worriedly if he was going to resign. We came on a group of girls freestyling in an open area, banging out a beat with an empty soda bottle on an igloo thermos. "No school, no school!" was the main refrain and the main topic of conversation. Why? A nation-wide teacher's strike is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday as a demonstration of dissatisfaction with the wage increase that the teacher's union and the government have negotiated. Here, as in the U.S. but on a more extreme scale, the teachers are drastically underpaid and their work undervalued. Howard takes the problem quite seriously and is an active participant in organizing some form of peaceful resistance. He is clearly a caring and beloved teacher. He supports programs like ours as a way to move education forward in Jamaica. He is just the sort of person one would want to see standing up for the rights of teachers because it is teachers like him who demonstrate how much a teacher's work is worth.


The afternoon went slightly less smoothly than the morning, but was no less of a success. Girls hung around to play Mr. Cambell's copy of Wayne's CD and to comment that he didn't sound like a white man when he rapped. I got a copy of the current St. Andrew website, which is really more of an alumni site based out of Houston, TX. They are happy to have a new skyBuilders site that they can manage themselves and that will hopefully be hosted in Jamaica as of next week. We planned to come each week on Friday from 10-11 and on Wednesday's from 2:30-4. Today was a wonderful start to the actual work of our project.

(see wayne's blog for another account of the day and some more pictures.)