Raising literacy in Jamaica

Raising literacy in Jamaica
Santana Morris

Reading for Jamaica’s future.

A young Jamaican educator is innovating a new way to increase literacy among Jamaica’s youth with her summer reading camp and comprehensive reading sessions. Santana Morris is the executive director and founder of the Jamaican Reading Intensive Clinic, an expansive educational program based in Montego Bay, that pushes children and teens towards literacy. She started the annual summer reading camp last year as a resolve, and now after a successful run, the camp is set to return July 24–28 and will be the biggest yet, said Morris.

“What we did was create a reading program for the public and looked at how low literacy, learning difficulties, and the lack of financial opportunities affected children, and we took a holistic approach,” said Morris. “It’s a strategic and fantastic initiative created to master the art of reading and we got a lot of positive feedback — this year we have over 600 volunteers who are very serious about this.”

The island-wide initiative is going to be held in every parish and will be carried out by the volunteers, many of whom are also educators, academic professionals, and trained specialists, said Morris.

The camp identifies reading capabilities in children by analyzing them based on the five components of reading, which will help distinguish needed areas of attention including comprehension, phonics, and fluency.

“What we do is focus on the five strands of reading and create a timetable to teach them,” said Morris. “We have a specific comprehension passage that we use to test skills and it covers all the strands of reading and we determine which strand to focus on.”

Morris is a fierce advocate for literacy because at a young age she contended with some speech difficulties of her own. But with a supportive parent those challenges saw a fierce battle, and as she grew older so did her drive for education, she said.

“Coming from a personal experience I was not able to speak until age four, and when I learned to speak I was not able to speak or pronounce certain words properly,” said Morris.

“My mother was my main motivator and spent many hours teaching me to master reading and I grew an appreciation for it. So the idea eventually came to me to develop and implement a program for literacy.”

The clinic will not only help children perfect reading skills, but will also create an avenue to counter social issues in Jamaica because it is a doable and realistic solution to challenge illiteracy, said Morris.

“There’s a lot going on in society and with the lack of employment among youth and lack of equality for women — literacy is the foundation that will help combat and fight against it,” said Morris. “I have a desire to support this through education and cultural development and to create awareness for people to show how important it is.”

The current literacy rate in Jamaica is at 80 percent and Morris’ overall goal is to increase it to 100 percent. The privately-run clinic relies mostly on funding from fund raisers and donations, and provides weekend tutoring to about 50 kids every weekend for six hours. And that number will increase to double students once school is out of session in late June, said Morris.

Heading one of the biggest educational initiatives in Jamaica, Morris said in the short time running the program she received good feedback from her peers, but most importantly the parents.

“I have testimonies from parents who say they are grateful for the program and what I’m doing for their children, and others have commented on how innovative the program is,” said Morris.

Morris said her clinic will expand to other countries in the Caribbean in the near future and has already visited St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Haiti, as potential areas to launch. She is travelling to share her story and her goals, and has been selected as the only Caribbean speaker for the African Youth Leadership summit in Morocco in September.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com.