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Sandals Foundation’s early childhood initiative still making strides two years later

May 31 2016

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KINGSTON, JAMAICA (May 31, 2016) – Natasha Sweeney is a single mother with three children. Her youngest, Ashika, is five years old and has been struggling with her lessons at school. A very worried Natasha visited with Ashika’s teachers at the Seville Golden Pre-school in Priory, St Ann to discuss her child’s future in September 2015. That is when she learned about Project Sprout.

Two years ago the Sandals Foundation launched a programme aimed at structured intervention at the early childhood level in conjunction with the Ministry of Education. It was called Project Sprout.

The goals were quite clear even though the task was not a simple one. The project was to improve the capacity of teaching in its quality and effectiveness, strengthen parenting skills, support the developmental needs of children in the home and in school-based activities, as well as, provide inputs that would enhance the learning environment of schools.

After two years, Project Sprout has now expanded beyond the Culloden Early childhood Institute where it was first launched. Project Sprout now operates in six rural community schools all-inclusive of a trained teacher and social worker and also includes a designated space that is designed to support children requiring more than average support.

Little Ashika is one of Sprout’s success stories as she now exhibits tremendous growth at her level and her mother couldn’t be prouder. “She is showing much more interest in school now and she asks so many questions about everything, I am also very motivated as a parent that even when I am tired after work I still make the time for her lessons”, says Natasha.

According to Michelle Whittingham, the principal at Culloden ECI; the sprout programme’s biggest strides may indeed be happening outside the classroom. “Teachers and parents are working much better together because of Project Sprout; the demonstrations we host help them to continue the lessons when the children aren’t here at school.”

Project Sprout’s collaborative approach allows teachers, parents and social workers to work together to create customized lesson plans for each child that are geared towards addressing their specific area of opportunity. Another noteworthy achievement of the programme is parents’ willingness to become students themselves through partnership opportunities developed with other stakeholders such as HEART/NTA and the Jamaica Foundation for Life Long Learning (JFLL).

Through home visits coordinated by trained social workers, the programme also monitors the progress of parents who are encouraged to spend uninterrupted time with children at home.

The success of the programme has not been lost on its major proponents such as Sandals Foundation Project Manager Sydney Henry. “We have seen the programme grow from what was essentially a pilot project at Culloden ECI to a successful initiative being implemented at several schools. The most amazing part of this process continues to be the bonds that have been formed between parents, teachers and social workers. They have formed an amazing team that ensures that each child achieves their goals.”

The statistics coming out of the programme certainly support Henry’s statements as more than 90% of children who have passed through the intervention have been assessed to have satisfactorily attained mastery of the level of preparedness required for primary one.

The hope of Project Sprout’s creators is for it to become a staple at the early childhood level throughout the island and eventually the region. According to Director of Programmes at Sandals Foundation, Heidi Clarke, that has always been the goal. “We recognized quite early that the project would be successful and so we set our sights on introducing it to several schools throughout the island. It continues to be successful and if we have our way there will be a Project Sprout classroom at every rural school in the Caribbean one day.”