Participants in Jamaica Environment Trust’s Schools’ Environment Programme show resilience, overcome challenges

It was my pleasure recently to be invited to join the panel of judges for two environmental competitions for young people. The first was for the Schools’ Environment Programme, which Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has hosted for over twenty years now (since 1997). JET itself is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year. Congratulations to Lauren Creary, Programme Director at JET, for pulling this year’s competition together.

SEP projects are very much hands-on, involving teachers and students in collaboration. So, as one can imagine, this year’s event was really challenging for all the schools, since schools are closed, communication may be lacking, and there are fewer opportunities to do field trips. This made their contributions all the more impressive – in particular the rural schools, who overcame a range of obstacles to produce solid results.

It was an absolute treat talking to the students. They were smart, articulate, and well-prepared. They knew their stuff.

The SEP itself has been through ups and downs over the years. While the participation of schools has always been enthusiastic and of the highest quality, it has had to be scaled down, due to lack of financial support. To my mind, this programme should have millions of dollars poured into it! It is enormously valuable, building a firm foundation for Jamaican children to learn about the environment, tackle local issues and concerns, find solutions…and study the science, too. The schools take enormous pride in their participation, and this year was no exception – despite the “curve balls” that COVID-19 threw at them.

Teacher Training Workshops were also a critical component of the 2019/20 Schools Environment Programme.

The competition is not one of those lightweight, fun events, with no substance, by the way. It is serious. The students are expected to conduct their own research and a great deal of work goes into each successful project. The guidelines are rigorous.

Something must also be said about the sponsors – in particular, the ever-faithful CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank, which has been a sponsor since “Day One.” I would love to see more private sector donors, large and small, coming on board. Nigel Holness, Managing Director of CIBC, reaffirmed the bank’s support. JET presented CIBC with a “Champions of the Environment” Award in 2012. “Each year, we grow more impressed at the keen participation of the schools,” said Mr. Holness – and I agree.

Conservator of Forests Ainsley Henry spoke about the importance of restoring, protecting, and properly managing our forests, noting that they support clean air and water. Mr. Henry has been quite focused on mangroves, and I hope that he will put this experience and knowledge to work for the Forestry Department. “Every tree counts,” he said, pointing out that the Department will also focus on urban forestry, recognizing that small-scale planting projects can have a major impact – for example, parks, churchyards, backyards… As we know this will reduce air pollution, improve urban dwellers’ mental and physical health, and have a cooling effect. I hope Mr. Henry will pay close attention to native trees, when focusing on restoration. He urged viewers to “take action for the environment.”

Ainsley Henry, the recently appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Forestry Department and Conservator of Forests, was guest speaker at the SEP Awards Ceremony.

I have to give special mention to a few schools, and the students. So special “big ups” to:

Iona Preparatory School, St. Mary: “First timers” who focused on the Jamaican Iguana and the American Crocodile in their project. They received an award for Outstanding Effort.

Glen Preparatory School, St. Ann: They created a lotion from Spanish Needle, winning the Most Resourceful prize.

Liberty Learning Centre, St. Mary: Their video was beautifully done, with the students showing us around the school and demonstrating the challenges faced by COVID-190. The Q&A session with this school was inspiring. One young woman, with a supportive family (and supportive Internet connectivity) acknowledged her privilege, recognizing that many other Jamaican students are not so fortunate. I was impressed by this.

Port Morant Primary School, St. Thomas: I loved their project on Solid Waste. They did well and even managed some field trips to observe the issues surrounding an (informal?) dump at Church Corner, which has since been relocated. Recycling Partners of Jamaica has just opened a depot at Church Corner, by the way.

St Michael’s Primary School in downtown Kingston is situated in a community that faces many challenges, with or without COVID-19. I have actually visited there myself. They had unusually severe difficulties – but persevered! Well done.

Please support JET! Become a member. And I am hoping that the SEP will have more new sponsors – organizations that recognize the critical importance of educating our students on environmental issues.

Below is JET’s press release following the Awards Ceremony. Congratulations are in order to all the winners – and to all the schools who made the prodigious effort to participate.

Schools’ Environment Programme (SEP) Participants Overcome Challenges to Produce Environmental Research for JET Competition

On Thursday March 25, 2021, the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) hosted the 23rd staging of the awards ceremony for its Schools’ Environment Programme (SEP) via Zoom. It was a proud moment not only for JET but for the students and teachers of the ten SEP schools who entered the annual environmental research competition and produced quality research projects despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, winning top prizes for their schools. “It was certainly a very challenging year for both JET and the participating SEP schools and we are proud of the commitment of the schools to the programme,” said Lauren Creary, JET Programme Director. “It was an inspiration to see the work produced by the students and teachers.”  

Top performing participating SEP schools submitted research papers and videos on environmental topics ranging from the impacts of earthquakes on the built environment versus the natural environment to the impact of COVID-19 on the environment and public health. Students conducted surveys and interviews within their schools and surrounding communities along with limited field trips and secondary research to compile information for their projects. In addition to the submission of research papers and videos for review, students participated in an online question and answer session with the SEP panel of judges.

A student from first timers Iona Preparatory School makes a point. (Photo: JET)

Fifteen SEP awards were handed out in nine categories during the ceremony. First, second and third place prizes for the Best Research Video were awarded to Liberty Learning Centre (St. Mary), West Indies College Prep (Manchester) and Maryland All Age School (Hanover) respectively. The first, second and third place prizes for Best Research Paper were awarded to Maryland All Age, Port Morant Primary (St. Thomas) and St Michaels Primary (Kingston). Both Liberty Learning Centre and Greater Destiny Prep in St James won prizes for Best Spokespersons. Holland Primary, St Elizabeth gave the best Research Recommendations while, Pisgah Primary, also in St. Elizabeth, had the Best Community Outreach and Most Knowledgeable Students. Both Iona Prep (St Mary) and Greater Destiny Prep were awarded for their Outstanding Effort while The Glen Prep (St. Ann) and West Indies College Prep were Most Resourceful, and Most Creative and Innovative respectively.

Keynote speaker, Mr Ainsley Henry, CEO and Conservator of Forests at the Forestry Department, focused on the importance of forestry restoration, especially in urban areas, in his keynote address. He also highlighted the key role youth can play in initiating positive environmental action in their homes, schools and communities. “Given the value of urban forests, it is important that everyone, including and especially the youth, see themselves as playing a critical role in tree planting,” said Mr. Henry. He invited students and audience members to contact the Forestry Department to collect seedlings as a part of their initiative to plant three million trees in three years.

Liberty Learning Centre in St. Mary took their work very seriously. Their project on COVID-19 and the environment (and the impact on their own school) was clearly close to the students’ hearts.

Long-standing donor of SEP, the National Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) whose grant is administered through the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), gave a special message about the long-standing partnership between JET and NRCA/NEPA, highlighting the importance of environmental education among youth in Jamaica. This message was delivered by Ms Ollyvia Anderson, Manager, Public Education and Corporate Communication at NEPA who congratulated the JET team and participating SEP schools.  

SEP is also supported by several corporate sponsors, some since the programme’s inception in 1997.  Mr Nigel Holness, Managing Director of CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank, a founding donor, gave encouragement on behalf of all corporate sponsors. “It is our hope that despite the challenges brought about by COVID-19, the lack of face-to-face classes and disruptions in the school curriculum, our support of this special initiative, Schools’ Environment Programme, with other corporate partners, will allow for the continuation of this valuable programme.”

SEP is the longest running environmental education programme of its kind in Jamaica and was implemented in 31 schools between 2019 and 2021. SEP’s professional development workshops have given hundreds of Jamaican teachers the opportunity to expand their knowledge of environmental issues, has inspired young environmental advocates and catalysed hundreds of successful environmental projects in schools and local communities. SEP has been propelled by enthusiastic principal and teacher support, parental and community involvement and the support of several long-standing donors and sponsors.

Tashauna McFarlene, Grade 5 student at Greater Destiny Prep in St. James, explaining one of the displays created for their research project about the Impact of COVID-19 on the Environment. (Photo: JET)

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