Close to 40 local and international volunteers are currently working with youngsters across the parish of Westmoreland, in a bid to enhance the educational development for primary school students through the Sandals Foundation sponsored Great Shape! Inc. SuperKids Literacy Programme.

The programme, now in its 13th year servicing Jamaican communities, is especially exciting as they include music and dancing to educate students. This year’s music team is led by reggae artists, DJ Markos Photinos and Keith “Rabbit” Townsend of the Mystic Roots Band. Both of whom are classically trained musicians and singers.

Volunteer John Dashbach associated with the Sandals Foundation/Great Shape!SuperKids Literacy Programme engages Mount Airy Primary student Jameila Cummings during one of his computer science sessions at the NEET Resource Centre

Great Shape! Inc. Co-Founder, Gretchen Lee, says “Jamaican children are really comfortable with music and dancing so the music team will harness this passion and connect it to literacy with note reading, theory, progression and comprehension.”

As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, Great Shape! Inc.’s annual SuperKids project has taken on a new approach for 2021. The team has created an in-person model that follows all COVID-19 protocols. Volunteers are teaching in various locations, outside the regular school setting, including community churches and the learning center at Negril Education Environment Trust (NEET). The activities are being executed in smaller groups and the curriculum focuses specifically on providing extra support to students who really need face to face interaction.

“Education is sequential,” says Gretchen Lee, “In times of pandemics and other interruptions; children will lose essential skill building techniques for anything they’re trying to learn. Most schools remain closed in the pandemic, learning is virtual, and many students are falling through the cracks without access to the internet or the in-person focus they need to learn and succeed. We’re here to counter that loss with bright ideas and attention to each child.”

Young Garrick Lee, student at Mount Airy Primary School busily gets his activity done during the Sandals Foundation sponsored Great Shape! SuperKids Literacy session hosted at NEET

Heidi Clarke, executive director for the Sandals Foundation expressed delight in the continued partnership with Great Shape! team.  “We recognize that during this time there are children that have so many learning gaps further impacted by a lack of internet access and they are missing out on so much. To have these volunteers carefully work with the students in very small groups while following all safety protocols, they will be able to identify learning gaps and provide the needed intervention. We are grateful for the partnership from the Ministry of Education and the support from everyone to make this happen safely and successfully.”

For Georgene Crowe, Great Shape! Inc. Co-Founder, children really need extra attention having been out of the physical classroom for so long “Just think about it; many of these children haven’t been in actual class for a year and a half. Imagine how that impacts the development of a would-be second grader. We’re helping them catch up.”

Students and volunteers captured during one of the Sandals Foundation sponsored Great Shape! SuperKids Literacy sessions hosted by NEET

Great Shape! Inc. SuperKids programme is executed in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information in collaboration with its agency the Jamaica Teaching Council and the Sandals Foundation. The programme focuses on person-centered teaching, assessing students and meeting them where they are to then reach their grade level in literacy; refine their developmental and social skills. The Superkids programme also involves the building and maintenance of computers and labs in schools and communities.

The international volunteers represent a variety of professions, including college students and certified teachers who pay close attention to the brain, body and spirit of each child. With a curriculum that includes language arts, sports, art, music and computer science, local teachers aligned with the schools benefiting from the programme are also learning key skills in this engaging and energetic model of fun one-on-one interaction.

Great Shape! Inc. volunteer Lori Steve (left) share in this beautiful photo with Mount Airy Primary student Shaniel Briscoe at the Great Shape!/Sandals Foundation SuperKids Literacy session hosted at the NEET.

For this year’s programme, Great Shape! SuperKids has donated 225 new computers, repaired hundreds of computers in schools and community centers, contributed thousands of pounds of school and art supplies as well as hundreds of shoes to children.

The Sandals Foundation and Sandals Negril provide complimentary accommodation for volunteers as well as support the logistics and transportation needs of volunteers and students, including meals, as well as supporting personnel to ensure sanitization protocols are observed.

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