Howard University Partnership
Rockhouse Foundation, Savanna-la-mar Inclusive Infant Academy, Howard University and the University of the West Indies join forces to host a two day Training Workshop: Working with Special Needs Children & Families.
It was the end of a long, hot Jamaican summer.
Just like Third World sang, it was 96 degrees in the shade. The kind of heat that makes sweat trickle down the back of your thighs and demands that you immediately lie down by the Rockhouse pool with coconut water (preferably mixed with a healthy shot or two of Appleton rum.) And yet, 130 teachers from across the western side of the island decided to forgo the last of their precious summer vacation to attend the two-day Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Infant Academy (SIIA) Training Workshop, hosted by the Rockhouse Foundation in partnership with experts from Howard University and the University of the West Indies (UWI), at SIIA opened by the Foundation last year. In fact, the only teachers who couldn’t make it, were those that had their worship days on the Sabbath.
Rockhouse is nothing without a vibrant Negril, and surrounding local communities where most of its staff live. That’s why the Rockhouse Foundation opened SIIA in 2018. The Foundation has invested over US$5 million dollars to build this school, modernize five other local schools, and renovated the Negril Community Library.
The SIIA school project supports children from the area, especially those with physical disabilities and developmental delays. Special needs children often fall through the cracks in the overburdened Jamaican education system and are separated from their peers in classrooms. SIIA wants to do something different. The school’s philosophy is “the full inclusion” model, which thinks children of all learning abilities should take classes and learn both together and from one and another. It is the first of its kind on the island.
If there was ever a university that connected with the Jamaican spirit it would be the iconic historically black college Howard University. For two days local teachers learned from seven Howard staff members that were experts in a wide cross section of departments from education to psychology to language therapy. It was unprecedented access to some of the top academic leaders in the U.S. and the start of an ongoing partnership with Rockhouse and Howard. Also present was “Smiles for Speech,” a language therapy group associated with UWI.
One attendee, Natasha Francis-Campbell the President of Jabneh Christian Academy, was so frantically preparing for back to school that she almost didn’t make it to the workshop. But she was glad she did. “An extremely tired, sleepy me arrived at the workshop just a few minutes after Dr. Hakim Rashid began his presentation. Immediately, I knew I was right where I needed to be.” The workshop helped her solidify her plan for the school year. “I have left the work determined to be more available, understanding and compassionate towards this group of marvelous individuals. To have garnered such wealth free of cost has been profound.”
At the end of the workshop, 130 teachers walked away with Howard University certificates, and skills that will last a lifetime and positively affect Jamaican youth every single day.