April 4, 2021 Emma Sharp Dalton-Brown

A Cornerstone in the Lives of Jamaican Students

By: Emma Sharp Dalton-Brown

No matter what circumstance a child in Jamaica might be in, two things have become absolute necessities for every single one of them – internet access and access to a device. 

We are two-thirds of the way through the present school year and most Jamaican students have now been in online learning for over a year.  Few fortunate students have had some face to face learning since September 2020. However, with the exponentially rising Covid cases, the Jamaican government mandated that all public and private schools revert to or remain online, with an exception to allow some schools, who have had their Covid protocols approved, to bring in their Grades 6, 11, 12 and 13 students for face to face learning in preparation for Exit Examinations: PEP, CSEC & Cape. 

Having started an initiative in June 2020 called Cornerstone Connex, which has successfully brought internet connection to several rural communities in the western side of the island, Cornerstone Jamaica has a mission to put the well-being of Jamaican students at the forefront. That said, when online school opened on October 5, 2020, many teachers sat waiting, and are still waiting five months later, for some of their students to come into the virtual classroom. What has been the problem?

Mr. Lattray Presenting an Alcatel Tablet, donated by Cornerstone Jamaica, to a Lennon High School Student

The Jamaican government has promised, and delivered, thousands of tablets to kids in need, but it is a tall order to supply every single child with a device, let alone imminently. This is where the Cornerstone Connex initiative has jumped in with full force. All the internet in the world cannot help a child unless he or she has a device suitable for the academic tasks at hand. All Jamaican children need devices for online school and learning, but there is a glaring disparity between those with devices and those without. 

Three days after school reopened for online learning in October, Cornerstone Jamaica received a donation of US$10,000 to spend on tablets for students. The donor requested that some of this money be spent on 50 tablets for students at Lennon High School, which is in the farming community of Mocho, Clarendon. Being a non-profit organisation that “does things” rather than “talk about things”, a plan was put in place and 50 Alcatel tablets, with keyboards and cases, were purchased from Intcomex at a very reasonable rate.  Due to the constraints of Covid-19, Chairman of Lennon High School Board, Gordon Sharp, gladly presented them to Principal Frederick Lattray on Cornerstone Jamaica’s behalf.

Mr. Lattray was overwhelmed with gratitude for what he called “This rather timely show of support by Cornerstone Jamaica.” He explained that most of the school’s students and their families are from low socioeconomic levels and, even pre-Covid, found it difficult to attend school regularly due to financial difficulties. “With the onset of the pandemic, things got even worse as students were now being required to access school via online modalities. This proved very difficult for many, because they were unable to access these modes of delivery due to the lack of internet and devices,” Lattray related. He went on to say that of approximately 970 students, at least 450 of them did not have access to a tablet or laptop, and he iterated that “this gift will go a long way in helping some of our needy students to access online education.” 

After careful consideration, Lennon High School came up with an incentive for students to get the tablets. “The tablets will be allocated to students picked by the teachers and will be on loan to them. If a student meets certain performance standards over a determined period, he or she will keep the tablet. If not, he or she will lose it to another student,” the Chairman told Cornerstone Jamaica.

Cornerstone Jamaica did not stop there, as the remaining US$4000 plus change, from the aforementioned donation, was used to buy more tablets for more Jamaican children. The very same donor has continued to support the cause, giving further generous sums to fulfil the task Cornerstone Jamaica has embraced. 

This organisation has been painfully cognisant of the thousands upon thousands of students who still have no access to learning materials nor online classes. In order to address this dire situation, late last year Cornerstone Jamaica launched a US$10,000 matching initiative with its donor base to buy tablets for students in 11 Partner Schools in Westmoreland and Hanover.  Good quality tablets, with protective cases, were purchased at US$100 per device and Cornerstone appealed to people far and wide to give Jamaican kids a fair chance by donating any amount they could – nothing was too small a donation.  As the Jamaican saying goes, “Every mickle mek a muckle!” That said, the love and money poured from the pockets of Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora, including a hefty donation of US$30,000 from one donor! This afforded Cornerstone Jamaica the luxury of furnishing the 11 partner schools in Westmoreland with a few hundred more Samsung A tablets, along with cases, and Lennon High School, who has become the twelfth partner, with another 50. In total, Cornerstone Jamaica has been able to donate over 500 tablets to students. The aim is to ensure that every student in the partner schools gets a tablet for online learning. 

Samsung A Tablets with Cases in a Cornerstone Jamaica Bag, ready for Distribution
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Samsung Tab A

After receiving 100 tablets from Cornerstone Jamaica for his students at Lennon High School, Mr. Lattray revealed one very touching story about a young girl who had to drop out of another high school to give birth to her baby. Lennon High School accepted her into their student body, but she had no way of attending school in person, constrained by Covid and caring for her little one. Having been given one of the donated tablets, however, she is now able to attend online school. “This young lady is special and she has potential, so the generous donation is greatly appreciated,” said Lattray. 

While Cornerstone Jamaica would like to thank each and every donor, it must be noted that some of the volunteer partners within the organisation have given hundreds of hours, yes hundreds, towards sourcing, collecting, shipping, unpacking, repacking, shipping again, clearing customs, driving, delivering, unpacking, logging serial numbers, repacking and distributing these hundreds of tablets with cases to 12 schools. It was no small feat, to say the least. The intense labour given by the Tablet Team is second to none, one that is surely the Cornerstone of this incredibly organised organisation, which strives to improve the lives of Jamaican students.