Jamaican teachers visit Bellevue

Jamaican teachers visit Bellevue as part of the ongoing Jamaica Service Project created by James Burke and students at Tyee Middle School.

Ninth-grade teacher and Vice Principal Jean Manning and fifth-grade teacher Ramon Bremmer were a long way from home during the past two weeks they spent visiting Bellevue schools. The two teachers traded in the sunny weather of Jamaica, where they teach at the Sheffield All Ages School, in exchange for the rainy weather of Bellevue.

Manning and Bremmer spent two weeks interacting with students at Tyee Middle School and other Bellevue schools, observing how the district integrates the use of technology into daily lesson plans.

“This trip has been great, coming into the classrooms and seeing the technology,” Bremmer said. “I was over at Lake Hills Elementary and got to watch a teacher do a wonderful lesson using the SmartBoard and how it went from process to process and the excellent student interaction she walked the students through the lesson.”

Hosted by James Burke, an advanced computer-skills teacher at Tyee Middle school, the Jamaican teachers continued to foster the relationships built by the Jamaican Service Project that began three years ago.

Typically, taking a leave of absence as a teacher is very difficult in Jamaica, but the government stands behind this project and what we're trying to achieve, Burke explained.

The project was contrived by Burke who led a team of Tyee Middle School students in 2007 down to Negril to help install brand-new desktop computers and hardware to create a ten seat mini computer lab. Prior to their arrival, the school had no computers and little knowledge of how to use them. Burke and his students spent 12 days training the Jamaican teachers on computer basics. The goal of the project is to establish a training program that will allow the teachers and community members in Negril to then train others how to use the computers and other technology for educational purposes.

“Our ulimate goal is to work ourselves out of a job,” Burke said. “We don't just want to bring them a tool, drop it off and never look back. We want to teach them about the technology, how to fix it, how to use it, and how to share it with other schools and communities.”

Burke hopes to set up classroom-to-classroom lesson plans between Tyee Middle School and Sheffield All Ages School in the near future.

“Manning and Bremmer are two people who understand the importance of technology and the overall concept of what we're trying to achieve,” Burke explained. “The two of them are working to make it a reality and I'm proud to have joined forces with them.”

Burke's vision was to integrate computers and technology to create interconnectedness between cultures. He hopes to soon have access to cross-cultural-classroom communication between students in different countries.

The project’s initial funding came from local organizations including the Rotary Club of Bellevue Sunrise, who donated $5,000 for the project and continues to raise ongoing support. As a non-profit organization focused on local hands-on projects and international initiatives, the Rotary Club of Bellevue Sunrise hopes this project will lead to strengthened community relationships with Rotary clubs in Jamaica.

With funding in place, Bellevue students returned to Negril in 2008 and are set to go again this coming June. During the 2008 Jamaica Service Project, the team collected laptop computers and brought them down to the Sheffield All Ages School, setting up a 15-mobile computer lab for the teachers. For the 2009 trip, the team of students will bring down 20 donated laptops and projectors for the classrooms at the Sheffield All Ages School.

“We want to replicate the Bellevue School District's when it comes to technology by providing the teachers in Negril with laptops to check out from the school and take home to plan lessons and learn the programs,” Burke explained.

Currently, the Sheffield All Ages School consist of one giant room divided by chalk boards. A new school has been in the planning stages since the 1980's and has been propelled by the government in recent years due in part to the Jamaican Service Project and Burke's ongoing involvement. The new school is in the process of being built and will include 15 classrooms, a library and computer lab, and an auditorium.

Once the new school is complete, the facility will serve the community through education and host open movie nights, charging a small fee that will be used to support the growth of the computer lab and other educational programs.

Burke travels to Negril, Jamaica three times a year to support the project. He will lead a team of students to Jamaica this June and will travel again in November for a follow-up trip.

To donate new desktop or laptop computers, contact James Burke at BurkeJ@bsd405.org.