Drafting an advocacy letter to the mayor. Improving computer skills. Collecting and coordinating entries to a competition. Learning about greenhouse gases and climate change.
These are just some of the large and small “wins” for students from Watsonton Primary School in Jamaica who, in 2019, entered a short story competition organised by Panos Caribbean’s Voices for Climate Change Education initiative. The initiative was supported by Jamaica’s Improving Climate Data and Information Management project which is managed by the Planning Institute of Jamaica with funding through the World Bank, under the Climate Investment Funds’ Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience (PPCR).
The school, which submitted the most entries to the competition, copped second place and two honourable mentions in the primary school category. And despite their disappointment at not winning the competition, it is clear the very articulate young writers have achieved much more than prizes.
“I learnt that I cannot win every time…I was very disappointed but I would enter again because I am interested in learning about new things,” says Jovanna Anderson.
The competition was organised for schools in the Voices 2019 initiative’s target communities – the farming communities of Red Bank, St. Elizabeth and Lionel Town, Clarendon and the fishing communities of Rocky Point, Clarendon and White River, St Ann. The category for 9 to 12 year olds provided a prompt about twin siblings Tino and Tina in a small rural community (not unlike Lionel Town where Watsonton Primary is located) facing the threat of a hurricane strengthened by warmer temperatures caused by a changing climate. Students were invited to write a story of no more than 800 words about how the twins helped their community learn about and respond to this climate change challenge.
A love of writing, winning prizes, and the excitement of participating in a competition for the first time were some reasons students listed as their motives for entering the writing contest.
“A lot of people were encouraging me to enter,” says Tanecia Hyatt, who is also a literacy mentor at the school, helping fellow students build their reading and writing skills.
Ms. Carrie Davis, a grade three teacher and literacy specialist who shared information about the competition with students in grades four to six, was impressed with the fact that they did not rush to write but took time to gather information: “What I liked was that they did the research first. They studied a lot and immersed themselves in it.”
“I did not know what climate change was but I did research when I was writing on what it is, how it is caused and the fact that it is happening because of human activity,” says Breanna Ferguson.
“I didn’t know about greenhouse gases like Carbon Dioxide. These gases are making the earth hotter. I also learnt about the importance of trees and creating safe zones for trees – away from the public where people cannot cut them down,” shares Jamari Lambert.
Students’ stories reflected new knowledge about climate change and the threats hurricanes pose to small communities like theirs, but also highlighted steps ordinary persons can take to protect themselves, and the role children can play in raising awareness and educating adults.
“In my story the twins were encouraging people in Pondside to take more actions – to stock up on food items, to go to safer locations at the time of the hurricane and listen to what is happening on their battery radios. People listened to them,” says another member of the group.
Ms. Davis was not surprised that her students did well in the competition and says they could have done even better if more grade six students had been able to participate. She was confident in the skills of the students selected, and praised them for coordinating the submission of the 16 entries from Watsonton.
“I was at a workshop, so they printed and collected and submitted everything. There were two grade five students who were in charge and they coordinated the collection of stories, saving them on thumb drive, getting them printed. They coordinated everything!” Ms Davis reveals.
“I learnt to do things on the computer I could not do before. Of course I could use the computer but I learnt to do new things when we were writing our stories and putting in pictures and doing captions,” one student chimes in.
And at least one student has become an advocate because of her new awareness: “One day I thought of writing to the Mayor to ask him to consider planting more trees because when I was researching I saw on YouTube that one of the problems is that people are cutting down treest to build all the time, so I thought why not plant more trees..I wrote the letter but I did not get to send it yet,” Jovanna Anderson reveals.
Besides sharing their own learning, Watsonton Primary students and teacher also have some advice for Panos: continuing the competition “so we can enter again”; organising the competition at another time of the year when grade six students are not preparing for their exit examinations; and acknowledging all participants with certificates.
STORY PROMPT FOR 9-12 YEAR OLDS
Write a short story about how two young children helped their community learn more about climate change and take action to protect itself, beginning with the following lines:
Tino and his twin sister Tina were terribly afraid of hurricane season. Almost every year, between June and November, their little community of Pondside which is near the bank of the Rio Blanco river, was in danger when a hurricane or storm passed near to Jamaica. Hurricanes often meant floods or landslides or strong winds which damaged houses, business places and crops in Pondside. Mrs. Brown, the principal at Pondside Primary said that Jamaica could expect to see stronger hurricanes because of climate change and that the community had to learn to protect itself.
One year, Tino and Tina heard their parents saying a strong hurricane was out at sea and was heading towards Jamaica. How could they help the people in Pondside protect their community?