As it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, Promise Learning and Training Centre, a St Andrew-based special education institution, attributes its longevity to the fervent care, love, and passion for teaching students in a way to help them become independent individuals and make a positive contribution to society.
The centre is one of few Corporate Area institutions catering to children and young adults, between ages four and 22, who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other learning disabilities.
They receive schooling across five stages, beginning with early childhood education and continuing through primary and secondary school levels, finishing with life skills and transitional training to help them integrate into society.
“We are excited. Thirty years is really a long time. We have come from so far,” Acting Principal Maxine Bolton told The Gleaner on Thursday.
“The founder (Marjorie Hylton), she started out with the love for these children, introducing these children to us. We continued that love,” said Bolton.
The headmistress said a special bond is established between each child and staff member because of the engaging and exciting learning environment, particularly because instructors have the end goal of fostering the children’s independence while collaborating with parents to discover innovative approaches to care for each student.
“It’s overwhelming that we are still here, thank God, despite the challenges – and there are a lot of challenges coming from every side – but we are still here because of the love we have for the children and the [Promise] family,” Bolton added.
She stated that the school was gearing up to host a series of events in April, which is celebrated as World Autism Month, with April 2 recognised as World Autism Awareness Day.
The school, whose operations are financed through tuition payments, fundraising activities, and private-sector sponsorship, is particularly attempting to raise awareness of ASD and to do more behavioural workshops with parents to teach them how to care for children with autism.
“We want to have a recognition, not only of the school, but children with autism ... We want to ensure that our parents are catered for,” she said.
Natalie Johnson, a parent of a non-verbal six-year-old boy who has been diagnosed with ASD, told The Gleaner that soon after her son was enrolled at the institution in January, she noticed improvement in his behaviour.
“This institution would have been the first where he is actually getting the right care or, educationwise, help that he needs,” she said. “Things that I wasn’t able to achieve on my own, they have done so in just couple days of him being enrolled.”
Johnson said her son’s communicative gestures have noticeably improved at home and that he now exhibits more tolerance and patience. She is excited about this ray of hope for his future growth as he was already showing signs of becoming more independent.
“I was really elated when I saw it (changes). I had to go to the receptionist and I asked her, ‘What did you guys do to my son?’ because this is something that I’ve never seen and it was something I was looking for, for a very long time from him,” she said of her second child’s improvement.
Promise Learning and Training Centre currently has 99 students on roll.
Over the years, students have been excelling in the areas of music, swimming, and arts and crafts.
The school’s music group has had exceptional success in swimming after competing in international competitions, and students have also won gold, silver, and bronze medals in Jamaica Cultural Development Commission contests.
Wesley Hylton, acting director of the institution, is looking forward to even more success in the years ahead.
“We want to make Promise the ideal institution for kids with autism and learning disabilities here in Jamaica,” he said.
Hylton hailed Digicel and Bert’s Auto Parts for their ongoing support of the institution, even as he urged other private sector organisations also to help keep the institution operating and fulfil its mission serving the youths of the country.
Grant funding from Digicel has helped the school to build a much-needed soundproof room to helps students with sensory challenges.
Hylton said this space has revolutionised learning and been a blessing to the Hagley Park Road-based school.
“Bert’s, as our neighbours, they actually have helped us throughout the years for anything we need, for example, funding or for the learning environment, always wondering how they can help,” he added.
The school is currently experiencing infrastructure issues and needs funds to assist with classroom expansion.
“Every single year, every semester, we get new students ... and our main issue is the capacity. Our classrooms are big, but the more kids we have is the less room we have,” he said.
In order to accommodate the expanding student body and give the students easy access to materials and services, Hylton said he is not ruling out the necessity for a larger property, which he is also hopeful that assistance can be provided to accomplish this dream for the school’s 30th year.