There is a good selection of scholarships from the private sector available to youngsters looking to further their education here in Cayman, yet too many young people, especially those who attend the government’s John Gray High School, believe that such scholarships are not intended for them. A scholarship programme from Campbells, attorneys-at-law, is giving bright and enthusiastic young people the chance to achieve their ambitions. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull speaks with the students, the private sector and staff at John Gray High School, to see what kind of a difference is being made, and finds that there are much wider implications for improving society as a whole from having businesses partner with students.
A chance meeting at a carol concert at the end of last year brought Alistair Walters, managing partner at Campbells and Glenn Whewell, guidance counsellor at John Gray High School, together and the conversation turned to a discussion on ways in which Campbells could make a real, fundamental difference in the lives of students in the government school system.
Alistair explains: “Campbells’ scholarship programme is aimed at supporting a number of students on an annual basis with awards of smaller or partial scholarships. What we wanted to do is really focus on assisting students who might not usually apply for scholarship and who, without assistance, would perhaps not have the opportunity of continuing with their education after High School.”
Broadening the reach of scholarships
Glenn introduced Alistair’s idea to an assembly of Year 12 students explaining directly who was eligible to apply. Unusually, students were not relegated by subject matter (i.e. they were not required to study law) and were not tied to returning to work for Campbells once their studies were complete.
Response was immediately high, however it was the seven students who completed and delivered their applications and showed the highest levels of motivation who were eventually awarded scholarships. The group of seven were all awarded funding by Campbells to take them through the first two years of further education, upon graduating from John Gray.
Glenn says he was particularly impressed by Campbells’ genuine commitment to help students be the best that they could and, in particular, Alistair’s willingness to meet with students and find out exactly what was required from his firm to help make a difference.
Alistair describes the mechanism by which the scholarships were awarded: “As part of advertising our scholarship programme this year, we invited applications from Year 12 students at John Gray High School. An interview panel consisting of myself, partner Ross McDonough and William Chisholm, managing director of Campbell Corporate Services, interviewed those that applied over the course of two days. We were impressed by how determined they were to pursue clearly defined goals and awarded scholarships to them accordingly.”
Tiphanie Wilmot, 16, is using her scholarship to attend St Ignatius High School’s Sixth Form to study A-levels in Law, Business Studies, History and Spanish, with the aim of attending the Cayman Islands Law School to obtain a law degree.
Tiphanie says she and her fellow students were impressed that Mr. Walters had made the effort to come into the School and create a connection with the students.
“Sometimes students need motivation. If more companies such as Campbells made the effort to come and talk with us and find out what we need to succeed I’m sure that more young people would find the drive to achieve something with their lives. Students need to know that the community cares.”
Claudine Dell, 17, intends to join the University College of the Cayman Islands on its Education Programme, with a view to studying to become a teacher. She says she did not believe that she would have the chance to apply for a scholarship, and so was over the moon and almost disbelieving when her application was accepted.
Shaneck Conolly, 16, will study accounting at the UCCI in September thanks to the Campbells scholarship. Although Caymanian, Shaneck also believed that scholarships were unattainable for her: “I thought scholarships were for just private school students,” she says.
Maggie Jackson is the careers counsellor at John Gray and has worked tirelessly for many years to find suitable jobs for school leavers. She says the School is working hard to make students more receptive to applying for scholarships: “Year 12 students this year had a session on scholarships. Danielle Japal is in charge of the government scholarship programme and she made visits to individual groups throughout the school year. Students were given application forms and step by step directions. Students were also encouraged to apply for the many private scholarships out there. We must also encourage the parents to get involved in the process. Several companies came to speak with groups of students, mostly accounting, about the scholarships they offer.”
Maggie says she has to push many of the students to apply for scholarships and says it sometimes feels like they don’t want to apply in case they “fail”. Some, she says, would rather not try and need lots of encouragement. We need more one-to-one career counselling with students. Thankfully that is now in the plans for next year.”
Shaneck says that if more businesses were to make a connection with students at the High School they would realise how much potential there really is there.
“It’s easy to think of the worst of students from John Gray because of the bad publicity and the way a very small minority of students act, but there are also a lot of students here who are bright and motivated,” she says.
Tiphanie agrees: “It’s not all bad here. It may surprise people to know that there are many students who come to school to actually work. It would be good if businesses could come in. It would open up their eyes as to the potential of the students.”
Claudine adds: “Having businesses show an interest in us gives us hope.”
Fabian Thomas, 17, is about to join the UCCI’s construction course, with a view to undertaking further study to become an architect and engineer. He thinks it would be great if businesses from a cross-section of industry made the effort to come to the school and talk about the kinds of jobs available to young people.
“There is still a stigma attached to young people that they aren’t making the right career choice if they choose anything other than law or accountancy, yet I think our generation is slowly breaking that idea. It would be great if students could get more encouragement if they make career choices outside of accounting and law.”
Maggie agrees and states: “I have noticed that more and more of the students want to try ‘different careers’, not all banking and law. The resistance for change does not come from the students but often the parents. Many times a student will leave my office excited at spending time in a beauty salon or restaurant only to return the next day saying their parents want them to go to “an office”.”
Students agree that they would like to see individuals, from politicians to human resource managers, business owners to regular employees, come and chat with students about their options.
Kenroy Millward, 16, intends to study to be a dentist and so is joining the St Ignatius sixth form to study A-levels in Chemistry, Biology, Maths and Music.
He says: “It would be great if regular employees would come into the School and share their experiences of the working world with students.”
The highly challenging year ahead
Take a tour around the John Gray High School complex, and you may begin to appreciate just how determined and motivated these young people are to succeed. The aging complex is shrinking by the minute as work continues on the brand new school directly adjacent to the old buildings. The development of the new school is a tremendously positive move forward, but leaves in its wake diminished room for the students to study and congregate while construction work takes place.
“Last year was a pretty tough year for both students and staff” Glenn concedes. “In particular, with the loss of any recreational space for the students to let off steam during breaks; this year will be even tougher as we will be losing our spacious canteen that was last year jam-packed with students during lunchtime. We will also be losing further classrooms, as the development continues. Squeezing students into the remaining space available will be a challenge next year.”
Claudine confirms: “Overcrowding has been an issue here, and lots of kids leads to lots of challenges for everyone.”
A variety of remedies are being considered to ease the burden, including reverting back to a shift system which was employed after Hurricane Ivan devastated the school in September 2004.
The community pitches in…
John Gray employs a variety of methods to forge relations between the private sector and the students.
Maggie explains: “Each year we have guest speakers from local companies, colleges, private schools along with overseas colleges and universities. Sessions are held at lunchtime and during Like skills classes for Year 10 and Year 12.”
Maggie says that one of the most effective ways the business world impacts their students in through the work experience programme. She states: “This year the local business community welcomed almost 700 of our young people into their companies. Many companies now have full time employees as a result of this programme eg. dms, Dive Tech, Crusader International, BritHay Electrical, Red Sail Sports and many others. This programme is a wonderful way for companies to identify future scholarship recipients.”
The Chamber of Commerce is also an invaluable source of information and guidance for John Gray students, with its mentoring programme and Career Fair all targeting the development and placement of young people within the workplace.
…but more could be done
Glenn and the students believe that the community could greatly assist students during this difficult period ahead and beyond.
Some members of the community have already stepped up to the plate, such as Tony Mc-Inerney from Mac Plumbing, a medal-winning weight lifter himself, who has initiated the Cayman Islands Powerlifting Organisation. Mc-Inerney trains students from the High School so that they can compete in international competitions.
He states: “Not every student wants to play field sports such as rugby or football, so we are appealing to those individuals with an aptitude for weight lifting. We have around ten students from the High School, six of whom are regular attendees at our club at King’s Sports Centre.”
Tony gives up his time three afternoons a week to train his students (all of whom are boys, though the club is open to girls as well) and says he intends, with the help of financial support from the community, to take the students to Miami this month for a regional NAPF and Pan American Games meet.
“The students have only been training a few short weeks so I’m not expecting them to win; yet it will be great experience and, with the potential that the students are currently showing, I’m hoping for great things at the Caribbean Championships in Guyana next year,” he says.
Glenn confirms that The Cayman Masonic Children’s Foundation has provided a wonderful resource for placing students in part-time work placements. Similarly they have financially assisted needy students with uniforms and snacks.
Input by the community no matter how small, can make all the difference to students. Dawn Manderson owns Pittsburgh Paints with her husband. She was contacted by Glenn to donate paints and painting materials to a student at John Gray so she could brighten up her bedroom. “We helped her design her room then supplied everything she needed to transform it,” Dawn says. “We were delighted to assist and would be happy to assist again, anytime.”
An all-round effort
Students realise that it’s a two way street and that they themselves need to ensure that they are receptive to any new initiatives brought to them by the private sector: “We need to ensure that we have the right attitude,” Kenroy says. “I think it would be a good idea if students such as ourselves come back to the School to speak with students once we are in our further education to encourage students to work hard and achieve their goals. I believe students would listen to their peers.”
Glenn says that schools, too, need to think outside the box and work harder to foster better relations with the business community.
“We all have a part to play,” he says. “Schools need to think in terms of forging relations with the business community and a good first step is inviting them into their class rooms, and onto the campus where they can meet John Gray students first hand who have manners, massive potential and advanced skill sets.”
Alistair describes Campbells’ view, which has a wider perspective than most: “We are committed to the local community and view supporting the education of focused students who are committed to success as both an investment in their futures and that of the Cayman Islands. We are pleased to have had the opportunity of meeting and assisting these students as well as other scholarship applicants. We are living in an increasingly competitive work place and education and training are key components of success in such an environment.”
Indeed, in today’s highly competitive environment, if businesses want to become successful they can only consider hiring qualified individuals who are motivated to work hard. Our niche in Cayman is our ability to sell our services (financial and tourism) which are at the very top of their game, which means the pressure is even more intense on employees to be as qualified and as determined to succeed as they can possibly be. The undiscovered talent pool at John Gray High School is therefore the perfect base from which home grown talent needs to be nurtured and encouraged. But it will take the commitment of the entire community.
Interested businesses and members of the community should contact Glenn Whewell at 938 8544 to find out how they can make a difference in the lives of students.