Montego Bay is currently in a state of emergency due to gang violence and an ongoing lottery scam that’s overtaken the drug trade in terms of illegal contributions to Jamaica’s economy. With murder rates up and poverty high, the city can be a hard place to live. But in Granville, a part of town 30 minutes or so from MoBay’s resort strip, students are being taught that they can make a good living through careers in agriculture, farming, and hospitality.
Granville All-Age School is a breath of fresh air from the minute you enter the property through its tall, wrought iron gates. Structures are old, but newly painted in bold hues of fuchsia, turquoise, and marigold. It’s quiet on campus when I arrive. Upperclassmen are in the middle of standardized testing as the littlest students greet us outside, hands to their hearts in a gesture that can only be described as the warmest, fuzziest welcome.
While Granville is a poverty-stricken area high in the St. James Mountains, teachers and volunteers at this school seem to have it all figured out, providing a course of study that’s as practical as it is academic. But Granville All-Age didn’t always feel like a safe haven. Its transformation began in late 2015 when a Granville mom and alum named Sheena Cole asked her employer at a local hotel group for help building a fence so her children and their classmates would have a secure place to play outside. Cole’s boss said yes to the fence and took it one step further by adopting the school and vowing to change it for the better. Since then, the school’s yard—once a junkyard—has been cleaned up and turned into a fruit and vegetable garden. Also added to the curriculum: a reading club, a sports development program, learning a second language, butterfly conservation, and recycling.
The Granville 404 Project, named for the school’s location and 404 students, emphasizes the importance of sustainability in order to thrive professionally, and that students can grow up to be self-sufficient by cultivating their own foods. Currently Granville harvests pumpkin, cucumber, carrots, bananas, sweet peppers, tomatoes, corn, Jamaican scotch bonnet peppers, seasonal veggies like okra and callaloo, and sorrel.
“I call it planting the seeds,” said Diego Concha, Cole’s former boss who took on the 404 Project three years ago. “I think, at the elementary level, it’s a great opportunity for students to see the business cycle.” Specifically the farm-to-table cycle. Not only is ripe produce from the garden used in the school’s 24-by-10-foot canteen (where three women cook traditional meals like rice and peas with curried turkey neck, for all 404 students daily), Granville students actually have the opportunity to apply skills they’ve been taught in the classroom and in the garden to real world situations. From planting, nurturing and picking the crop to going offsite with local chefs and helping to prepare fresh meals for hotel guests, these kids get to experience, firsthand, what success could look and feel like.
“The biggest change I’ve seen with the kids is that they’re more environmentally aware,” said Granville teacher Beverly Desland when asked about her students before and after the 404 Project began. “When students are involved in community activities, they become better citizens of Jamaica.”