On the campus of Western Carolina University, it’s simply called “the Jamaica Program.”
But that plain name describes a remarkable connection between the Cullowhee campus and the Caribbean island. For 40 years, WCU faculty and administrators have been deeply involved in Jamaica, helping draft guidelines that formed the blueprint for the country’s educational system and traveling there regularly to train the country’s young teachers.
The program got its start in 1969, when the Jamaican Ministry of Education invited WCU officials to help the country train guidance counselors, explains Pat Brown, the school’s dean of educational outreach. Faculty from Western first visited Jamaica in 1972, and the connection has deepened considerably since then. Today the college offers qualified Jamaican teachers both bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
The bachelor’s degree, requiring three years of part-time study, is for middle-grade educators; students can choose a concentration in either school counseling, school administration or special education. The graduate students work toward a master’s in education with a specialization in supervision and administration.
Over the years, more than 4,000 Jamaicans have graduated from those programs, says Brown, with about 250 students enrolled any given year. Although most of the course work is done in Jamaica, the students must travel to Western’s Jackson County campus to complete their studies. This summer, 114 students will make the trip, paying for it themselves, notes Brown.
Why does WCU offer the programs?
“We have seen that we make a difference, and there’s a long-standing commitment to serving these students,” he explains. “But in many ways, it’s a way for the institution to introduce faculty members to cultural differences and expose them to how to be players in the global community. We do it because it’s the right thing to do, in many ways.”
About 30 Western faculty, mostly from the College of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences, teach in the program, Brown reports. One retired faculty member takes part, as well as former WCU faculty who now teach elsewhere. Participating faculty—three to five at a time—travel to Jamaica to teach during the winter and spring breaks and in the summer. The classes are held at a community college, a Catholic school and two public high schools in Kingston, Mandeville, Montego Bay and Discovery Bay.
Brown recently returned from a visit during which she conducted a commencement ceremony. “We have whole families now that have graduated from Western. At this ceremony, the students were just incredible. We had a number of folks who came out not only to see us but to be there to witness the celebration.”
Info: Western Carolina University’s Jamaica Project, Educational Outreach, 138 Cordelia Camp Building, Cullowhee NC 28723 (828-227-7397; www.wcu.edu).