Partner Spotlight: Implementing Early Literacy Skill Building in Jamaica, West Indies

A pillar of The Windward Institute; providing professional development (P/D) covers a spectrum of projects with diverse educational groups. While we maintain steadfast in offering the highest level of research-based training for The Windward School faculty and staff as well as other educators, practitioners, and parents nationally, we find extending the reach of our offerings through international partnerships to be a truly rewarding endeavor.

Building the Partnership

A connection between Dr. John J. Russell, Special Projects Advisor to The Windward Institute (WI), and Simone Sobers, founder of the New York based 501 (c)3 non-profit Winsome Wishes for Kids (WWKIDS), sparked a discussion about the need for addressing the educational landscape, especially for children with language-based learning disabilities, in Jamaica, West Indies.

With the combined passion for empowering children to achieve unlimited success, The Windward Institute and Winsome Wishes for Kids created a 3-year plan that outlined three steps: (1) offering WI training in language and reading programs (Year 1), (2) providing intermediate training programs and support for teachers through interactive workshops (Year 2), (3) measuring effectiveness of implemented Windward programs, particularly children’s development in reading and language (Year 3).

Responding to the Pandemic

In March of 2020, The Windward School’s Head of School, Jamie Williamson, and Windward School Coordinators of Language, Nicole Berkowitz and Diane Happas were set to embark on a site-visit to two pilot-partnership schools in Jamaica, West Indies. Following safety protocols defined by the COVID-19 response, the trip was indefinitely delayed as the world began to find ways to adapt to work and school on virtual platforms. Given the effects of extended school closures and limited access to the necessary technology, The Windward Institute team anticipated how vital it would be to implement this professional development program as quickly as possible.  Realizing the impact of COVID-19 on technology accessibility, The Institute sought to share additional resources that would enable higher participation in the training of educators in Jamaica while maintaining social distancing protocols.

Through the dedication and hard work of The Windward School’s Technology department, gently used laptops were collected, reformatted and distributed to the educators from the schools participating in the professional development. On October 23, 2020, members of The Windward Institute team joined Simone Sobers and Jerome King of WWKIDS, and faculty members from the three participating schools, Gideon Early Childhood & Educational Centre, Lannaman's Preparatory School, and VAZ Preparatory School, for a virtual ceremony delivering the laptops for teacher use and to celebrate the forthcoming WI Language Skills workshop.


Virtual Workshop Series Begins: Building Phonological Awareness Skills

December 17th 2020 thirty K-3 educators from the three selected schools in Jamaica, logged onto to our virtual platform and joined Windward School and Windward Institute faculty, Nicole Berkowitz and Diane Happas for an interactive 1-day workshop that focused on phonemic awareness, an imperative set of skills for the acquisition of early literacy capability.

“Phonological Awareness is vital to the acquisition of early literacy skills. It was extremely exciting when we were presented with the opportunity to share research and our knowledge on this topic in order to help the teachers in Jamaica better understand the phonological foundation to literacy. A large body of research has linked deficient phonological awareness skills with poor reading achievement.” - Nicole Berkowitz

While the workshop received immense positive feedback, it further underscored the need for continued professional development and collaboration.

“I see our presentation as an initial step in helping teachers Implement explicit instruction in sound-to-letter- to –spelling correspondences. We’ve cited the research which shows that direct teaching of phoneme awareness has long-term benefits.  Teachers will now need ongoing support and coaching to implement an instructional curriculum that highlights sound awareness and builds student proficiency with phoneme awareness tasks (identifying, segmenting, blending speech sounds). The thoughtful questions raised by participants during our question-answer segments helped us see that additional professional development, training, and coaching will be needed. With its many resources, faculty, webinars and curricular materials, The Windward Institute will continue efforts to enrich and empower the Jamaican faculty as they develop a comprehensive literacy program.” - Diane Happas

Looking to the Future

The Windward Institute is currently planning the next steps in this collaboration. Simone Sobers, WWKIDS, noted, “As a team, we feel the quality service your Institute provides is one we believe will be of support to the children of Jamaica. We are ready to embrace the Windward Institute.” We look forward to strengthening the foundational skills of educators and continuing to build these special partnerships on a larger scale with a wider impact.