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Hendrickson’s deep passion for early childhood education

Hendrickson’s deep passion for early childhood education
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You can’t miss the passion in Gary “Butch” Hendrickson’s voice when he starts talking about early childhood education.

But that’s not surprising for the man who has been reported by this newspaper as stating firmly that his first priority is early childhood education.

“This is something that I want to do. This is what I want to be my legacy,” Hendrickson, the the principal and executive chairman of National Baking Company, told the Jamaica Observer in the run-up to the 2015 Observer Business Leader Award.

That unwavering enthusiasm to ensure that Jamaica’s children receive the best education at the most important stage of their life, plus the National Baking Company Foundation’s philanthropic contribution towards the development of the country during the year 2015, saw Hendrickson being named the Observer Business Leader from a field of eight nominees.

True to his nature, Hendrickson accepted the award with humility.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured and truly humbled to have been awarded this recognition by the Jamaica Observer,” he said at the time. “However, this cannot be considered my award. It is most definitely a family affair in the real sense, and it is indeed the National family who needs to take the bow.”

Now, Hendrickson and his team have set their sights on another early childhood education project that, he admitted, will cost somewhere in the region of $200 million.

“We just bought the Continental Auto Parts building at the intersection of Beechwood Avenue and Half-Way-Tree Road,” he told the Sunday Observer two weeks ago, pointing out that he intends to transform the edifice into an early childhood maths and science lab-type institute.

“I really want a first-world set-up. If you walk in there with your eyes closed and then open them, you must see a First World set up,” Hendrickson said. “I want to get the best of the best and the best practice from wherever in the world.”

To achieve that, Hendrickson has his godson, who is working in Singapore, trying to make contact with people skilled in this area to share ideas and, if possible, offer help.

“We’re going to pull from that, what we hope will be the best programme, and put together something to start these children on their way,“ he said.

In addition, the project has already received pledges of support from the Canadian and British high commissions, as well as USAID (United States Agency for International Development). ”Our friends in the diplomatic service have promised that if I do that they can help to bring people to help with the training,” Hendrickson said.

The building, he said, is about 4,000 to 5,000 square feet. The science and maths centre will be located on the first floor, while the second floor is expected to have a lecture area that can accommodate adults as well.

At the time he spoke to the Sunday Observer. Hendrickson said he was not yet sure how many children the centre would be able to accommodate, however he was clear that he wanted to keep the student to teacher ratio low, noting that “in an ideal world” the ratio at the early childhood level is eight students to one teacher.

“For the little time that they will be able to spend there we want to give them the maximum and best-quality exposure,” he said.

The building, he explained, will be equipped with everything it needs.

“That is my little mission this year, my personal mission to find out where I can help these kids, what is best practice. I don’t want to hear, ‘well, our children not ready for this’. We are going to do it so our children can be ready… because at four/five years of age our children are just as good as anybody else’s,” Hendrickson insisted.

“I want to engage the children at a very young age and get them thinking. I’m doing this because I think the country needs it… needs to lean in that direction a little bit more,” he added.

The fact that the building is just a stone’s throw away from the National bakery is an added advantage to Hendrickson because, as he explained, his staff, including the maintenance teams, will be able to ensure that everything is working.

“I want it nice for the kids, nice, nice, nice,” he emphasised, his face a display of determination. “We’ll draw from schools near and far. I don’t know yet how it will work. What I do know, the need is there, so once we have the ability to help these kids, we’ll find a way to get them here.”

“I feel it’s so important that we give them every bit. And we must do it unselfishly, and we must do it with a good heart, because the intention to give them the best [is] going to cost money. When I say give them the best, ennuh, that is not just the educational material, but things like the best taps for them to wash their little hands, the best toilets and other amenities. I want them to aspire to something better,” Hendrickson said.

Asked if he had a name for the building, he said “No. But I know who it won’t be named after. Forget that,” Hendrickson said, effectively nipping in the bud any thought anyone may have to honour him for the contribution.

He revealed that it will take quite a bit of effort to convert the building and that the architectural work is scheduled to begin soon. “Ideally, I’d love to have it open for September,” said the man who collaborated with his good friend and fellow philanthropist Glen Christian, himself a past winner of the Observer Business Leader Award, to build Union Gardens Infant School in the low-income community of Union Gardens off Spanish Town Road in Kingston.

At the time when Hendrickson was nominated for the Observer Business Leader Award, the story written by the award founder, Moses Jackson, justifying the National Baking Company principal’s selection stated that the 8,000-square-foot Union Gardens School building “brings to mind that this remarkable facility in what is unmistakably inner-city Kingston has to be a reflection of the collective vision of a highly committed and deep-pocketed philanthropic group of Jamaicans”.

It added: “Six classrooms accommodate 105 children, and the facility boasts washrooms outfitted with miniaturised flush toilets and right-sized face basins, generous water storage tanks, and spacious dining facilities. The $173-million price tag was shared by several government and private sector institutions. National teamed up with two of businessman Glen Christian’s companies — Cari-Med Limited and Kirk Distributors Limited — as the chief private sector supporters. The CHASE Fund and Jamaica Social Investment Fund provided State support for the project.”

“We see eye to eye on early childhood education and there’s no backing out on this one,” Jackson quoted Hendrickson as saying about his alliance with Christian. “It’s a commitment. We intend to do more whenever we get the opportunity to do more. This is a part of my dream, this is a part of what we at National try to give back with, and it’s something we are committed to.”



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