By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Jenniah McLaren has made her family, her school, and the Matelot community proud. The 12-year-old pupil of the Matelot Community RC placed 91st in the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA), and with her twin Jenique now attend the Toco Secondary school.
The girls did well despite the trials of preparing during the Covid-19 pandemic. In an interview, December 9, her mother Tricia McLaren said online classes were stressful. “It was something new, and in Matelot we had a lot of challenges with the internet dropping.” Electricity outages also occurred.
McLaren said Jenniah is outgoing and active in sports but with Covid, “her whole life turn upside down and it was just [being] inside most of the time”. As a result, there were days when she requested time off from Jenniah’s teacher. “Sometimes she would be crying because she would not be getting the marks she wanted.”
Stress took a toll on Jenniah’s grades which dropped from mainly As to lower grades, even Fs. “We pushed through, and she did what she had to do; we had to bring her back up to that point of getting that B and C, and then work her way back up to the A.”
SEA was originally scheduled for June 10, 2021 but was postponed to July 1 with the onset of community spread and upward trend of cases. Jenniah’s study routine took place after classes finished at 3 p.m. It involved periods of study with break intervals. Jenniah said prayer helped her to remain calm.
Although Jenniah’s good grades could have gotten her to a school outside Matelot, her parents chose secondary schools in the vicinity. McLaren explained her daughter could have stayed with relatives but remaining close to home was “financially much easier”.
Jenniah has two other siblings, 19-year-old sister Trishell, and 15-year-old Azaria. McLaren added, “I try to get the best school on the north coast area that would be suitable for her.”
Given the stresses of the change to online classes, Jenniah disclosed she was surprised by the results. “I never thought I was going to get so high but when I found out I got so high I was really happy and proud of myself.”
There were hard moments, but she kept telling herself not to give up, “keep going and yeah it will be over”. English was her favourite subject at primary school; at Toco Secondary she is enjoying Visual Arts, Theatre Arts and Social Studies. However, she longs for a return to physical school. She thinks she wants to be a “professor” when she grows up.
In what field? She paused then said, “English”.
She missed track and field meets as sporting events and recreational sporting activities were impacted by Public Health regulations.
Jenniah and Jenique were competitive junior runners. They began track and field at six years, but Covid-19 has stopped activity for almost two years. They belong to the Toco Tafac club managed by John ‘Mr Slim’ Andalcio.
In October 2021, the girls went to the National Stadium to participate for the first time in a Heptathlon: seven combined track and field events. The 100, 200 and 300 metre events are their forte.
Jenniah and Jenique have competed and represented their school at the district and national levels, placing first and second. Jenniah said she often came second to Jenique.
She laughed after being asked if she was born second. “Yes, I was born after her.” They were born February 14, 2009, ‘Nicky’ at 9.06 p.m. and ‘Niah’ at 9.08 p.m.
The McLaren family are members of the Pentecostal church in Matelot but during the pandemic have been praying together at home. Jenniah usually reads the scripture because she likes to read, and her father Peter would give a brief talk on the Word.
McLaren said, “after which, the girls are allowed to ask questions on scripture that was read, a few songs would be done by myself with Peter accompanying on the keyboard.” Each family member offered a prayer for friends “or whatever they have in their heart”.
McLaren stated, “we are a big family but at the centre is God who is the glue that holds us together, all that we are, all that we have, all that we do, it’s all because of Him”.
Jenniah said doing well in SEA showed, “you can do anything that you put your mind to”.
Her mother agrees. “It brought a positive light to our community to show the other children, those that were in her class and those to come that we, no matter where we are and where we are from, once we focus and put our minds to it, we can be just as good as the children who are in Port of Spain and environs.” McLaren said her daughters have support from “a great community, the school, the teachers, the principal, they stood by her; once we have that backing, we could be anything and do anything”.