Tracia Powell made a concentrated effort to contain her excitement and drive slowly so she could make it home to share the exciting news.
While heading home from work she got a call from which she learnt that her daughter, 12-year-old LeahSimone Powell, was being awarded a Guardian Life Scholarship for being the top-performing girl for the 2022 Primary Exit Profile (PEP) examinations.
It was a double whammy as both the scholarship and the PEP accomplishment were news to Tracia, who had got her daughter’s results on July 8, days prior to the call.
Leah-Simone, who was valedictorian at Reach Academy, was placed at her first choice Campion College. She scored 398.3, with the perfect score being 400. The PEP exam score is used to place students in secondary schools across Jamaica.
“I didn’t get a perfect score, but I was close,” Leah-Simone told the Jamaica Observer last Thursday.
“I was feeling excited. I was very happy. I didn’t expect to be the top girl, but I did expect to get good grades. When I heard the news, my mom had called a family meeting and I thought I did something wrong,” Leah-Simone recalled, laughing.
According to the Ministry of Education, Leah-Simone performed better than 98 per cent “of all test takers on the Ability Test”. She scored 368 in mathematics, 357 in science, 349 in language arts, and 357 in social studies.
But when she finally found out that she was the top performer among the 17,256 girls who sat the exams, “I was very happy. My parents and my brother were happy for me. I told my friends and my extended family and they were also very happy for me. I didn’t cry, but I was so happy. I am very thankful for my teachers and my friends that helped me. I am also very thankful for my parents.”
Exhilerated, Tracia told the Sunday Observer that receiving the news was overwhelming. She said it was too much to absorb all at once.
“It was quite unbelievable at the time because I was not expecting a call. I got it as a call. When I got her PEP result print out from the school, I was actually ill. I was too sick to pay much attention,” she recalled.
“I know she had done well and she was going to Campion and that was that. But then, when I got a call from Guardian Group Foundation, who awarded her the scholarship, that’s when I found out,” she went on, noting that she initially thought it was about a missed insurance payment.
“I was like ‘What did you say? Are you sure?’ And the lady was there repeating what she said. I couldn’t believe it. She did it! I was very excited, but had to contain myself on the phone with the lady,” she said, laughing.
However, she said it became real when a list was published with the full list of scholarship awardees.
“When I told my husband, he said, ‘You sure you didn’t get a prank call?’ So, because he said that, I was wondering if it’s somebody pranking me. But it felt real when the list came out in the Observer, and that was the first time I cried. I just went over and hugged her up. And then I cried the morning after that as well.”
Leah-Simone’s father, Dr Leo-Paul Powell, however, was not completely astonished.
“We are happy that she was able to achieve that. I found that her being named top girl was simultaneously surprising and predictable because her performance has been consistent over the years, and, therefore, whereas I appreciate that it is a very tough field, it is not entirely surprising that she was able to top it. She is a solid student from her first entry into school,” he said.
Leo-Paul said he is confident that his daughter has a lot more in store. We have been getting a lot of positive comments from the family and from co-workers tooâ€¦ they are quite proud of her as well. It’s been all good. I think the instinct is to protect her from some of the press surrounding it so she can go on to have a normal existence and have a fresh start in school without all of the perssure. But I think she will handle it; she is quite poised,” he told the Sunday Observer.
Tracia, still beaming with joy, added: “It was a very exciting moment, and then I came home and broke the news to my family. It was quite an event because I was quite a little bit naughty. I called my husband and told him we needed to convene a family meeting,” she added, noting that she deliberately stalled before revealing what the meeting was about.
This ultimately led Leah-Simone to believe that she was in the wrong.
“When I finally said it, her face erupted, her mouth fell open, her eyes popped open, and she came and she hugged me and then her brother was there and she just launched herself onto him. It’s a good thing he’s nice and tall and big and strong so he could just catch her. I have a picture of them. It was a really special moment,” Tracia said.
But reminiscing on the three days of PEP, Leah-Simone told the Sunday Observer that the examinations were a complete breeze through for her.
“I wouldn’t necessarily call them difficult. I didn’t struggle. It was a pretty smooth sailing with the execution. I never really struggled with online schooling, but I do prefer in-person. I prepared. I had an extra class that I went to, and I also had a teacher that specialised in PEP preparations. I also did PEP preparations in my regular grade six class, and I also had a study group,” she said.
But what is she doing when she isn’t skipping through books trying to retain everything?
“Sometimes I might draw or I might sketch, or I like to do table tennis. I also sometimes do dancing and gymnastics, and sometimes I swim,” she said, sharing that she eagerly awaits the start of the new school year.
“I haven’t really thought of a dream career as yet, but I have heard good things about Campion College. I wanted to go to a co-ed school and Campion is co-ed. I’ve also heard a lot about the standard of work that they give there and I think it would be a good standard for me, and the work environment is good. It’s also very competitive and I am also a bit competitive. The extra-curriculars are also pretty good there as well,” Leah-Simone told the Sunday Observer.