Forest Heights Academy (FHA) participated in Nassau’s Junior Junkanoo Parade on December 13. The FHA Falcons surprised the nation, but not themselves or those who follow their program, by taking the competitions top spot. FHA is also the high school champion for Abaco’s Junior Junkanoo for three years running.
On December 15, as soon as the results were known, the news spread like wild fire on social media. The Falcons had come first in banner, first in choreography, second in music and, most importantly, First Overall.
They were the best of the twenty three participating schools.
It is a well-deserved achievement considering the year-round work the students and teachers put in. Art Teacher, Lori Thompson, designed the costumes and is a driving force behind the school’s Junkanoo success. Her drive is matched by the determination and enthusiasm of her students who met religiously once a week after classes since the beginning of the school year to paste or practice steps and music.
This practice was extended to more than twice a week after school during the few weeks leading up to the parade.
With unrelenting dedication, choreographer and grade 11 student, Aaliyah Gibson, had her dancers practice the steps and figures over and over and the music leader, Tanno Rolle had the musicians repeat their pieces at length during lunchtime.
Last year’s costumes had suffered water damage, except for the structures, and had to be repasted. Students stayed after classes and on Saturdays to construct and repair under the instruction of talented Junkanoo Artist, Marvin Russell.
On December 6, the evening before the trip to Nassau, anyone watching the dancers relentlessly practice, or listening to the group play their instruments until dark, would be convinced of the results: the Falcons would come first.
Three times in a row locally, and for the first time nationally, they earned their spot as first place winners.
“All the dancers were smiling,” said Mrs. Thompson as she commented on the parade. “The kids gave the best performance of their lives.”
“They were not even nervous,” said Mr. Russell who also attended, “they were so sure of themselves.”
As she reminisced on the event, a very proud, but modest, Mrs. Thompson, did not want to accept all the credit.
“It was all team work, no one person was more important than the next,” she insisted, acknowledging the determination of the students who worked together, the older ones coaching the youngest and the contribution of the parents.
She expressed her gratitude for the help she received from Mr. Russell with making the costumes and teaching the kids how to do it; from Melinda Pinder and her daughter who made sure all the pieces were accounted for; as well as her sister, Alana Carroll and other parents who all pitched in.
“The members of the group fed on each other’s ideas and actualized,” she said, explaining that an additional section was added to the original choreography, having the Suns and the Butterflies coming together in a figure.
Mrs. Thompson was also grateful to the Junkanoo community of Abaco that she found as supportive as its artist community. Competition is competition, but there still is cooperation between the local groups, with some supplying a missing item or receiving help from Gilbert Davis, leader of the Murphy Town Superstars, who shares the shack with the Falcons.
She expressed her gratitude towards Principal Jim Richard who let the money raised for Junkanoo be used solely for Junkanoo; towards the local businesses: their money gifts sponsored last year’s costumes; gratitude also towards Randy Key who put one of his warehouses at the disposition of the school and of the Murphy Town group to be used as a shack. He also supplied the container to ship the costumes to Nassau.
The Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture also deserved thanks for providing hotel accommodation and transportation.
Though not even recovered from the excitement of putting together this year’s parade, Lori Thompson is already planning the 2016 event.
”I already have a vision,” she said.
“I hope to add new instruments to the music section,” mentioning that the Falcons lost the first place in music to St John’s College by a fraction of a point, 87 to 87.1.
Asked if she already had a theme, she answered positively adding that the vision will be presented to the Principal. If approved, it will be drawn and executed.
“It is satisfying to be part of the culture and it is important to give back by teaching the children to keep supporting that culture. It is also important to keep bettering oneself, always striving to do better. I am grateful to be where I am on Abaco and to continue in the stride.”
The Chairman of the Junkanoo and Culture Committee, Mr. Anthony Morley, offered his congratulations and announced that he would organize a recognition ceremony.