1897 map of Kingston with Alpha Cottage to the far right.
Established in 1880 as a safe place to live, learn and grow for homeless and at-risk youth, the Alpha Institute is a day school that maintains a unique dual legacy of over a century of service to Jamaican youth and cultural development including Alpha alumni who became jazz innovators, ska pioneers, reggae icons and Grammy nominees. The story started May 1, 1880, when Jessie Ripoll led four women in Kingston, Jamaica to open an orphanage called Alpha Cottage on a 40-acre property along South Camp Road. The work became so much for Jessie and her friends that the Religious Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic order of nuns in Bermondsey, England, were invited to assist. Four sisters arrived in 1890 and established a convent. Jessie Ripoll joined the convent, changed her name to Mother Claver and the Sisters of Mercy operate Alpha to this day.
The history of Alpha at 26 South Camp Road includes a few name changes (Alpha Industrial School for Boys, Alpha Boys School and now The Alpha Institute) and 1000s of success stories. There are many excellent printers, tailors, furniture makers and farmers who learned their craft at Alpha not to mention all the fathers, husbands and citizens who grew there. Of the many success stories, music is the most well known.
Click here for the complete timeline from 1880-to the present day.
Started in 1892 by one of the first sisters, Sister Mary deChantal, Alpha’s music program helped launch the careers of key contributors to jazz (Dizzy Reece, Joe Harriott), pioneers of ska (Don Drummond, Lester Sterling) and reggae (Bobby Ellis, Cedric Brooks, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace) with some becoming vocal ambassadors of the culture itself (Johnnie Osbourne, Yellowman, Leroy Smart). Alpha has been called a “dream factory” (NPR/USA) for “legendary musicians” (Jamaica Gleaner) who “helped release the spirit of one of the most musical islands in the world” (The Telegraph/UK). Alpha’s place in Jamaica’s music pantheon can be heard on Alpha Boys School Radio, a 24/7 streaming station that only plays music in whole or in part performed by Alpha graduates (alphaboysschoolradio.com).
Still active today, the Alpha Institute’s music program has expanded to include disc jockey training, recording and production, Pro Tools and radio techniques. A half day of academic instruction and a half day of music training are the basis of its holistic program for young men 16-22 years old. All 100 students participate in team building workshops, family counseling, internships and work placement.
While Alpha is funded primarily by grants and private donations, social enterprise is critical to sustainability. Alpha is open to visitor tours weekly and the school welcomes daily patronage of its gift shop on campus or online (click here for the online store). Handcrafted wood products for the home and office as well as screen printed products, all made on campus, can be shipped worldwide.
Click here for the complete timeline from 1880 to the present day.