Teola Linton - Educating through faith

Teola Linton - Educating through faith


Monday, September 28, 2020

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WHEN Teola Linton founded the New Life Academy Group of Schools in 2015, she did so by faith. Having exhausted all her resources in building the structure and promoting it, she was not quite sure how she would pay her seven staff members with only a quarter of the school's benches filled. Still, the new principal pressed on in faith, and five years later she does not regret it.

“It wasn't easy. Although I was grateful for the 21 students that we had, I wanted at least 80 students to begin with,” she admitted to All Woman from her office at the Spanish Town-based institution. “I can remember the first payday that was coming up, and I did not have the money to pay the staff. My blood pressure went so high that I almost got a stroke. I said, 'God, you gave me this school, but the number of students that I was expecting, we did not get them for the first term. I am trusting you to take us through'. We pulled money from here and there so the teachers could be paid, and we did what we could have done.”

Though it did not yet have windows or doors installed, Linton was very proud of her little school, as it was physical proof that her dream was becoming a reality. Having been an early childhood educator since she graduated from Muschett High School in Trelawny, she knew that moulding young minds was her passion and purpose.

Growing up in a close-knit Apostolic family in Duncans, Trelawny, Linton and her three sisters only knew two things: church and school. It's no coincidence that they are all now educators — two of whom own their own schools.

“My mom was a domestic helper and my father was a mason,” she said fondly. “They always instilled in us that the only thing that can take us out of poverty is having a good education. They ensured that we went to school and did our best. And to this day I strive for nothing but the best.”

Linton completed her level one training in early childhood education while she taught at GemGlow Kindergarten in Spanish Town. After teaching there for several years, she moved on to become a grade one teacher at Smith's Better Learning Preparatory school, and completed her level two training at the HEART Old Harbour Vocational Training Centre.

“My lecturer there at HEART encouraged me to go to teacher's college, because of the quality of work that I was producing, so I did just that,” she said triumphantly.

After studying for seven years at The Mico University College, Linton graduated with her bachelor's degree in 2014. She considers those seven years to be her 'training ground' as she was simultaneously being challenged in her job at Solid Base Group of Schools.

“I was awarded teacher of the year twice, and was promoted to senior teacher, and that's where I really got my training where leadership is concerned,” she said gratefully. “I was at the forefront of event planning and overseeing teachers and students. I remember one term I was under a lot of pressure, because I had to vet everybody's test papers in addition to doing my own. I said to my significant other at the time that I was under a lot of pressure, and he said to me, 'You are in training. The Lord is allowing you to be in this position because you've always wanted to have your own school. This is your training ground' so I looked at it in a different light, and I embraced it even though it was pressuring.”

This training proved useful in the last five years, as her group of schools grew from strength to strength. She now has over 100 students enrolled, and in 2019 she celebrated with her first batch of primary-level graduates.

“We got all traditional high school passes,” she beamed. “That group was very special to me, because not only were they our first batch, but it was also the first year of Primary Exit Profile, so we were very anxious about how they would perform. We had our first graduation ceremony and it was a very emotional day for me.”

Linton is also very proud of her students with special needs, who have been an integral part of the academy since its inception.

“Most of our 'gifted hands' students are mildly autistic, but we've also had students with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy,” she explained. “I knew it was important to have this department because our public school system is not adequately equipped to deal with these students, and many of them are left at home and isolated. I knew within myself that every child has the right to a good education, so I prayed about it. I started out with about nine special needs students, and two of them have graduated and gone on to Windsor School of Special Education to learn a skill. Some have also improved and been integrated into the regular streams.”

In addition to the existing kindergarten, preparatory and special needs schools, Linton hopes to soon be able to add a high school to her campus, and eventually a tertiary level institution. The school principal is once again in training mode, as she is now pursuing a master's programme and lecturing part-time at the International University of the Caribbean's Denbigh campus.

“I am also being encouraged by people around me to go for my doctorate, so I am also looking at that aspect of life,” she said confidently. “I want to have the best of everything: The best education, the best job, the best husband, the best of everything. I am intrinsically motivated and I don't procrastinate. If I have to get something done, I will get it done.

Now 37 years old, Linton chuckled as she mused that the Lord is still putting her husband-and-children package together. While she waits, she spends her time preparing her home.

“I am a housewife. I am fussy about my home. I am a neat person and I like things in order. After a hard day of work I love coming home to a beautiful home,” she said.

“I am a singer as well, because my family is musically inclined, so music also plays a vital part in my life.”

More than anything, however, she enjoys giving her best in service to others.

“I am a giving person,” she said simply. “I don't have to know you to give to you or help you. Whether it's a word of encouragement, a joke, or folding up something in your hand and giving it to you, I believe in sowing in people's lives. There is more blessing in giving than receiving. I believe that I've been given a gift from God, and it's a giving one. I just want to keep giving.”

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