J'can named valedicatorian at Canada university

Sunday, November 10, 2019

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Former principal of Allman Town Primary in Kingston and LASCO/Ministry of Education Principal of the Year 2015/2016, Kandi-Lee Crooks-Smith headlined one of two commencement services at Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) in Canada last Sunday as a valedictorian of the graduating class.

Crooks-Smith, who graduated with a Master of Arts in Education and Studies in Lifelong Learning, delivered her valedictory address during the afternoon convocation ceremony which got underway at 2:00 pm. The address for the morning ceremony was delivered by Alison Bryan who graduated with a bachelor of public relations.

The former principal, who describes herself on LinkedIn as an agile, resourceful and insightful educational solutionist, also holds a BEd from Mount Saint Vincent, earned exactly 10 years ago via a distance education programme at St Joseph's Teachers' College. In addition, she has a diploma in educational leadership and administration (general primary) from Mico University College, and a graduate certificate from the National College for Educational Leadership.

According to a press release issued by MSVU, Crooks-Smith's desire to pursue graduate studies reflects a passion for adult learning ignited by a group of mothers she met while teaching at Allman Town Primary.

“They told me they wanted to help their children, but they just couldn't; they didn't understand the curriculum,” she says, recounting that some of the students were not doing well in school and she felt there was a lack of parental support.

She asked the parents what was happening and learned something that would change the course of her life's work.

“These were mostly single mothers from low income families, and they had dropped out of school, often when they became pregnant, so they had real challenges. And that's when a light went off in my head, because we judge these people so much, but how can we help them? They're already motivated, they want to do it. How can we fuel that and ensure that when we work with these parents, their children will be excelling as well?” she says.

She started teaching the mothers the same material she was teaching their children, as well as how to apply this learning to real-life situations.

“The results! They were empowered and beaming,” she says. “They were enthused about learning and they felt so good knowing they could help their kids.” She says some of the parents went on to pursue higher education, and others became community activists and social entrepreneurs. Crooks-Smith continued working with parent groups and community members, and at the request of Jamaica's Ministry of Education, she did sessions with school principals and education workers.

Attending MSV further enhanced her appreciation for lifelong learning, Crooks-Smith said, because she met a wide range of students of different ages and stages of life, all learning at varying rates.

“We all brought different stories based on our experiences,” she says. “It made me realise the importance of planning programmes that meet the varying needs of all learners. That's what lifelong learning is all about.”

While working on her master's degree, Crooks-Smith embraced university life, becoming an active volunteer with the Black Students Society and the International Education Centre. She even stepped out of her comfort zone to perform a dance solo at a campus multicultural night. At the eastern conference of the Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education, Crooks-Smith prepared a poster featuring a learning programme framework she developed and presented an experiential learning paper based on the story of the group of mothers in Jamaica who had inspired her to pursue studies in lifelong learning.

Recently, she became the graduate student representative on the newly formed Students of African Descent Advisory Committee at MSVU. The committee was formed after she and others expressed a desire for the university to do more to recognise the contributions of black people in Nova Scotia, not only during Black History Month, but throughout the year.

“President Mary Bluechardt was very receptive,” she says. “I made suggestions of things we could do to raise awareness of the importance, history and contributions of the black people within Halifax and the Nova Scotian community.”

Her input was instrumental in the creation of the advisory committee.

Much like Mount Saint Vincent University itself, Crooks-Smith is sometimes referred to as a “small wonder,” with a seemingly endless supply of energy for helping others and finding solutions to problems.

“I have a heart to serve, and I am motivated by others being successful,” she says. “Even though I may be considered a leader, I am a servant leader. In leading, we need to ensure that the people who choose to follow are at their best selves; they know you appreciate them and have their best interests at heart. I am also a person of faith and I always seek direction in my decisions and actions.”

Crooks-Smith joined the education sector in 1998, and has taught every primary level grade except grade one.

She and her family moved to Canada two years ago.


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