IN the small, rural community of Gibraltar, St Ann, hardly anything happens without Ivy Walton. She is the principal of the community's all-age and infant school, a lay preacher for the four Baptist churches in the district, master of ceremony for most functions and weddings, is present at most grave diggings, 'nine-nights' and funerals and is one of the first persons summoned to pray whenever someone is ill.
At 60 years old, she is younger than many of the residents in the quiet community, but has earned respect from children and adults alike. That's because as an educator, she has helped to tranform the lives of many of the students under her care and has inspired her teachers to go beyond the call of duty. She knows how influential a teacher can be in a child's life, afterall, it was her beloved teacher Mrs Delsie Christie who heralded her entry into the profession.
"She was my role model and so, I always wanted to be a teacher," said Walton with a tinge of admiration in her voice.
"She was the kind of teacher who [insisted that] every child who entered her class had to read. She was a dedicated teacher and so she spent time, even after school, so that every child could benefit. I tell you, when you look at her penmanship, every child who passed through that lady's class, is a good writer. She was really special," she said.
Walton started teaching at her alma mater — Gibraltar All-Age and Infant School — at 19 years of age, and has not left in her 41 years as an educator. She said she just never had the desire to be anywhere else and had in fact turned her back on a lucrative accounting post at Kaiser Bauxite Company, now Noranda Jamaica Bauxite, just before she joined the school staff.
"I said I really wanted to stay here and build my community and then, there is my love for children. When I teach and I see my children learn, it gives me a sense of joy and achievement and so, because of my love for children and community and I want to help my community, I do not get bored at anytime," she said.
But there is so much to keep the educator busy and entertained in the small district, which has a population of about 3,000 based on her estimation. In addition to being a lay preacher, she is also a deacon, a Sunday School teacher, as well as a member of the Women's Federation and the hospitality committee.
"I MC weddings, concerts and I love 'nine-night' because it allows me to identify with the people. It doesn't matter who. You know sometimes people only set up with those who are "up there" (affluent)? I go to every 'nine-night' as long as I am here and I am well. When I go I raise the hymns and I sing," she said.
"I attend funerals and I always give remembrance, tributes, eulogies. I just try and identify with everyone because I have known most of them since I was born here. When they mourn, I mourn with them. When they rejoice, I rejoice with them," she said.
By attending these events, she said, she is better able to interact with the parents of the children at her school and that is crucial to maintaining discipline as students are less likely to misbehave at school when they know their parents have a good relationship with their teachers.
"They would say 'teacher, clap the bwoy', although we know it's against the Ministry of Education rules to administer corporal punishment," said Walton, a mother of seven.
Though she doesn't show it, Walton was born the same year that the shcool was established — in 1953. Upon becoming principal in 2005, she put her networking skills to use and got everyone to buy into her vision of making the institution 21st-century ready. She changed out the pit latrines to flush toilets, updated the computer labs with 16 new computers from Food For the Poor, and appealed to the past student's association for a multimedia projector, which she got in no time. The past students have also provided jerseys for the school's football team, bought a television and purchased books and stationery for the students over the years.
When the All Woman team visited the institution last week, we were shown a photocopier donated by a Mr Earl Hibbert, a citizen of England who was encouraged to donate to the school upon learning about its success. We were also given tours of a newly constructed kitchen done by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), a multi-purpose court and the infant school, which JSIF also contributed.
"They have really been the wind beneath our sails," Walton said of the organisation which has also paved the school's driveway and painted the entire facility.
But while the upkeep of the physical structure is an achievement in and of itself, it is talking about the success of her students that gets Walton beaming.
The school has consistently managed to achieve more than the national average for both GSAT and the Grade Four Literacy exams, annually.
"For our top girl, her average was 97 per cent overall, and we have a student who got 100 per cent in math and her average is 96.6," she said in reference to the most recent sitting of the GSAT.
She credits their success to discipline, team work and the dedication of the teachers.
"Sometimes when I hear principals talk about how some teachers are lazy, I couldn't say that about my teachers because they are committed and they go beyond the call of duty," she said.
Walton has created history in the small district by becoming the first person from Gibraltor to head the institution. Unfortunately, however, her tenure is coming to an end, since she starts pre-retirement leave in another four months.
"I'm going to rest for a while, but I am not going to go home and sit because I have a lot more in me," she said.