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Lorna Jackson: A Jamaican-born educator on a mission

BY NOVIA MCDONALD-WHYTE Senior Associate Editor Lifestyle & Social Content

Thursday, August 02, 2012    

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LONDON, England — Lorna Jackson, who emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1961, is the proud head teacher of the Maryland Primary School, which has a school population of 530 pupils and 71 staff members.

One of the things that makes Maryland interesting is the high number of migrants who have made it the school of choice for their children. Children from 56 nations, speaking 43 languages make it the place of learning.

The influx of migrant non-speaking workers resulted in more white students at the school learning English as a second language. "My school population changed dramatically over the last seven years [where] the white children are being taught English," said Jackson.

Despite their varied backgrounds, however, Jackson and her staff work hard to ensure that they not only learn but maintain a high standard.

The results speak for themselves.

Jackson, who has been head teacher at Maryland Primary for 11 years and who has spent all of 30 years teaching in the borough of Newham, has brought literacy rates from 43 per cent to 92 per cent using the Read Write programme -- the initiative of educator Ruth Miskin.

Read Write teaches reading through phonics a way of separating out the sounds within words, in a very structured way. "One of the key differences," Jackson explained, "is that children are grouped by ability, so there are some older children learning with younger ones and vice-versa. If a child is in a lesson they don't understand they switch off. But if they're in a group that is linked to their ability, learning is immediate. None of the children feel like a failure in a class."

Literacy, she said, is not her only focus, stressing that having the children calm is very important for the learning environment. "My children must understand and appreciate that a calm disposition diffuses anger and will allow rationale behaviour," she said.

This model behaviour reflects the philosophy of the Olympic Games, a significant fact that is not lost at Maryland Primary where parents of many of the student population worked on the Olympic Village.

Jackson is also acutely aware of the economic challenges of many of her students and as such no child goes hungry, is stigmatised and or victimised, and it was heart-warming to hear Bob Marley's One Love being sung at the assembly.

Jackson has not forgotten her humble background and said proudly that "I fly the (Jamaican) flag proudly wherever I go".

She said that her father Ruel Witter, of St Elizabeth, was a tube driver, and her mother Ivelyn Buchanan, a nurse, came to the UK in 1958, saved and then sent for her in 1961.

Her memories of her childhood are vivid. "I tried eating snow, did not like school dinners, always had a cold and loved my Sindy doll (forerunner of the Barbie), loved playing outdoors, did lots of cooking and adored going downhill on my scooter."

And she made it clear that she would not allow London to host the Olympics and she is not out to see her Jamaican athletes in action. Jackson has tickets for the Men's Relay Finals, and will be donning her black, green and gold outfit she bought during her holidays in Jamaica last year.

She was also upbeat about her beloved Jamaica as it approaches 50. "I see it as a landmark that comes at a time when we are achieving. The whole world is in celebratory mood," she said.

Jackson said that on retirement she plans to spend her time researching 'why our black boys have let us down'. "I have to find out. We lose them as soon as they leave high school," she said.

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