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Outstanding teachers honoured

No child leaves my class without getting a hug each day, teacher says

Wednesday, June 18, 2014    

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THEY act as caregivers, assume the roles of parents and counsellors, and provide other support as they mould many brilliant young minds, often employing unorthodox teaching methods.

As unsung heroes of the classroom, they also sacrifice their time, funds and effort to ensure Jamaica's children receive the best education.

It is in recognition of their immense value and contributions that 40 outstanding teachers, many of whom have given more than 40 years of dedicated service to education, were honoured at the Prime Minister's Medal of Appreciation ceremony, held on the lawns of Jamaica House last Thursday.

Instituted in 2005, the award is given to an educator, who has served for a minimum of 15 years, displayed exceptional service in the teaching profession, and has shown evidence of community involvement, innovation and creativity in service.

Awardee Jennifer Hewitt, who has been described as an outstanding educator and community stalwart, said she is grateful her work is being appreciated.

"I feel honoured because, sometimes, a teacher's job is thankless and for somebody outside to see what you've been doing and to honour you...it is a very humbling experience for me," she said.

Hewitt has been teaching for 40 years, with some of her most notable contributions being at the Cockburn Gardens School in Kingston, where she partnered with Desnoes and Geddes Limited (D&G) between 1989 and 1994 in a book-selling project to help needy students with lunch and textbooks.

She also took on production of a magazine and introduced container farming in the classroom, producing cash crops to support the school's canteen.

At the Oracabessa Primary School in St Mary, she started a culture club, established a permanent heritage corner in classrooms, coached numerous gold medal teams for speech, designed and created costumes for gold medal-winning dance groups in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) Festival of the Performing Arts. She also coordinated the Incentive Programme of the Ministry of Education, which the school won in 2006.

Hewitt said she mainly works with children who are challenged, with special needs, and has used unconventional methods to get through to her students, including playing classical music "just to soothe them".

Sharing a fond memory, she recalled one particular day, when the children were sitting a test. "I turned down the music way down low and this boy just got up and started singing very loudly and dancing, then said: 'ahh, mi get it now', sat back down and wrote the answer to his question. He did very well on that paper."

With a broad smile, she shared that her students whom she taught many years ago, as far back as grade six, still approach her, embracing her each time. She said four police officers in Port Maria maintain this practice, noting that this was the norm in her classroom, as "no child leaves my class without getting a hug each day before they go home".

Hewitt's leadership qualities and her status as a versatile teacher and community member led to her being awarded a scholarship to the Kentucky State University, sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

As an active member of her community, Hewitt was instrumental in securing electricity for the Mount Happy community in Trelawny and has helped several students financially from her personal funds.

She was the 2002 recipient of the Student National Education Association Certificate for Leadership at Kentucky University. Other awards included the Carlong Outstanding Service to Education Award; the Gleaner's Letter of the Day Award and the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) Golden Torch Award for 39 years of dedicated service to education.

Another honouree, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Elaine Foster Allen, said the award to colleagues in education, and those who have already served and have retired, "is an excellent way to appreciate the very hard work, the stellar performance of many of our educators".

"Sometimes teachers go unrecognised. They work behind the scenes, they mop up tears and they teach hard and sometimes they are not recognised, but it was such a pleasure to see 40 people being recognised..... I think this is a good thing to do. It makes us feel good and appreciated," she says.

Foster Allen has given stellar leadership to the education sector, particularly the Shortwood Teachers' College, where she was principal for 11 years. She also served as education officer and founding chief inspector of education.

At Shortwood, several initiatives were undertaken, including the creation of new classrooms and office buildings, development of the research agenda and implementation of research conferences, which are now held annually in teachers' colleges across Jamaica.

Foster Allen has provided excellent service through her work as an education consultant on school improvement, planning and environmental education; and has served the National Task Force on Education and as consultant to several committees on education. She has also authored a number of publications.

Recipient of a merit award for contributing to community and educational development in the United Kingdom, she is also actively involved in her local church and is a lay preacher and a member of the Pastors Council. She serves on several national boards and committees and offers voluntary service to two primary schools in her community.

Meanwhile, Millicent McKenzie said she has "enjoyed every moment" of her 45 years as an educator.

The retired principal of Giblatore Primary School in St Catherine said she is grateful for the recognition. "I feel elated for this award. I'm grateful to the prime minister," she said.

Now wheelchair-bound, the retiree said she has served as principal for more than 30 years, noting that at one point, all members of staff were her past students.

McKenzie is credited with being the first principal to have raised student achievement, so they earned passes at the Common Entrance Examination as well as the Jamaica School Certificate of Examination. This was achieved through her successful partnerships with parents, as they ensured that the children attended the free tutoring McKenzie offered.

Within the community, she got parents involved in income-earning activities in the areas of craft and home economics, and assisted them to secure land titles.

Not to be left out are the male educators, and Dr Adolph Cameron, who has served in education for over 45 years (classroom, administration and leadership), was among the 13 men honoured.

He is former secretary-general of the JTA, general secretary of the Caribbean Union of Teachers and member of the Teachers' Service Commission. As a teacher, he developed an effective methodology for the delivery of the science curriculum for students with low levels of achievement.

In areas of administration and leadership, he oversees the operations of the 14 parish associations and 72 district associations of the JTA, and serves as chief advisor to presidents and the General Council.

He also served on the team which developed an undergraduate degree programme offered by Nova Southeastern University in Jamaica. This programme is now accredited and is still being offered.

A community service-minded individual, Dr Cameron serves on numerous boards and councils, including the Boards of Portmore and Excelsior (EXED) Community colleges, the Jamaica Council for Adult Education, the National Council on Education, and the Caribbean Centre of Excellence for Teacher Training.

-- JIS

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