Esher primary school mourns loss of young educator
ESHER, Hanover — When 29-year-old teacher Sameika Smalling complained of a severe headache in October, none of her relatives and colleagues imagined that she would not leave the hospital alive.
On Monday, they celebrated her life and spoke of the impact she has left behind. It has been particularly difficult for her younger sister Shaneika Smalling and their mother, Nicola Tate.
“We were planning to surprise her on her birthday but then she spent her birthday in the hospital. So, we said, ‘Sam, make sure you pull through and be strong so that you will be alright and can come out’. That was the plan when we spoke, but she didn’t make it out of the hospital,” Shaneika told the Jamaica Observer.
After falling ill on October 24, Sameika was admitted to the Cornwall Regional Hospital in St James. Soon after, she was transferred to the University Hospital of the West Indies in St Andrew.
“The last time I saw her, I told her that she was going to be OK. She said, ‘Yes’. And then, I said, ‘You believe?’ And she said, ‘Yes’. And I told her when she came back I’m gonna be right here and she said yes, but that was the last time I saw her,” said Shaneika.
Her mother remembers how brave Sameika had been.
“Even though she was that sick, she was still in high spirits. She was in good spirits like she didn’t want anybody to feel sorry for her. Yeah, she said we should not cry for her,” said Tate.
Sameika and Tate went to different countries but all three kept in touch regularly.
“It was like we live together because we talk every morning via video calls and before we go to bed every night. Lunchtime, every chance we get we talk to each other,” stated Shaneika.
She spoke glowingly of her sister.
“She was the backbone of the family. If somebody in the family didn’t have a mom, didn’t have a dad or dad went missing, she would take their place. She shined everywhere she went. She was so loving to people that she didn’t even know she was everything that you could look for in a person; we’re gonna miss her dearly,” added Shaneika.
Fresh out of Churches Teachers’ College, Sameika got her first job as a teacher at Esher Primary School in Hanover in September 2019. At the time of her death, she was form teacher for Grade 3s. Her mother and sister visited the class following a memorial the school held in her memory on Monday.
“She was caring. She was the best. She was pretty like her mom,” were some of the comments students made to the late educator’s mother and sister.
Emily Anderson will always remember how Sameika helped her settle in when she began working at Esher Primary.
“Miss Smalling was one of the first teachers who encouraged me when I started last year. She is one of the sweetest persons I know. She was humble, very fun, energetic, and so that’s the [aura] that will continue to be established in her class,” stated Anderson.
She mournfully recalled how she got the news of her friend’s death.
“It was the most heartbreaking thing ever. I remember it was after lunch and I remembered shouting, ‘No! No!’,” relayed Anderson.
For senior teacher Maurisa James, she will always remember Sameika as her protégé.
“Just coming out of teachers’ college, I would have nurtured her and played a vital role in the professional that she is today. Very quick with information, very receptive to information. She was a team player, gets the work done on time [and] works well with colleagues. She was very pleasant, loving and caring towards her children. She was very productive. Very good with her hands. You know, as professionals, teachers, that’s what we do. In terms of curriculum, delivery, she was very good at ensuring her students did very well. She would have prepared them for the Grade Three Diagnostic Tests between May and June each year,” stated James.
She said she cries every day because of the loss of someone who became her “little sister” and she wonders if it will ever get easier.
“This was the last thing that we were hoping to hear. The staff is in mourning…I know that [usually] grief doesn’t get better but, with time, you’ll feel better. This one I can’t say,” said James.
“There was not a day that she would leave school and not tell me that she was going home. Even if she can’t journey to my class, I can take out the phone and say Ms Smalling is gonna call me now to tell me that she is heading home. Our relationship was not just on a school level. But somewhat personal and so the impact is very…,” she said before her grief-laden voice trailed off.
James said she and her colleagues have been doing their best to help students cope. There was a special devotion, counselling was provided and teachers have provided a listening ear for students who wish to talk.
“That made the transition a little bit smoother for them. There are going to be days when some will come and tell you that, ‘Teacher, I miss Ms Smalling’. But we have to be there as the strong ones,” she explained.
Principal of the school Anthonette Wright also spoke highly of her late team member.
She remembered Sameika as a very good cook who would volunteer for various activities such as the annual harvest and fund-raising events. She was also part of the school’s 4-H Club and assisted with the debate, drama and storytelling clubs.
Monday’s memorial service was attended by representatives of the National Parent Teacher’s Association West; Member of Parliament for Hanover Western Tamika Davis; councillor for the Lucea Division, Easton Edwards; as well as representatives from primary and high schools within the parish.