A teacher who lifts our spiritsMonday, October 26, 2020
WE know the old saying, “If it bleeds, it leads,” but look at the outpouring of love and support for Taneka McKoy Phipps, who first came to attention via a UNICEF Jamaica video circulated on social media. The dedicated teacher said she noticed children playing in the street in her Kingston community at a time when they would have been in school but for the stay-at-home protocols in place to manage the spread of the novel coronavirus. She decided that she would paint 'community blackboards' on various walls. Thereafter, every weekday morning, McKoy Phipps and a few assistants write lessons on the walls.
The video shows parents taking photos of the wall, and children copying the lessons into their exercise books. Mainstream media picked up the video, resulting in significant offers of assistance to the dedicated teacher.
There was a similar response to Keron King, principal of Little Bay Primary School, who rode around on his bike to deliver worksheets to his students as they prepared for the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT).
We have extraordinary teachers in this country, some who take up the role of parenting in cases in which need exists; be it financial or emotional. We hear many of those stories from successful Jamaicans who remember that one teacher who believed in them when even their family members were talking them down.
Several of our brilliant teachers have been doing the same abroad, and I am proud that my Convent of Mercy Academy 'Alpha' classmate Dr Denise Aloma (formerly Wehby) was recently honoured by the South Florida Business Journal with the Power Leader In Education Award. A teacher of nearly 50 years, she taught at her alma mater before moving to South Florida where she served as teacher, vice-principal and principal since 2014 of St Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale.
Here and abroad, we hear stressed out parents recognising the effort and care required to instruct children as they struggle with COVID-19-induced virtual learning. We are also realising how poverty can keep our children in a cycle of desperation. We welcome the Government's plan to install broadband islandwide and the free-to-air programming offered by our television stations. There is also that age-old invention called the book. Let us get our children reading more and become the best allies of their teachers. That alliance should include monitoring our children so they do not Google their way through homework. Remember, there is no quick fix to developing critical thinking and that is central to their future success.
Heritage week celebration
We met a brilliant Jamaican via a virtual session last week — Ann-Marie Howard-Brown, senior archaeologist and curator at Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT). She was guest speaker at a National Heritage Week celebration organised by IGT Jamaica for students at their After-School Advantage Programme centres at various homes islandwide.
Howard-Brown introduced us to the well-ordered society of Jamaica's first inhabitants, the Tainos, whose history here was traced back to 650 AD. She noted that with their structure of Government and their inventions these were civilised people and, therefore, it was not Columbus who 'civilised' us. Indeed, she dubbed Christopher Columbus Jamaica's first tourist.
We learned that they used the lignum vitae for medicinal purposes and to create large canoes, accommodating up to 50 people, that sailed to various Caribbean islands. “Tainos were biochemists,” she averred, as she described how they extracted the poisonous juices from the bitter cassava, with well-designed devices, producing an edible staple.
Debbie Green, IGT Jamaica general manager, commented on Howard-Brown's riveting style. Indeed, she held us with her passion for the subject and her sense of humour. We have a national treasure there at JNHT.
Outbreaks and care homes
Just when we felt there was a levelling of COVID-19 cases we got the grim news that there are outbreaks of the disease at The Golden Age Home in St Andrew and at the Mustard Seed Communities-run Jerusalem Home in St Catherine. Both residents and staff are affected and there are reports of carelessness of some Jamaicans who have come from abroad and are not observing health protocols. Imagine, they are stooping as low as bribing officials at our airports to not install the monitoring app on their phones.
Further, since last June, long before COVID-19, the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) seniors advocacy organisation has been calling for closer inspection of our care homes. There was a report of gross neglect at a home in Portmore, and when we investigated we discovered that there were only two inspectors assigned by the Ministry of Health and Wellness to oversee care homes in the entire island.
In last week's press briefing, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said he would be recruiting more health inspectors, but, in the meantime, may we suggest that the very competent staffers at the National Council for Senior Citizens (NCSC) be authorised to make comprehensive tours of these homes. The NCSC has offices in every parish and they do visit homes, but they are often prevented from going beyond certain areas by the operators of these homes. Until the ministry can have adequate personnel in place, we are asking that they prepare inspection guidelines for the NCSC and grant them full access to care homes.
Rains bring tragedy
The recent heavy rains resulted in a landslide at Shooter's Hill in St Andrew, taking the lives of Romeo Leachman, and his 15-year-old daughter Sanique, a promising fourth former at The Queen's School.
Those of us who have been involved in construction projects know the various agencies from which we must get approvals before we can start. Why then are the authorities allowing so many houses to be built in some of the most dangerous locations? Our over 200 parish councillors should be tasked with touring their communities and reporting on dangerous start-ups. Then there is the issue of the extensive damage to our roadways, including some recently built. This gives rise to the question of how well they were constructed in the first place.
As usual, we saw hundreds, if not thousands of plastic bottles and other garbage matter washed along our streets and in gullies. Do Jamaicans know that our tap water is safe? If you believe something may be wrong after a weather incident, just a few drops of bleach can make it perfectly drinkable. I remember an American embassy staffer Joshua Polacheck noting that he never bought bottled water here, as Jamaica has great-tasting tap water. We should stock up on bottled water for emergencies, but in normal times just refill your reusable bottles and give the gullies a break.
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