May 23, 2021 Emma Sharp Dalton-Brown

Jamaican Resilience Gets Us the Best in Teaching

Jamaican Resilience Gets Us the Best in Teaching

We have a saying here in Jamaica: ‘Tun han an mek fashion.’ (Turn your hand and make do.). For example, if the leather of a wheelchair has been destroyed, leaving only a frame, we secure a plastic garden chair inside said frame so that we can continue using the wheelchair. If we can’t afford something, we figure out a way to make do because we are a tenacious set of people and many of us persevere through the pains of the place from as young as toddlers.

This has not gone unnoticed by Cornerstone Jamaica Programme Coordinator, April Phinney, who is an early education teacher. “I have conversations with Jamaican children (as young as five years old) about getting stains out of their uniforms, how they, themselves, need to clean their uniforms and shoes, and iron.”  April, whose nonprofit organisation, Elevate Jamaica, runs summer tutorial programmes for Jamaicans in several children’s homes, sees how they get more personal experience and have more personal responsibility, whereas the children whom she has taught over the years in Colorado, USA, have everything done for them.  “They have parents who are able to provide them with a lot of the things they need, while Jamaican kids know how to chop carrots and yam, and cook a meal.  Jamaican children are more resilient.”

Indeed, often it’s not plain to see what a well-put-together person has endured in their past, particularly when they have no bitter nor resentful agenda, only pure love, and dedication for making a difference in children’s lives, as so many of our educators possess. They also have everlasting resilience. This is true of Jessica Davidson, Cornerstone Jamaica’s Director of Cornerstone Connex. Raised in Westmoreland, with her schooling both there and in Kingston, Ms. Davidson tried hard not to latch onto dreams. “If you give it (your dream) a voice or vision, you open up yourself to disappointment. I felt disappointed growing up. There were so many opportunities, as I was considered a bright child, but each time I missed an opportunity, it was because of finances. I dared not to dream. If you give it a voice then it can be soul-crushing.”

Imagine being accepted into the University of the West Indies to do your degree, yet not being able to afford the tuition fees. This is what happened to Jessica Davidson when she got a pre-acceptance to study International Relations back in 2006. “I remember distinctly my mother crying because we were filling out these forms and she said, Jessica, I don’t have it,” Davidson related. In fact, being a lawyer had been more in line with what she had wanted to do, but “In my heart, I knew it couldn’t happen because of the expense.” However, one young lady’s lost dream flourished into the fortune of thousands of Jamaican students who have attended her alma mater, Manning’s School in Westmoreland, where she has been teaching Humanities for ten years and is currently the Fifth Form Year Group Supervisor.

Jessica Davidson, Director of Cornerstone Connex

The reality is that Jessica Davidson was never about to fall down in the face of austerity. While still a student at Manning’s, she knew that teacher’s college was a possibility if she applied for a student loan, so she and some of her sixth form friends made their way into Kingston from Savanna-la-Mar, so they could join the very long lines before the NCB Towers opened. They all got through by the early evening but found themselves lost in the bustling action of New Kingston crowds as they were unable to find a bus back to Westmoreland. “It was scary,” she recalled, almost in tears as she spoke about the ordeal they, barely 17 years old, faced that night. “You’re constantly depending on yourself, so we were a little bit stronger than we should have been at that age,” she noted. Not long afterward, Ms. Davidson applied to The Mico Teacher’s College (now called The Mico University College), but in order to meet the deadline, she used her lunch money to send her application via courier to Kingston, then took a bus from Savanna-la-Mar at three o’clock in the morning on the day of the entrance exam. “Every time there was a trip to Kingston, it was a struggle,” she revealed.

Davidson’s three years at The Mico became the beginning of her passionate journey as an educator, getting her diploma in secondary education with a specialty in History and Social Studies. Having discovered a work and travel programme, which took her to Colorado, USA, she was then able to afford to go to the University of the West Indies to continue her studies in History Education.

These obstacles, which Ms. Davidson always seems to defy, only propels her further. “You strive in your adversity, not in your comfort,” she says. But how does an educator, who wants to make a meaningful difference and effect positive change, see the woods from the trees? “Decide on a sense of purpose,” Davidson advises. “What kind of impact do you want to have and in which area? You might want to enhance education, but what area can you identify where you would have more impact? Do you have a personality that students can identify with and can you help them?” Davidson feels that her calling is in policy-making, so she has asked herself some pertinent questions: “How can I enhance my skills? What does the education system encompass?” These introspections moved her to consider getting a Master’s in Education, so she did extensive analysis on how she could make herself a candidate for the degree and for a scholarship. She looked into both public and private entities, which offer scholarships to Jamaicans, and she researched and applied to universities in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Having recently been accepted by several excellent universities for Autumn 2021, Jessica hopes to take her exceptionally well-earned place in the Master of Education Program in Education Policy and Analysis at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for the 2021-2022 academic year. She is still waiting for responses regarding scholarships and there is some concern about how she will fund her year in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which will cost approximately US$85,000, but she has iterated that no matter what, she will be going and she will make the best use of this incredible opportunity.

Jessica Davison’s habit has been “Dare not to dream”, but “I want to impact as many students and young people as I possibly can.…I want to see how we can have the best framework for schools,” so she really has no choice but to be a role model for her students and lead by example because she does constantly tell them they must “Dream big.” By pursuing her studies in Policy, Davidson is hoping to learn ways to enhance education in Jamaica, not only for the students as individuals but also for the teachers, whom she believes has been somewhat neglected when it comes to assistance and mentorship. She referred to the fact that many teachers have gone abroad due to a lack of support. I too have witnessed teachers taking up teaching positions abroad, or simply leaving the profession to pursue ones that pay more. “You cannot tell teachers that they can do better than teaching. We need the best in teaching,” Ms. Davidson insists.

If you would like to contribute towards helping Jamaican students or teachers, please contact us:  [email protected] or [email protected]

For information on international post-graduate scholarships: https://jtec.gov.jm/international-scholarships-2/

For information on Harvard University’s Master’s Degree in Education Policy & Analysis: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/masters/programs/epa 

By: Emma Sharp Dalton-Brown | [email protected]