Glenda Erskine’s address to Watford Hill Alumni

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Atlanta’s Glenda Erskine was the guest speaker at the Watford Hill Primary School Alumni Association Banquet. Here is the text of her address.

Address Presented to Watford Hill Primary School Alumni Association

All Hands on Deck”

By Glenda Walker-Erskine

August 8, 2015

Mistress of ceremony, ladies and gentlemen, there is no other place on earth, that I would rather be, at this time, than to be here with you, to share in this historic occasion. It is therefore with a feeling of elation, that I rise to be your guest speaker for this occasion.

There is much I wish to share with you. I will have to exercise much restraint not to over-do. When I accepted the invitation to be here with you, I started to mull over what I would say and I thought to myself – Why don’t you start at the beginning of what led up to this occasion?

Ten years ago, I had a vision to do something tangible for my alma mater, Watford Hill Primary School, the institution that nursed and nurtured me, and helped establish my core values – as it has done for many students, many of whom are in this very place.

Because my parents, the late Douglas and Linda Walker, placed a very high premium on education, it occurred to me that I should do something to honor their memory. And what better way to do so than to establish an education foundation at the school where their five children received their primary education. For those of you who remember us – Joy, Lurline, Glenda (that’s me), Lena and Jennifer. Unfortunately, Joy and Lena transitioned. Lena 20 years ago and Joy 11 years ago. Both gone too soon.

I shared the vision with my two surviving siblings, Lurline and Jennifer. Together, we visited the Ministry of Education in Kingston and shared our vision with someone in Personnel. The lady with whom we spoke liked the idea. During our discussion we voiced our concern about accountability. My sister, Jennifer asked, “How will we know that the financial aid we will bring to the school will be used for the purpose for which it is intended, and not be mis-appropriated?” We were advised to make out the monthly cheques in the name of the school – Watford Hill Primary and those cheques can only be lodged in the account that is held between the school and the Ministry of Education, and at the end of the school year the Principal is obligated to submit receipts to the Ministry of Education specifying how the money is spent .We liked the idea. We visited the school one summer when Mr. Williams was Principal and were quite impressed with his book keeping methods.

But it was under the leadership of then Principal Mrs. Clara Kerr that our vision really gained energy. I recall us sisters asking her what she considered the most pressing need of the school and she replied, “To subsidize the Canteen Breakfast and help to provide learning materials in the areas of language arts and math for grades 1- 6.”

It so happened at that time I was an active teacher in the classroom – a certified Reading Specialist for Kindergarten through High School as well as a Remedial Math Specialist for Elementary grades.

During the time that I worked in the area of Remediation, I placed much emphasis on “hands-on materials and other alternate methods of teaching, which is characteristic of my preferred style. I am insistent on this method because as you are aware we all learn better by doing. So I drew from my own experience and compiled hands on materials which, over the years proved to be highly successful.

For the past ten years the Douglas and Linda Walker Foundation has consistently supplied the school with materials which, were shipped in over-sized suitcases and boxes.

I am confident that these modern, fun-filled materials helped to make learning more practical and less laborious for the students. It also makes the teachers work less tedious.

The Canteen Breakfast continues to meet a need. It is a wonderful feeling I experience when I awake each day and know that learning does not have to compete with hunger because some child or some children can go to school and eat breakfast because of the stipend that the foundation provides.

Two years ago, I decided to do more for my alma mater. I thought to myself, “Jamaica made me, nurtured me, gave me a college education – free of cost – no educational loans. Jamaica established my core values and sent me forth into the world equipped with confidence. I owe Jamaica a great deal.”

I think of my own children, two were born in this country and have completed graduate work in their own field. But they are saddled with exorbitant educational loans. This is one reason why I am compelled to do more for my country.

In January 2014, I re-challenged myself and decided to do more by sharing my tithe with the school and provide a stipend for teachers to work with under- performing students after school. When I shared this thought with Principal Richardson, his response was, “You don’t have to pay the teachers. They remain after school anyhow. My response to him was my usual refrain about any profession, “Teachers are already overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. It is not fair to ask them to do more without giving them an incentive to let them know, “We recognize your hard work and we love and appreciate you.”

Last year my grand-daughter, Nia, and daughter, June, developed an impressive web site for the foundation. For those of you who are not aware, the web site is www.watfordsalt.org. Let me share with you how the name for the web site originated. When the tutoring program was financed we decided to call it SALT. The acronym SALT stands for Scholars and Leaders in Training. My sister Lurline, came up with a brilliant idea. She suggested that when the resource center is completed there should be a mural on one wall that depicts grains of salt and underneath this picture should be posted the Bible verse that says, “You are the salt of the earth and if the salt has lost its flavor, it is fit for nothing.” This is an apt quotation that will challenge every child that enters the building. The Foundation will make a strong recommendation for this mural to be painted, on one of the walls of the resource center. “You are the salt of the earth also applies to each of us.”

In a newspaper article published for Jamaicans in the Diaspora, Jamaican author and journalist Dr. Glen Laman wrote an article in praise of the Foundation’s work titled: “Watford Hill Primary School: A Model for the Jamaican Diaspora. It was rated among the top ten stories of the year. Dr. Laman commented that the school’s progress based on test scores is remarkable.

Four weeks ago my siblings and I visited the school during its summer session. It was field day. It turned out to be a nostalgic moment for us because we remembered field day at this school when we were children. I especially remember volley ball – teachers versus students. But their field day had an added flavor – music from the sound of drums filled the air. It was very impressive. The summer program was sponsored by Dr. Earl and Carolyn Glen- Foundation.

My sisters and I renewed acquaintance with the principal and staff. It was delightful to see Principal and staff bubble with joy as they shared their vision for an even more exciting and successful up-coming school year in 2015-2016.

We toured the rest of the premises – the unfinished teacher’s cottage and the unfinished house for the pastor. We noted the need for a roof for the nearby church on the hill which was always a vital part of our school experience. I will discuss this particular need with some of you later.

There are some Jamaicans who are not inspired to give back to our island home. They claim that they have problem with accountability. Allow me to detour and address this problem. Because it was a problem for us. But you will recall earlier how we dealt with the problem- by visiting the school on occasions and talk to members of the staff and community leaders. Here is another way we deal with the problem. We share this method with people with whom we talk.

My husband is helping a family member-a thirteen year old boy who will be entering 8th grade next school year, which begins in September. His father reached out to us last year. He was failing math and his teacher warned that he could not progress to grade 8 if he did not pass grade 7 math. We paid for a private math tutor. He was able to graduate to 8th grade for next school year. We continue to pay the tutor to jump start grade 8th math as well as revisit 7th grade math skills where necessary. My husband also provided money for book rental for next year. We requested that he sends us his report card so that we may keep track of his progress. Both father and son were told that they would be held responsible.

Do you come across Jamaicans who speak disparagingly of home? When they hear a challenge to contribute to a worthy cause back home they respond, “Who helped me”; “What is in it for me?” or “I already made my contribution when I worked for the government.” On one occasion I spoke with someone who had left Jamaica 40 years ago and refused to contribute because he felt he had done enough when he lived there. It is in times like these we recall the old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child” or “it takes all hands on deck.” We must remember the commitments and sacrifices of teachers, and members of the community over the years who invested in us and ensured that we would make it; that we would not merely survive, but thrive

Today, I challenge us to ask, “what have we done for our Primary School that gave us a great start on this journey toward our success?” Or if I put the question another way, I ask: “How has our success and accomplishments benefited the school and community that shaped our core values?” Our school, our teachers, our community leaders, our parents have sacrificed, and we have excelled, many of us, in spite of great odds.

A friend of mine said to me recently “I have not met a Jamaican yet who does not exude confidence.” Where did this confidence come from? It comes from all those people who played a vital role iin our upbringing.

At the Diaspora Conference held in Jamaica this year Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller publicly thanked the Diaspora’s support to Jamaica and mentioned that it would be impossible for Jamaica to succeed economically and of course educationally without the millions of dollars contributed by Jamaicans.

We always rise to the occasion. In a recent report – published by the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce- they reported that 39% of Jamaican household receive financial help from loved ones abroad. And this is how Jamaicans reported how they spend the money each month. 50% of Jamaicans reported that they spend the money we send home on household expenses. 18% spend the money we send on school fees; and the others on personal items such as utility bills.

The bottom line is that our gifts to our communities are transforming lives and ensuring a new future for our children. The Prime Minister mentioned that when we give to Jamaica our gifts become an informal type of social security, especially for children and senior citizens. Our gifts become a reliable shock absorber in times of need. You know that many children depend on our financial aid to provide a cushion for them.

What is needed is all hands on deck. In many organizations its always the faithful few who do most of the work but this has never been the case with Jamaicans in the Diaspora. I am so proud of you all.

Remember we are the salt. The children, teachers, and community depend on us. Please join us and allow our giving to provide shock absorbers for the bumpy situations that confront our young people. Let us match the aspirations of our young people with our commitments. It is going to take all hands on deck. “To whom much is given, much is expected”. And may God continue to bless you richly.

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