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Back to School Feature: To teach or to direct, that is the question

4._The_manager_of_the_Asha_Stevens_Hillside_Christian_School_Clara_Curiel-NicholasSt. Maarten educators reflect on their jobs - Part 2

 

By Rik Haverman

 

Without a doubt, the majority of people recognize the importance of education for St. Maarten society, but who exactly are the people providing this education? What drives them to teach the youth; and what are the problems they experience? We continue our discussion from last week; this time, we talk with two school principals.

 

Stuart Johnson

 

Unlike Teacher Michelle Minthorn who we met last week, 30-year-old Stuart Johnson enjoys having directing and organizational tasks as a school principal at Dr. Martin Luther King (MLK) Junior Primary School, located in the Dutch Quarter. Born and raised in St. Maarten, Johnson became a teacher within public education after being bitten by the teaching bug during his high school and college years. The University of St. Maarten (USM) graduate eventually became a director because of job opportunities and promotions. If these chances had not arisen, he still would have wanted to work in education.

 

The director described his school as a large public school from kindergarten until sixth grade that offers kids an education in different fields like math, English, Dutch, social studies, science and physical and musical education. Johnson described the school as a reflection of the Dutch Quarter district: A large district that tends to be a low socio-economic area.

 

This background of the area, in which the school is located, offers some challenges to the school. Johnson explained the proactive approach of the school in regard to these challenges. An example of the initiatives the school undertook, in order to answer to the needs of their students, is a breakfast program: “Because of the low incomes in the area, the school offers a breakfast program which makes sure that some 55 students receive breakfast in the morning.”

 

Basically, Johnson has been turning things around at the school in the last three years that he has been the director. Besides the breakfast program, he took the initiative to repaint the school campus; he improved the school uniforms and upgraded the technology at the school. Nonetheless, he admits that it required much from him and he had to seek for funds regularly: “For this area particularly, and in general for a public school, it takes a lot out of you as a school manager. You must think creatively because not everything comes as you would have expected it to come.” Despite the challenges, the MLK school tries to create all-round students.

 

Johnson: “The importance of education, in my view, is that we create students who reach their God-given potential and who are not only able to function in our community, but globally as well. There are many initiatives, plans, projects we can bring home to St. Maarten, and implement here on the island. Therefore, we teach discipline and respect to our students. In addition, we keep them motivated through incentives and a reward system. We encourage the students to do their work effectively and correct.”

 

Johnson also pointed out that the school keeps track of all the students’ performances both inside and outside the classroom. When a student isn’t performing well in the classroom then the school comes up with a plan on how to address that. The school director firmly believes that all students should realize that they have a potential and should maximize on that: “They should reach that potential by staying motivated, by respecting their elders and following up on their schoolwork and generally the message would be: Never give up.”

 

Clara Curiel-Nicholas

 

The manager of Asha Stevens Hillside Christian School in Cay Hill (a public school for kids between the ages of three and 12); Clara Curiel-Nicholas is also an educator by profession. Consequently, she can aptly indicate the differences between being a teacher and a school director: “As a director, you’re looking at your students, their parents and the staff. In general, the responsibilities you had as a teacher are expanding as a director. There is the general parents’ meeting you have to attend; and on parents’ evening, you have to be around to talk to the parents when needed, mostly when they disagree with a teacher. Also, when a kid keeps misbehaving, he or she will eventually have to come to the principal, and the parents have to come over. In essence, the director has the final responsibility; it’s the last person to whom pupils, parents and staff can turn to.”

 

Furthermore, Curiel-Nicholas made clear that a school director also will be held accountable for the quality of the building (coordinating maintenance), the administration for both the outside world (the government) as the school itself (for example; drawing up the schedules) and setting the guidelines and rules for the teachers and students. Besides her many responsibilities as a director, Curiel-Nicholas is involved in a lot of extra-curricular activities of the school.

 

Just as for her colleagues, the importance of education is crystal clear for Clara Curiel-Nicholas: “If we are not educated, we are not able to get anywhere. Without an education, you can’t be able to actually run an island; a small country. Look at the number of tourists that come in here; tourism is supposed to be our main income, if you’re not educated, you will not be able to work in the tourist field. The same applies to our government system. Education is very, very and very important. Even the little things you have to do, you have to be educated to do them.”

 

Like director Johnson, Curiel-Nicholas attaches great importance to teaching respect and courtesy to the students. In her opinion, the morals are watering down these days. About some matters, Curiel-Nicholas also agrees with Laticia Brown: both see the importance of teaching values to their pupils. Both educators also referred to the problem of parents depending too much on the school to raise their children and in some cases paying too little attention to them. Another challenge Curiel-Nicholas encounters is to motivate students nowadays; to her, this seems harder than before. Through a combination of technological ways of teaching and a reward system, Asha Stevens Hillside Christian School tries to improve this.

 

Despite some challenges, which definitely can be addressed through cooperation between teachers, directors, parents and students, the four Friendly Islanders enjoy their work very much and are looking forward to the new school year.

 

There is no better conclusion to this article than a quote from the interview with Curiel-Nicholas, directed to this year’s students: “Go out to achieve, concentrate on your work and do your best. Do the best that you can do; be the best that you can be.”

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