The woman who shaped the educational culture on Union Island
Our Readers' Opinions
January 3, 2014
The woman who shaped the educational culture on Union Island

Fri Jan 03, 2014

Editor: Eltha James was a mover and a visionary who transformed the Union Island primary educational landscape and shaped it for years to come. By the time of her exit from the Ashton Government School’s stage, she had quadrupled the number of passes in the Common Entrance Examinations, created a colour coded uniform system for teachers, brought the national title for “Best Kept School” to Union Island, and led the school to the Spelling B Championship, bringing home the top individual speller trophy (Kirth Noel).{{more}}

On a personal level, she was both a compassionate mother figure and a stern disciplinarian. She simultaneously motivated students with her affectionate smile and warm personality and with her cow-tail leather belt and commanding presence. She spent four years at Ashton Government School (now Mary Hutchinson Primary School) as headteacher.

It was under this dynamic leader, who refused to allow the students of Union Island to be treated as second class citizens, that the 4 H Club was introduced to the island, annual regional camps were organized (St Vincent, Grenada, St Lucia), and excursion trips were taken. Never a shy lady, she shared the school with the community. She began the annual independence fair (a main event for the whole island), expanded the sports house competition to include choir competitions for the community, and spearheaded the four kilometre island race through the main towns of Union Island. It was also under her leadership that the school’s beautification efforts were augmented with the introduction of palm trees, painted rocks and a paved entrance way to the school steps.

Although the school’s infrastructure improved, it was the students that were her main focus. She paid special attention to the 1993-1994 Junior 5 class by revolutionizing their teaching/learning experience. She did this by invoking her pedagogical skills and using some of the latest tools in education to create a master learning environment. For example, she introduced departmentalized instruction, with three separate teachers concentrating in the areas of science/geography, social studies/history, and math/English. She supplemented the academics with maximum exposure to life outside the classroom and life on the national stage. They were exposed to politics (with groups of students spending the day with national political leaders – including our current Prime Minister); to Vincentian heritage (taking students to major historical sites, tourist attractions, and leading companies); to future career options (having professionals come in to speak to the students – pilot, police, nurse, pastor). Her efforts paid off. Passes in the Common Entrance not only increased by 300 per cent that year, but it was this class that rose to national attention when, five years later, they broke all existing CXC records at the Union Island Secondary School (with two students being featured in the newspaper that year).

Above all, she was a woman of great character. She was fair (she wore the colours of all the houses on sports day); she was tough (she once defended her students from outside threats on one of her camps); she was balanced (had her students waking up early every morning to exercise during their educational camps), and she was spiritual (leading them into morning devotion and worships every morning on those camps). Her students were always well fed, well fortified, and well positioned for success. For that they will always be grateful. At school, to many she was like mom. As they got older, she was a friend and supporter. Now that she is gone, she will always be an inspiring memory. And while many of her Union Island students are professionals around the world, somewhere deep down in their hearts, they know that their success is due much in part to the lady who came to the small village and taught them to dream big.

Nkarlo Alexander
Former student