Enriching minds, spreading love
Erin McKoy wears her home on her ring. The distinct map of Texas is more than an adornment. It is being grounded in her roots and is a constant reminder that coming from Sherman, a city of 40,000 ‘somewhere there’ in the United States’ second-largest state and now that she is ‘here’ in Inverness, St Ann.
Being an educator was perhaps destined, for McKoy. It runs in her DNA - both her parents are educators, and she says she has taught all her life. From Bible studies to Sunday school and going on to be trained as a teacher, the classroom is her second home.
Being a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) and the work that she is doing at Inverness Primary School, St Ann, is enriching.
“I want to make myself a better teacher,” she said. “And there could not be a better way than being among children and helping them to realise their best potential.”
Inverness in St Ann is near Miranda Bauxite Mining. A multigrade school, Inverness Primary and Infant School has 127 students, and six teachers on staff, including the principal, who teaches grade six.
“My work at the school as primary literacy adviser includes doing literacy pull-outs, working with students in the classroom,” McKoy said. “I am also working to utilise the numerous books and resources by organising a library space that will encourage reading for the students and teachers.”
The journey from Sherman to Inverness has been life changing for McKoy. As all PCVs will attest, there are lot of ‘adjustments’ to be made – no showers, sometime running water, burning extra calories washing clothes by hand, no smart devices controlled anything, or the supermarkets (some rural communities just might fit right into some of the mega marts in the US), and the list goes on.
There is nothing to be taken for granted in life, and most times it is the simplicity of the processes that are the most effective and run like well oiled machines in the developing countries – romanticism aside, it is a reality check for most.
“One of things that struck me was the wooden partitions between classes,” McKoy said. “I have never seen that, there were no defined spaces.
“But,” she continued. “I thought to myself, it is not wrong, but it is different and it works.”
Inverness Primary, like any other school with children of that age, has smiles permeating from every nook and cranny of the compound – at a tender age, these children have no preconceived notions, inhibitions. Two little girls coming down a flight of stairs, stopped – one of them sat down, as her friend bend over and tied her shoe laces and smiled – expressions that would melt Titanium.
These little gestures make McKoy to feel at home and warms her heart – she is working to, among other initiatives – to enhance their reading skills, phonics, fluency in English language, and vocabulary.
“I want to empower them for the broader world,” she said. Her approach is multi pronged, she is targeting the parents and teachers as well.
McKoy said that has designed and initiated “Volunteer as a Resource” programme.
“The impetus behind my work is this,” she said. “I saw that people, at the time specifically other volunteers, needed resources and/or additional training within the extensive scope of teaching, to be confident and successful volunteer teachers.”
Here is where her degree in Elementary Education is coming handy, having taught for three years prior to joining Peace Corps and coming to Jamaica, McKoy has been able to identify the needs of the students, teachers and the wider community and provide solutions.
“As the project has grown, I have visited and helped five volunteers and have even seen the project at work in my community, as I got to lead training on Reading Strategies for the teachers who I work with,” McKoy said.
She implemented a strategy that incorporates teaching the students to ask themselves questions while they read: “What three things did I learn?”, “What two things are interesting to me?”, and “What is one question I have?”.
Additionally, she informed, she has had an opportunity to train teachers at another school, while continuing to work with volunteers as well.
“We are thankful to Miss McKoy, who in such a short time has identified the weak areas of the students and working to improve not only their academic, but life skills too,” said Polly-Ann Brady, principal of Inverness Primary and Infant School.
“Our school is supported by the parents and the community who give their time and resources whenever we call upon them,” Brady said. “This has been further enhanced by Miss McKoy’s efforts to encourage volunteerism.”
Brady, who began teaching at the institution in 2015, was promoted as the principal the following year. She informed that the school, which is supported by the Bauxite company, needs additional resources.
“We need a perimeter fence, and additional classrooms,” she said. Despite shortcomings, Brady said, the students have done well. “Both the student strength and their performances in the exams has improved over the years.”
McKoy is bringing critical value addition to school – and it is working both ways. The PCV experience has given her a new dimension and perspective of life.
“I have become a lot braver, coming out of my comfort zone, and broadened my horizons,” she said. This is an experience, which she would like to live over and over again.
“I believe that each person has something to offer, and then, when education is added on top, the scope of what we have broadens. What we already have gets grander. The gift grows,” she said. “The key, though, is it must be given.”
As humans, McKoy said, we need each other and are essential for each other.
“Once we serve each other, that’s where most changes take place, and most amazing friendships are made,” she said. This Texan girl is going to carry back a lot of warmth from the island.
“Love is all you need,” once said John Lennon – we concur.