Woman power - Verona Ricketts a stalwart second to none
She is as selfless as they come. A woman so driven by seeing others, particularly young people, succeed that she will use unconventional methods to prove that greatness lies within every individual.
Verona Ricketts, past teacher and principal of the Porus Primary School, justice of the peace (JP), community stalwart, ardent church leader, dear sister, friend and mother to thousands, has given a considerable portion of her life to the education sector.
Originally from St James, Ricketts was trained in teacher education and started her career in the field there. But fate would have it that she continue and end her career in Manchester.
"It has been 52 years since I have been on this soil, having left St James in 1965 ... . I had no relatives in Manchester, but once, while in college, I came here for a Baptist youth rally and somehow I looked around and some things appealed to me; the proximity of the school, church, and there was a railroad; and I loved travelling by rail," Ricketts told Family and Religion.
After leaving Shortwood Teachers' College, Ricketts took up a position at Mount Zion Primary School. But her tenure there was short-lived as the principal of the institution died in a tragic car crash that she was also involved in.
The ordeal was too much for her and she began seeking new opportunities. It was then that she saw a vacancy at the Porus Junior School, now Porus Primary, in the newspaper and decided to apply.
"I wasn't even interviewed; it was a straight offer and I began teaching grade five. I later served as senior teacher, vice-principal, acting principal and then principal. I remained at the school for 39 years, 17 of those years I served as principal," said Ricketts.
She said it was 'divinely designed' for her to be in Porus and even though the odds were stacked up against her, quitting was not an option.
There was no electricity because the school wasn't wired, but Ricketts certainly was - wired with the zeal to surprise all the naysayers.
"I believe that if you can't do great things, you must do simple things a great way. I believe in incentivising and motivating students and that is why I started the perfect-attendance programme that even translated to the teachers - those who came to school every day were rewarded; and the early-bird club where students would come in an hour earlier for lessons. Soon the whole school started coming in and we had to expand the programme," Ricketts said.
She continued: "Children must be rewarded for effort because to come first is not always best ... and you see those poor children with great abilities, it is my joy to help those students. My teachers use to say, ' yuh stay deh done you money pon pickney'. But when I see them come up to do great things in life, man, it is a joy; that is my pay back," she said.
Ricketts recounted: "Things were bad when I came here. the roof was leaking, it was run down and people used to say, 'yuh a tek on dat deh big, dutty school deh, me wouldn't chance it.' but over time, things changed through sponsorship and a cooperative staff," Ricketts told Family and Religion.
With a kind heart and a calming spirit, the gateway to Ricketts' house is almost never closed and there are no dogs, as she is always in preparation mode for the dozens of visitors she sees daily.
"I see about 10 persons on average per day, 20 on a busy day, who wish to have documents signed by a JP, and then there are my past students or just any community member who feel the need to stop by. I may not always be able to help them right away, but I try to help all," Ricketts said.
She said service is her life, and translates that lifestyle to the work of the church, having served as deacon, lay preacher, choir member and Sunday-school teacher.
"You see what many people don't understand is that the more you help to push people higher, the further you will need to go to continue pushing them," she said.