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Jamaican teacher in US wins excellence award

Published:Thursday | December 14, 2017 | 12:00 AMCarl Gilchrist
Karen Barber Olajuwon

Jamaican teacher at George Mason Elementary School in Richmond, Virginia, USA, Karen Barber Olajuwon, is one of several teachers in the Richmond Public Schools (RPS) area honoured last month for excellence in teaching.

From a group of 116 nominations for the annual prestigious Ruby & Esther Bunzl (REB) Awards, 16 winners were chosen, with Barber Olajuwon among four of five teachers from RPS to be awarded. The awards were presented during an event at the Virginia Historical Society on Monday, November 13.

Olajuwon, who is originally from Porus in Manchester, was awarded a US$12,000 grant to attend workshops in the USA and Barbados that promote the art of poetry writing, and the use of poetry as an instructional tool and as a constructive outlet for traumatic experiences.

The DeCarteret College and Alpha Academy alumna taught at Jack's Hill Infant and All-Age School in St Andrew and Angels Primary in St Catherine, before going to the USA on the Visiting International Faculty (VIF) teaching programme in 2007 and being placed at George Mason Elementary School.

Leading up to her REB Award, Barber Olajuwon had been outstanding in her teaching at George Mason, with several honours to show for her effort, including the Teacher of the Year award for 2016-2017. She also has served in several capacities at the institution, including grade-level chairperson from 2016 to present, mentor teacher in 2017, lead teacher in history/social science from 2013 to the present, and coordinator of the Red Cross committee since 2010.




Olajuwon told Rural Xpress via social media that she was delighted to be recognised for her work, and spoke about what motivates her. "I am inspired to teach because of the look of wonderment that lights a child's eyes when a breakthrough is achieved," she related. "The confidence that surrounds the child who was painfully shy at the beginning of the school year, the class bully who now recognises his self-worth, and those students who have become imbued with the understanding that they are not limited by their circumstances."

She is also enthused by students who are grateful for the extra tutoring she has given, and by past students who returned to visit, reminding her that 'I was the best teacher they ever had.'

"I teach to inspire and to motivate, to create lifelong learners and to contribute to nation building," Olajuwon disclosed. "For me, teaching goes far beyond a profession; it is a vocation which is integrally bound in my identity. I consider myself to be much more than a teacher who imparts academic knowledge. I am a motivator, a moulder, and an inspiration to my students."

Fellow Jamaican teacher in the USA, Faith Clarke, who brought Barber Olajuwon's achievements to the attention of The Gleaner, was happy for her success. "We really need to big her up; she came to America on the VIF programme and has been doing very well here," Clarke said.