Crusader for the Arts - Primary school principal fights to save students' potential
Published: Sunday | July 5, 2009
Kandi-Lee Crooks at Allman Town Primary School in Kingston. - Photos by Robert Lalah
Last September, Kandi-Lee Crooks became principal of Allman Town Primary School in Kingston after nine years on the grind as teacher of grades four to six. It's a move that promises big changes, particularly because Crooks was under 30 years old when appointed, making her one of the youngest school principals in the country.
Her greatest passion in life is art in all its forms, so Crooks will be looking to revolutionise the school's art programme, a move she hopes will refine the talents of her students who, she says, are naturally gifted.
"There is so much potential in these students, so much energy, so much creativity. They just need to be shown the best ways to express their God-given gifts," she said, sitting back in her small office in the school's administration block, on Thursday.
Artwork, done by a parent, at the Allman Town Primary School in Kingston.
The sixth grade graduation ceremony was to begin in just a couple of hours and the excitement in the air was intense. Teachers who were just outside were busy preparing for the event and sporadically poked their heads in the room to ask her questions about where this-or-that was, or what to do with something-or-the-other.
Still relatively new to the job, Crooks seemed at ease with the responsibilities it comes with, but even more excited by the opportunity it gives her to share her love for the arts with her students.
"That's really my biggest dream, to develop the arts here. I want us to start going back to festival and start winning more medals. The students here have a lot of raw talent, and the arts, whether visual, literary or performing, is an ideal way to tap into that talent and open up their potential," said Crooks.
Kandi-Lee Crooks, principal of Allman Town Primary School in Kingston, takes a moment to straighten the tie of student Sudheer Blair.
In February, she pulled some strings and hired the school's first full-time drama teacher, her first move towards getting the students involved in the performing arts. Crooks has already seen the changes this has ignited in many of her students.
"There are students here who would not settle down, who were a bit difficult, perhaps because they don't have anyone at home to really guide them. But once we introduced them to the performing arts, where they could channel their energy and their time, they calmed down significantly and started improving in all areas," she said.
Resources are scarce, though, and teachers are often forced to foot the expense of purchasing equipment to keep the classes going. Crooks said they make the sacrifice because they see the impact the work is having on the students.
The school has also developed a reading club, where students from all grades meet once per week and read with each other. Members of the reading club also visit different classes during the week and read to other students.
"That's one way we're trying to develop the literary arts. We encourage the children to write poems and stories and share with each other. Our hope is to some day have them visit hospitals and read to the patients there," Crooks said.
Her other hopes include getting a full-time music teacher on her staff and to secure either a donor or finances to purchase much-needed art equipment. Right now, there isn't much of a visual arts programme at the school, largely because there is no designated visual arts teacher. Instead, the 18 teachers at the school do what they can with what they know, to engage the students in the arts.
"Right now, I'm really banking on the creativity of our teachers. We have a young, talented group of teachers and we've been doing well so far, but with the right resources, I know we can do a lot more. That's why I'll be working hard to improve the programme, because I've already seen the really positive impact it has on the children," Crooks said.