Sacha Walters-Gregory, Staff Reporter
Dr Paulett Hanson-Kenwood was born to teach. The Jamaica-born professional trains teachers in literacy, working in alternative schools and programmes in the New York City school district.
"It's not that these students can't read. It's just the students in our programme, for some reason, did not get a high-school diploma," said Hanson-Kenwood, an educational specialist, who has been living in the United States for 20 years. She further explained that a majority of students in these alternative programmes are immigrants, mostly from the West Indies with others from China, Haiti and parts of Africa.
While some of these immigrants need minimal preparation in order to get their high-school diploma, others require more help. "Some are from Haiti and some places in Africa where they were in refugee camps and they have very limited or interrupted schooling," she said. Since they are between 17 and 21, they require special strategies to teach them. This is where she comes in, helping teachers to create special strategies.
"We don't want to teach you as if I were teaching you in first grade," said Hanson-Kenwood, and a major part of selecting strategies includes the type of books they use."
But one might say, Hanson-Kenwood's professional endeavours were written long ago.
Growing up in Kitson Town, St Catherine, in a simple life with seven siblings, she had great examples of teachers around her.
Her father, Leslie Oliver Hanson, was a teacher.
"From the first day I can remember my dad has always been a teacher. He was a teacher at Kitson Town All-Age and he taught there until he retired, and he died a year after he retired," she said. Her aunt, his sister, was also a teacher.
Two of her childhood teachers would also leave an indelible mark on her.
"Miss Olga Beatrice Thompson - she has passed from Kitson Town All-Age - and Miss Juanita Hilton who is still a vice-principal at Kitson Town All-Age," she said.
Thompson instilled in her the concept of never saying you can't.
"She taught me and she taught my children."
Hilton was approachable and encouraged students always to do their best.
Hanson-Kenwood still visits Hilton when she comes to Jamaica.
"I grew up in the best place, a little red-dirt place called Kitson Town in St Catherine," she reminisced with affection. "We have the best mangoes, naseberries, the best fruits," she said with a childlike competitive tone.
"I took a different route. I didn't go to high school. I went to Kitson Town All-Age School. Back then you could go to any of those high schools and do your GCE or CXC, so I went to St Catherine High in the evening and did my CXCs, prior to being a pre-trained teacher and then going on to Mico Teachers' College (now the Mico University College).
Her journey to teaching was not without its challenges. initially, she found transitioning from the Jamaican environment a bit challenging, but she overcame it and pursued further education.
She added to her diploma in primary education from Mico Teacher's College when she migrated to the United States to join her husband. She now holds a bachelor's degree in the teaching of elementary education from City University in New York. Two master's degrees, one in Teaching Literacy from Adelphi University in New York and one in School Supervision and Administration from Touro College.
She shares her experience of pursuing a doctorate - hers was in leadership and inclusive special education from Nova South Eastern University - with one of her children. She and one of her sons, Dr Damion Kenwood pursued their doctorates at the same time, at the same school. "We were classmates at Nova, but he got his doctorate before me," she said proudly.
Her other son, Dwight Kenwood is a 2010 graduate of the London School of Economics.
Hanson-Kenwood is working on giving back. Currently, she is working with New York University to improve the English of foreigners.
"We're trying to come up with strategies to help people who are acquiring English as a second language, " she said.
This month, she will be visiting Haiti with some of her colleagues to establish how best to take teacher training to the country and better prepare the students.
Of the trip she said "because of the population we serve," explaining that 97 per cent of the students they serve are Haitians who span the continuum regarding preparedness for a high-school diploma.
"We thought "How could we find something that would make the transition easier for Haitian students?'" she said.
She also plans to find some way to contribute to Jamaica.