Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator
It was quite a busy morning for Annie Blake-Williams. One student after another streamed in and out of her office jostling for her undivided attention to address their varied needs.
Outside her door, parents queued patiently waiting to have a word, while the constant thrilling ring of the phones and the continuous knocking on her door only added to the demand for her attention.
With a warm smile, charm and professionalism, she juggled them all, seemingly unperturbed by the demands of the job.
This was a typical day for Jamaica College's dean of students affairs, a role in which Blake-Williams has been performing for close to six years. Addressing the needs of approximately 50 boys within an hour each day, students and parents have come to heavily rely on her office.
"The boys and parents have come to appreciate my role very much. They now have someone they can relate to with whatever needs they may have. They come for everything … lunch money, bus fare, guidance, someone to talk to about a problem they are facing, or just for a hug … you name it," she shared with The Gleaner yesterday.
Serving Jamaica College for 18 years, Blake-Williams joined the all-boys institution as a drama teacher before moving on to counsellor then acting vice-principal. In 2006 when Ruel Reid took over as principal of the school and established the dean of students affairs office, he asked her to take on the role.
"Based on the varied socio-economic backgrounds that our students were coming from, Mr Reid saw the need to meet them and their parents where they were at. He wanted everyone to feel comfortable and welcome and to know that whatever issues they may have, the school would work with them and assist them in every way we could," she said. "He wanted someone to be there to interface and mediate for them at all levels."
Among the many duties of the office are managing student enrolment up to sixth form; interfacing and mediating between the boys and their parents or teachers; helping with subject selections and guiding their career paths; as well as overall student welfare.
The office also has a record of each student, which she can readily pull when relating to parents about their sons.
"A role like this requires you to be a people person and having a real love for children. You have to always approach it with a warm smile and know that whatever personal problems you may have, you have to put it behind you and focus on theirs. Often when you listen to their problems, you find it is greater than what you think is a problem," she said.
"On the other hand, I have to be firm and a disciplinarian, especially with the big boys who sometimes want to take you for granted."
Since taking office, Blake-Williams said it has been very rewarding and fulfilling for herself, the boys and their parents.
"Often when you see that transformation in the student you were able to reach, when you see that beaming look on their face, it just warms the heart and tears come to my eyes," she stated.
While the office of dean of students affairs might be unique to Jamaica College, Blake-Williams believes it is such an important role, it is critical that every school has one.
"Parents and students always need someone to speak with, to interface and mediate for them. There are times parents cannot access the teacher, vice-principal, or principal, so the dean of students' affairs will be there to play that role," she noted.
Breaking frequently during the interview to deal with the concerns of her young charges, Blake-Williams stated with a brilliantly warm smile: "I approach every situation with a smile because a smile warms the heart and it makes a big difference to the outcome of any situation."