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From the gully to principal - Arlene Bernard's rise from poor beginnings to headmistress

Published:Wednesday | May 9, 2018 | 12:00 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Arlene Bernard, principal of Maranatha Basic School in Waterhouse, St Andrew, sits with students during their lunch break. From left are Dejanae Barrett, Cadame Brown, and Thony-Ann Francis, from from class Kinder 1.
Arlene Bernard, principal Maranatha Basic School in Waterhouse, St Andrew.

For a great portion of her life, Arlene Bernard, principal of the Maranatha Basic School in Waterhouse, St Andrew, was like a rolling stone, gathering no moss.

Along with her mother, grandmother, and siblings, she did not have an assigned place to call home and was constantly on the move.

At around age 10, her family was evicted from their home in Pembroke Hall, St Andrew, and had nowhere to immediately go. They were forced to spend a night in a gully.

"I didn't have a specific place that I grew up. I moved from Rockfort to Maxfield Avenue, Waltham Park Road to Duhaney Park, Cooreville Gardens to Pembroke Hall [in the Corporate Area], even to Lawrence Tavern and May Pen. We travelled a lot, and I didn't go to school regularly because of moving up and down," Bernard told The Gleaner recently.

"Before the Boulevard Shopping Centre was built, there was a gully there. I had to spend a night in that gully because the bank threw us out from the house in Pembroke Hall," she recounted.

Bernard started doing domestic work at about 18 years old, and soon after, she became pregnant with her first child.

"I left the domestic work and started working in a little wholesale, then I became pregnant again. At 23, I had two babies," Bernard related. Things started getting difficult from there on, she recalled.




Enduring a rough life from an early age, Arlene Bernard rose above all obstacles to become principal of the Maranatha Basic School in Waterhouse, St Andrew.

Having two children at age 23, life was hard for her, she said. However, things turned around when she got closer to Jesus Christ. She went to a crusade at Maranatha Ministries, a popular church in Waterhouse, and decided to get baptised that same night.

Bernard recounted: "I went to a crusade at Maranatha and got saved. I left a job I was doing in downtown Kingston. Then, a friend from the community, who was the first principal of Maranatha Basic School, asked if I could come and tidy up. I told her yes. It wasn't much money, but I told them it didn't matter."

At that point, her life took a turn for the better.

"I took the job cleaning the bathroom and the whole place. When the cook was not there, I volunteered to prepare lunch for the children. The cook got an opening on a ship and had to leave. I told them I would clean up and do the cooking. I went early, tidied the place, and then prepared lunch.

"A teacher started coming to school irregularly. Whenever she didn't come, I went into the classroom to learn the ropes. Some time after, there was an opening for teacher. By then, I was married and pregnant with my third child. I was told that I was doing fine and that I would become the teacher the following school year," Bernard told The Gleaner.




Not having any Caribbean Examinations Council qualifications, Bernard enrolled in a pre-university programme at the then Mico Teachers' College. Afterwards, she matriculated to a teaching degree programme.

"CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) and CAPE (Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination), I did all of that. I failed stuff because it was hard for me. I had trouble with family. I was absent from classes for some time, and my eldest child got pregnant at age 16. That ripped me apart. For two semesters, I failed everything," Bernard related.

Marsha McIntosh, co-founder of the Maranatha Basic School and principal in 2016, recommended Bernard for the principal job after she finished her degree.

"Miss McIntosh spoke to a developmental officer from the Early Childhood Commission. They assessed me and found that I was doing well. I was appointed principal in September 2017.

"The children love and respect me. If they are misbehaving and hear that I am coming, they know that it's no joke. I take learning seriously. The school makes a big difference in the community. Right now, it is the top school in the community, and we are the only certified basic school in our region," said Bernard.