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St Mary teacher inspires passion for learning during 50-year career

Published:Monday | December 11, 2017 | 12:00 AMKeisha Hill
Mary Sewell-Edwards with her students at Derry Basic School.
The Derry Basic School in Pembroke Hall, St Mary.
Mary Sewell-Edwards carries out a writing lesson for her students.

If you ask a student what made him or her successful in school, you probably won't hear about some fantastic new book or video lecture series. Most likely, you will hear that it was a teacher who had never given up on them.

For Mary Sewell-Edwards, an educator for 50 years, these are the sentiments she hears on a regular basis. Throughout her tenure at the Derry Basic School in Pembroke Hall, St Mary, Sewell-Edwards has always believed that what students take away from their education is usually centred around their connection with a teacher who instilled in them a passion and inspiration for learning.

"At the early childhood level, the teachers take the time to help the students learn and set the foundation for their educational development in their formative years. The emotional, social, and physical development of young children has a direct effect on their overall development and on the adult they will become," she said.

According to Sewell-Edwards, it can be difficult to measure success in the world of academia, but educators such as herself are continually re-evaluating themselves and how to quantify learning.

"It is important to invest in very young children so as to maximise their future well-being. Optimising the early years of children's lives is the best investment we can make as a society in ensuring their future success," she said.




Sewell-Edwards started teaching at 25 years old following the completion of her studies at the Jamaica School Certificate (JSC) level. There was no basic school in the area, and she was asked by members of the community if she would be willing to establish one in the district.

"I told them 'yes', and we started out in a building that was used to keep parties. I began with 12 students and when everybody saw the success of the school, they started sending their children to the institution," she said.

It was by no means an easy feat for Sewell-Edwards as, in the beginning, finding a suitable building to house the children proved difficult in the deep rural community. At one stage, a shed built from board and zinc was the only shelter the students and teachers had from the elements.

However, determined to ensure that the children in the area and neighbouring communities did not have to travel far distances to receive their early childhood education, Sewell-Edwards pressed on.

"We were at the shed for some time and then we moved to where I was living. Afterwards, we went to the primary school where there was an old cottage. It was convenient, and then, thanks to the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, we got a building after the cottage became old and dilapidated," she said.

The Derry Basic School now has two classrooms, an office, bathroom, and a storeroom. There are two teachers and just over 18 students currently enrolled at the school. Sewell-Edwards is elated that she was able to persevere through the difficult times to ensure the continued operation and success of the school.

"I love teaching and I know how to cope with the children. There isn't another basic school in the community, and most of the parents cannot afford to send their children outside of the area for school. Even when the parents cannot afford to pay, I still take the children because I believe in their development at this stage," Sewell-Edwards said.

With a subsidy from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, and private funding, Sewell-Edwards is optimistic that when she retires the school will continue to nurture and develop the young minds of the children in the community.

"This is a critical period for young children. Our school has the programmes designed to meet the language, physical, cognitive, creative, socio-emotional, spiritual, cultural, and school, readiness needs of the children," Sewell-Edwards said.

On December 3, Sewell-Edwards was recognised for her sterling contribution to Derry district, and as the founder and chief architect behind the longevity of the Derry Basic School. The function was held at the Derry Primary School.