Caroline Miles from Morant Bay, St. Thomas, is no stranger to bouncing back from major adversities.
She did it when a fire, on 4 May 2019, destroyed the Arts Department at Seaforth High School, where she has been a Visual Arts teacher for 27 years.
“I literally went to hell and back,” Miles told The Beacon. “Mentally, I am still healing.”
She said the fire destroyed personal artwork she compiled over a 26-year period.
It also ravaged School-Based Assessments, which were done by Miles’ Grades 10 and 11 students, who were preparing to sit the CSEC Visual Arts exam.
Notwithstanding the setback, all of the Grade 11 students passed their exam. Eighteen of them actually got the highest grade possible – Grade One.
Miles has ranked the fire as her most devastating experience yet, followed by challenges resulting from the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the closure of Seaforth High, as well as other schools across the island, since March last year.
In light of that, schools have resorted to online teaching – a method that is not ideal for students pursuing tactile subjects such as Visual Arts.
“Approximately 75 percent of the subject (Visual Arts) has to be face-to-face,” Miles explained. “No two artwork is ever the same. Each student uses different techniques, methodologies, strategies, and concepts to complete their different pieces of work.”
Miles found it necessary to devise creative ways to effectively reach her 119 students without flouting national restrictions established to slow the spread of COVID-19.
She explained that she, along with Education Officer Lorraine Thompson-Stewart, conceptualized and started a ‘mobile classroom’, which she uses to visit her students’ homes to assist them especially with School-Based Assessments.
Miles added that, on some occasions, she meets the students at Rudolph Elder Park in Morant Bay, and at Seaforth High in a one-on-one setting.
She also uses social media to form a support group, which she said helps her Art students to get phone credit, technological devices and Art supplies.
Miles told The Beacon: “I have been able to reach all students with this combined initiative [mentioned earlier]. The students have responded positively to each of the different initiatives. They also take each in stride and as an adventure.”
Miles’ passion for Visual Arts and teaching is not far-fetched. In fact, her childhood dream was to become a teacher and an artist – both of which she has managed to accomplish.
“From I was a child, I knew that I wanted to teach,” she told The Beacon. “I never had a regret about entering the classroom. Teaching is my life; I live to teach. I come alive in any classroom. My students bring me untold joy. I was born for this!”
Miles, who was born at Morant Bay in St. Thomas, attended Morant Bay Basic School, Morant Bay Primary, Morant Bay High.
When she was 16, she was awarded a partial scholarship to attend Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.
She started Edna, but, after two years, financial hardship forced her to defer the remainder of her studies.
Miles eventually got a job at St. Thomas Parish Library, where she worked for six years, organizing and preparing displays and exhibitions as well as co-ordinating Story Hour and summer programmes.
She subsequently was hired as a pre-trained teacher at Seaforth High, where she now heads the Visual Arts Department. In 2007, the Ministry of Education appointed Miles ‘Master Teacher II’ in recognition of her years of unstinting service.
Miles, while working at Seaforth High, upgraded her qualifications. She attended Mico University College, and returned to Enda Manley where she completed the studies she had started there.
Miles also maintains her career as an artist, specializing mainly in autobiographical pieces.
Her works have appeared on exhibition at St. Thomas Parish Library, and at the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission Festival of the Arts. They can also be seen on various buildings throughout St. Thomas.
The educator and artist, who has a son, also volunteers on the board at Yallahs Primary School and on numerous projects in her native parish.
“I would like to be remembered for changing lives, and leaving an indelible mark on my students and the wider society,” said Miles, a recipient of various awards.
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