Beacon of the day | Teacher, who battled cancer, appointed acting principal at Charlemont High

She was born to teach.

“I am coming from a third generation of teachers,” Jennifer Gidden noted.

Her late mother, Irona Knight-Gidden, was an educator. So too was her maternal grandmother, Venisha Knight Coombs. Her maternal uncle, Owen Knight, served as Principal at Mount Angus Primary School in St. Mary.

Gidden, who had five siblings, was born and raised at Cotton Piece district, located across from WINDALCO bauxite plant in Ewarton, St. Catherine.

Her father, Roy, who passed away on Saturday, January 9, occupied more than 20 acres of land, which he used to grow crops and raise cattle.

“My siblings and I grew up on the farm; we would eat fresh fruits and run up and down on Saturdays picking fruits off the trees,” Gidden recalled.

When she was about 13 years old, her parents got divorced. “We lived between Mommy and Daddy; it was a difficult choice to make,” Gidden said.

Her mother enrolled her at the schools where she was teaching. That’s how Gidden ended up attending Mount Rosser, Claremont, and Rosemount Primary Schools. She also went to Mount Angus Primary where her uncle became Principal.

Gidden, an alumna of Dinthill Technical High, eventually enrolled at Moneague College to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a teacher.

She stated that Moneague ended up being closed down, and so she completed studies at Church Teachers College.

Gidden entered the teaching profession at Port Maria Secondary School in St. Mary – now Brimmer Vale High, where she spent two years.

She later returned to her native St. Catherine, and commenced her tenure as a teacher of English Language and Literature at Charlemont High in 1988, when she was nearly 30 years old. At that time, Charlemont was headed by Olive Whitehead, who, to date, is the only woman to have served as Principal at the 42-year-old school.

Gidden never left Charlemont.

During her tenure there, she lectured part-time at Moneague College for two years. She also attained two degrees at the University of the West Indies – a Bachelor of Science in Management Studies and a Master’s in Educational Administration.

Gidden further bolstered her credentials with certification from the National College For Educational Leadership.

She, so far, served as Vice Principal under three principals – Ralph Williams, William Willis and Garth Gayle. Gidden, who noted that she has had a superb working relationship with Williams and Gayle, said Williams made an indelible mark on her career.

She also recalled learning at the feet of a late former Vice Principal, Precious Ramsaran.

Gidden explained that, when Ramsaran fell ill on the job, she stepped in and gave assistance. “We bonded and I learnt the role of being a Vice Principal. She should be credited as one of my greatest tutors. Many people don’t understand that I loved that woman and I did not want her to die on the job,” Gidden told The Beacon.

She became Vice Principal in 2006 after Ramsaran retired. In 2004, she acted in the post.

“When I became Vice Principal, I was surprised,” Gidden said. “I was just trying to help my colleague (Ramsaran) carry through her roles [because she was ill]. I did it so well that the school administrators said I had the leadership qualities they wanted.”

Better news came recently, at the turn of the year.

Gidden was appointed Acting Principal of Charlemont High for four months, starting January 1, 2021. That’s because the principal, Gayle, is on vacation leave.

Gidden’s only regret is that she is acting in the top post at a time when classes are being held virtually due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“I would like to see what I would have been able to do with the children around,” she said.

“But it is good that God has seen it fit that I am elevated to the post of Principal, if it is even in an acting position. I am glad that this has happened. All the people and everything in my journey here [at Charlemont] have prepared me for this moment.”

Gidden has made numerous contributions to the development of Charlemont High.

She stated that, during her tenure as Vice Principal, she successfully lobbied for the World Bank to build four classrooms, bathrooms, a staff area, and a workshop at the educational institution.

But that pales in comparison to the massive impact she has made on students’ lives.

“My students have been my beacon of happiness. Even at the saddest points in my life, all I can see is the students,” Gidden told The Beacon.

Asked how she eventually would like to be remembered, the educator said: “Remember that fairness is my hallmark and hard work is my goal. I like to see people happy as I am a happy person. Whenever people set out to make others unhappy, it makes me unhappy.”

Gidden’s strongest bout of unhappiness perhaps came in 2008.

In that year, her mother died, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She explained: “Doing chemo was the worst thing; I only could do three of them. I thought I was really going to pass away with chemo. I couldn’t do any more and so I stopped and I did my radiation. I am cancer-free as far as when the last test was done. They caught it very early, although it was one of the aggressive ones.

“A lot of people look to me for guidance when they have cancer, because they want to know what I did. I told them it has to do with diet, exercise, keeping your mind occupied, never say I can’t, and try to drink some bush,” Gidden further said, laughing.

She expressed gratitude to her support system, including her only child – Javil-Don Beason, her child’s father – Joseph, her other relatives, her church family, her colleagues, and her friends.

In relation to Charlemont High, she told The Beacon: “I am glad to see where the school is at now. We have made our missteps – and sometimes it is misunderstanding. But Charlemont is a force to reckon with right now, and it is going to be even get stronger as time goes on.”

By Horace Mills, Journalist


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