BEACON OF THE DAY: Woman walked miles through bushes to serve as school principal

Retired principal Girline Wilks yesterday sat on her veranda at Top Hill district in the Lluidas Vale Division, St. Catherine, reflecting on an illustrious career that earned her the admiration of men and women in education.

“I stood out greater than some of the men,” she told The Beacon. “In those days, people looked up to male principals more; then it changed and they looked up to men and women. It depends on how you work and you impress people.”

Wilks, 88, said she impressed many people at Juan de-Bolas Primary School where she first worked as principal.

Her frequent trips between home and school were like a job in and of itself.

Wilks had to walk miles alone on a dirt track through bushes twice per day to reach a community called Pennington. From there, she climbed a mountain in the mornings to reach the school at Juan de-Bolas.

“When I went to Juan de-Bolas, things weren’t pretty there for the students,” she said. To change that, Wilks hosted extra classes for students and training sessions for teachers who were mainly probationers.

“I worked with those people and I turned out professionals… They changed my name from Gerline to Madam Principal. The parents – oh Lord; they were happy for me… That’s a school I will never forget. The children were hungry for education and I worked on them,” Wilks recounted with profound passion and nostalgia.

She added: “It was weeping and wailing when the people heard that I was going to leave Juan de-Bolas, but I spoke to them and they understood.”

After spending roughly a decade at Juan de-Bolas Primary, Wilks left for another school that was closer to her home and to her then ailing husband – Luther Wilks – who eventually died.

She did her last stint as Principal at her alma mater – Top Hill Primary School, located less than a mile away from her home. In fact, that’s where she started her teaching career before she went to Arthur Seat Primary School as a teacher and Juan de-Bolas as principal.

Wilks said she is happy to have fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a teacher, noting that children back then were far more disciplined than now.

“The teachers now are not getting any respect from the children, and I think the parents are behind it,” said the educator, who is a mother of five. “If parents stood up with the teachers, the children couldn’t come to school and behave the way they behave now.”

Wilks, who attended Moneague College, said the success of her students was her greatest motivation. They still warm her heart whenever she sees them.

Wilks said she also was motivated by the ‘hard’ work she did during childhood – helping her father on the farm and raising animals.

While now enjoying her retirement, she serves her Top Hill community as a Justice of the Peace.

“I would like to be remembered for the work I do in helping people to progress,” said Wilks, who worships at the Anglican church in her rural district.

By Horace Mills, Journalist


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