Having attended a non-traditional high school, and being appointed a Principal at the age of 32, Nahalia Lynch, who heads the St. Elizabeth-based Morningside Primary and Infant School, believes strongly that students can succeed at all educational institutions.
The young principal obtained her secondary education at the then BB Coke Comprehensive High School (now BB Coke High School) in St. Elizabeth. She later pursued advanced training and degrees at Bethlehem Moravian College, Western Carolina University, and the University of the West Indies.
Those achievements qualify Lynch as a leading advocate for an end to the stigmatization of some schools – especially those considered to be non-traditional.
“The secret to success is not the name of your school; greatness lies within you. Through hard work and determination, you can achieve immense success. Others before me did it, I did it, others right now are doing it, and you can do it too,” she advised.
Lynch noted that parents, teachers and the wider community have a duty to make students feel like more than just ‘exam grades’.
She reasoned that going to BB Coke in 1995 was a blessing, although the decision was not hers.
“It is not the school; it is you. When children are placed at their first choice [of school], we must celebrate them, because that is an accomplishment, but not everyone will be able to go to a traditional high school. Life has no limitations, except the ones that you make for yourself, so grow where you are planted and bloom,” Lynch advised.
She noted that many persons making significant contributions in all areas of society had their educational development at non-traditional high schools.
“Going to a traditional high school is not an automatic ticket for success, while going to a non-traditional high school is not an automatic ticket for failure,” the principal argued.
“I want these young ladies and gentlemen to know that, if you work hard and you are dedicated, you can succeed anywhere.”
Lynch, who succeeded on her second try at the Common Entrance Examinations, recalled crying when her mother – a domestic worker, decided that she had to attend the non-traditional high school – BB Coke, because she could not afford transportation or boarding costs for the other sought-after high schools in St. Elizabeth and Manchester.
Lynch, looking back, now believes that the choice of school strengthened her resolve to succeed.
“I believe that is where I needed to be, because that was the chapter in my life that contributed to who I am today. I remember my teacher at BB Coke, Miss Denise Baker, telling me: ‘Nahalia Lynch, you need to be pregnant with ideas’. As teenagers, sometimes you get distracted by things that happen in the world and are happening around you, so those teachers were so caring, motivating – and literally walked behind us to protect and ensure that students did well at school,” she said.
Lynch further stated that her mother was a very strict parent, who never allowed her children to wander in the community. She had to reach home no later than one hour after school dismissed.
The principal also credits her father, step-father and community members, who ensured that she stayed on the right path.
“Who I am today was also shaped by a lot of experiences and what my community would have done,” she posited.
The help and care she received from others have influenced the principal to give back through her involvement in charitable causes across St. Elizabeth, and through extra classes.
“When others have poured into you, it is important to pour into others,” she noted.
Her school boasts a one hundred percent literacy rate, while numeracy is more than eighty percent.
Since Lynch’s appointment five years ago, the school has experienced significant upgrading in infrastructure and expansion of internet service. Stakeholders, including parents and teachers, have also spearheaded development projects at the institution.
Claudette Thomas, who is the Secretary/Treasurer for the Rose Hall Civic Committee, said she continues to be ‘impressed’ by the principal’s work.
“Although she was from a fairly poor background, she was always this little girl who was different. She kept her focus right through, and did well,” Thomas added.
Evelyn Smith, who knew the principal from she was about five years old, said the educator has remained a ‘nice young lady’. “Young people can take her as an example. I am proud of her, really proud,” Smith further said.
A past student of Morningside Primary School, Monique Johnson, who is now studying at the Northern Caribbean University, said her former principal is one of the ‘best’ persons she has met, noting that she is ‘very involved’ with the school.
“That makes her a very good role model,” Johnson added.
Editorial Note: The information for this story was provided by the state-owned Jamaica Information Service
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