She’s dedicated to inner-city kids in Jamaica

By Gerald V. Paul

One of the youngest forward-thinking, community-building and award-winning school principals serving in Kingston’s inner city is in Toronto as part of an eight-member team for an educational and cultural exchange from July 14-Aug. 18

The exchange is thanks to Fly Jamaica and the founder of TransformNation Elvenia Gray-Sandiford, named 2013 Mississauga Citizen of the Year in a sharing experience, particularly in the world class performance of Jamaican athletes.

Eyes – having served in Jamaica’s inner cities as a journalist and missionary in light of the Garnett Manning Youth and Leadership Foundation (GMYLF) – sees a connection with the vision, mission and values, as stressed by Jamaican-born Gray-Sandiford, whose programs are designed to address hopelessness created by youth violence, poverty and other challenges young people face.

You see, Eyesers, Principal Kandi-Lee Crooks-Smith, of the 691-student-strong Allman Town Primary School in Kingston for the past eight years and recipient of the Governor General’s Youth Award of Excellence 2009 for her significant contribution to the community, believes that when it comes to the holistic development of her students and teachers, absolutely nothing is impossible.

She enjoys challenging situations because through these her faith is strengthened as she believes in the power of prayer and partnership.

Her own educational journey includes four GCE A Level subjects at 16, Micro Teachers’ College (now Micro University College), then in Canada, graduate studies at Mount St. Vincent University, Halifax, earning a degree in primary education and a spot on the dean’s list and being valedictorian in 2009 with a diploma in primary education with a near-perfect GPA.

Crooks-Smith is also an ambassador for KIDz Hub Network, based in New Jersey and is integral in the operations of Allman Town Primary Media Klub. Students are trained to be broadcasters, presenters, photographers, producers and assistant engineers for various events and presentations. They conduct interviews and showcase their audio / visual segments including sports commentary, a collection of short stories, research about nutrients in foods grown in the school’s garden, science facts and commercials or music videos they create for the annual Lasco Releaf Environmental Awareness Program.

Crooks-Smith said stakeholders are overjoyed to know these are successful students from the inner city, who most times need assistance financially and are gaining a global voice, including being accredited as media persons by the U.S. Embassy to cover President Barack Obama’s Youth Town Hall Meeting at UWI, Jamaica.

“I grew up in the inner city of the community of Allman Town with the dream of becoming a trained teacher so I can make a difference, be the best teacher and be a change-agent. I was influenced by my aunt, Hazel Gray, who served as a teacher for 36 years,” said Crooks-Smith.

A principal who goes beyond the three R’s, for more than five years as administrator for TransformNation, she has voluntarily given her time and skills. She credits her husband Oneil Smith for being a great supporter of her work as an educator, as they share caring for their children Jo-Nathan and Kayth-Lyn.

The recipient of the National Council on Education Certificate of Commendation for the contribution to school governance in Jamaica told Eyes, “Most traditional teaching methods will not work with today’s children. Children need engaging and fun ways to learn.”

Also the recipient of the Jamaica Teaching Council Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2010, she implemented programs of intra- and extra-curricular activities which help to build the academic and social interactive skills of students at Allman Town Primary School.

“My passion for innovation stemmed from my concern that not enough is being done to meet the needs of diverse learners in the classroom and, more so, the boys in our classroom. I am an advocate for school making a difference in the lives of students.”

Welcome to Toronto, Principal Crooks-Smith and kids. Enjoy the ride, educationally and literally. One love inna yard.

Gerald V. Paul
Gerald V. Paul