Jeers turn to cheers for St Thomas teacher

MORANT BAY, St Thomas — Caroline Miles’ story is one of humble beginnings, roadblocks and wins. Ridiculed throughout high school and university, she triumphed and later became one of St Thomas’ most recognised teachers of visual arts.

Raised by her mother after her shoemaker father died when she was nine years old, Miles still remembers how difficult life was for her growing up. There was no running water in the old house in which they lived in Morant Bay, so they got water from a nearby restaurant in the mornings. The house had a leaky roof that whenever it rained they had to cover themselves under sheets of plastic. Miles and her mother were eventually evicted and she went to live with an older sister.

Her mother made ends meet by selling oranges at the back gate of Morant Bay High School.

“Just imagine your mom selling oranges at the same institution that you attended. There was a lot of jeering going on at the time but I blocked it out and waited for mom every evening. We would walk home together,” Miles told the Jamaica Observer.

It was while in high school that the young girl first showed signs of a love for the arts. Then Principal Stanley Parkins and visual arts teacher Michael Coates took note and played a vital role in getting her financial support. Thanks to them, in 1986 she was awarded a partial scholarship from Scotia Bank to pursue her passion at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. But she struggled to find bus fare to travel to and from Kingston every day. With no money to purchase lunch and limited resources for classes, most days she survived by drinking a bag of “sky juice”.

After two years, the financial burden became too much and Miles dropped out of Edna Manley. She took a job at Morant Bay Parish Library. She worked there for six years then worked briefly as a teacher of social studies at Seaforth High School. Then she was transferred to the visual arts department where she was encouraged by department head, Cortis Noland, to resume studying the arts. She took the advice, went on study leave and enrolled at Mico University College.

Money continued to be a problem.

“I remember at one point I was taken out of an exam room at Mico because my school fee was not paid. It was extremely embarrassing,” said Miles.

With help from a few philanthropists, including the late Emerson James from the Seaforth Community Association who was a source of great support and guidance, she was able to complete her studies.

Today she serves as a master teacher for the education ministry’s region two. For more than 20 years, she has had an outstanding track record of 100 per cent passes in the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) visual arts exams.

On the journey to serve and empower the young minds of St Thomas, she has received many accolades including the Butch Stewart Community Award, Governor General’s Achievement Award, Lasco Teacher of the Year Award, First Global Jamaican Woman of Vision Award, The Institute of Jamaica Top Teacher Award, and Table Leader Award from the Caribbean Examination Council.

On Heroes’ Day, Miles was among the awardees lauded for their contribution to the growth and development of St Thomas. She received the Paul Bogle Award for her outstanding service to education and culture.

She still wants to do a lot more. Her vision is to equip her students with not only theoretical knowledge but also practical 21st-century skills they can use to develop entrepreneurial ventures.

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