Jamaican-American educator, Anice Denton, is focused on the development and continued education of children, especially those in Jamaica. With the help of colleagues and friends in the United States (US), she has consistently worked to donate tablets, personal care items, and other resources to students in need.
“My dad, Uriel Denton, was a politician. He was a councillor for the Ritchies division for 13 years. So, I guess that is where most of my giving back comes from because I learned from early you should always try to give to those in need. You have to try and help and not expect anything in return,” she told Our Today in an interview.
Originally from Ritchies, Clarendon, Denton says that she places her energy on giving back to children and schools within that area of Northwestern Clarendon because, “I lived there. It holds a special place in my heart,” she added.
A trained teacher, Denton says that she has been in the field since 1995. She received her teaching diploma from the Shortwood Teacher’s College, afterwhich she went to the Northern Caribbean University in Manchester to pursue an undergraduate degree in Primary Education and majored in Social Studies.
“My teaching journey started in Jamaica at the Christiana Leased Primary School in Manchester and then I went on to teach at Stella Maris Preparatory School in Kingston. My mother got sick and I came back in the country and taught at Christiana Moravian Primary. During my years of teaching, I also got the opportunity to teach for two years in Grand Bahama in the Bahamas. In 1995, I left the teaching profession and moved on to work in development at the Social Development Commission (SDC),” she said.
“I worked at the SDC until 2010 as a community development officer. In the same year, I migrated to Virginia in the US. Interestingly, I started the Nursing programme at Northern Virginia Community College where I did prerequisites to attend the George Mason University. However, after doing all five required courses in order to transition to the nursing programme at George Mason, I thought the change would negatively impact my daughter. I would have had to work on the night shift. My daughter was just six years old at the time so, I decided to get back into the education field to not miss out on being there for my child,” Denton shared.
It was likened to a touch of fate for her to go back into teaching as that was one of Denton’s dream pursuits.
The trained teacher revealed that while growing up, she did not have a wide range of profession choices. However, she saw teachers coming out of my community doing good work to develop children and the country. So, that was her first aspiration with community development through politics being her next option. She also aspired to follow in her father’s footsteps.
“My other aspiration of community development was something that I would have loved to do. That was one of the reasons I went to the SDC. While there, I was involved in writing proposals to help with funding for building infrastructure, as well as water provision for communities. I wanted to be in community development because it would allow me to expand my means of giving and to serve the community even more,” she explained.
With her decision to go back into the classroom, she began working at the Armstrong Elementary School as a teacher’s assistant. There, the teacher she worked with noticed her string skills within the classroom and upon inquiry learned of Denton’s background as an educator.
The teacher went to the school principal and advocated for Denton to get a full time teaching job because of the level of work she did in her role at the time. The principal agreed and she was offered a job as a teacher.
“With the presentation of this new opportunity, I told the principal that I did not want to go back to being a general education teacher. I wanted to teach special education. At that time, I noticed that Jamaica was lacking in personnel and resources for special education. So, I wanted to learn as much as I could about the area in order to share my knowledge with my colleagues back home,” she said.
“I started the special education course, and at the time, the only requirement was an introduction to special education. I began teaching at Armstrong Elementary and worked towards finishing my Master’s degree in Special Education at the George Mason University,” she added.
After completing that degree, Denton later went on pursue another Master’s degree in Education Leadership and Administration at the same university.
She admitted that after completing her second post-graduate degree, she “sat on it and did not explore opportunities” in which she could utilise that aspect of her qualifications. However, another opportunity presented itself, where another school in her county, Fox Mill Elementary School, opened a position for Assistant Principal.
“This was in 2022 and I would have been teaching at Armstrong from 2010 till then. I saw the opening for the position and said, ‘you know what? I need to apply, do the interview, and whatever happens, happens’. I did the interview, later offered the job, and I accepted!,” she said.
“I went to Fox Mill with the hope of learning more, spreading my wings, and getting more resources so that I could share with my counterparts in Jamaica,” she said, explaining that even while teaching at Armstrong, she shared resources with her colleagues back home.
“I went online and I bought things for the classrooms. I supported special education in the ways that I could. Everything I learned, I shared it. Part of that motivation came from the fact that my sister is also a teacher in the Ritchies district,” she added.
Denton shared that in 2021, in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when schools were closed and classrooms were virtual in Jamaica, she was moved to assist.
“Students back home needed iPads, tablets or other forms of electronic devices in order to participate in classes effectively, and learn. So, I thought it pertinent to see if I could talk to some of my friends in the US to see how we could help. My friends and I sourced ten tablets for our first attempt and we sent them to different schools in Northwest Clarendon. Later on, I tried again and we got ten more. In all, 20 tablets were sent to help students who needed the support and it is something that we’re hoping to continue,” she explained.
“My friend, who is based in Florida has helped me to pack barrels with items that students need. These include personal hygiene items as well as books, and printing paper. Whatever we can find to send to children in need, we work to get them and put them in the barrel. I have heard that some children have to be paying for test papers and I am like, ‘oh my god. this can’t be real’. So, we’ve been putting things together to send to Jamaica to help students in schools,” she said.
Her community development work for Jamaica has surpassed donations as Denton has aspirations to forge an official partnership with the Ministry of Education and Youth in Jamaica. She told Our Today that she foresees where schools in Virginia would assist in developing the resource pool for teachers and classrooms in Jamaica, especially in the area of special education. In return, a teacher exchange programme could be established.
“I met the superintendent of Fairfax schools and I told her of my interest in partnering with Jamaica to help to get teachers here. They are quite interested but the issue is now to get through to the Ministry of Education and Youth.” she explained, noting that she has also contacted the Ministry of Education in Barbados and they have expressed interest and a partnership has been built.
A focus on Safety, Discipline and Testing as Assistant Principal
Denton says that her role at the Fox Mill Elementary School includes safety, discipline, and testing.
With a school population of about 640 students where the ratio to boys and girls is fairly even, Denton said that, “I try to make sure that I work overnight or get some things done and prepared so that I leave my days free for disciplinary concerns. As I’m also responsible for safety and security, I make sure that things like fire exists are up to code. We have fire marshals and we have places that our children and teachers can go in the event of tornadoes or emergency lock-downs,”
“I have to manage my time well because my responsibilities carry a lot of weight and I need to ensure that I do my best. Discipline, safety and testing are not easy and can be unpredictable, so I need to be ready at all times,” she added.
“My work is all administrative. Though I love it, I miss teaching. When I visit the classes, because I love math, from time to time, I would help a student struggling with the subject and show them a strategy to make it easier for them. When they get it, they say, ‘Oh Ms. Denton, I like that, where did you learn that?’ I tell them that I learned it in Jamaica because my teachers taught me that same strategy,” she said.
Fox Mill Elementary school in Fairfax county public schools.
Denton told Our Today that she has learned that “culture plays a very important role when you move from one geographic location to another. She shared that she also learned not to shy away from sharing her culture or to embrace the culture of others.
She highlighted that Virginia is a melting pot of people from across the world and she has seen where cultural exchange has been beneficial for her development as a professional.
Additionally, the Fox Mill assistant principal shared that though Jamaica is a country with little resources when compared to other spaces, the teachers are phenomenal.
“It blows my mind to see the resources that we have here and you compare it to Jamaica . At the end of each academic year, teachers tend to throw material away. I have taken some of those material and shared with my colleagues in Jamaica. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” she said.
“During Spring break, I was in Jamaica and I visited my sister’s school. I noticed that there were three children to a bench but they are still learning. So, even with the little resources, it’s the instruction and reception that matters. Sometimes, computer classes have multiple students to one device. Here, we have one computer to each child and the classrooms are packed with resources. That still does not guarantee reception. If a child is not focused and disciplined enough, they won’t learn, she added.
Denton continues to assist the schools, teachers, and students in Ritchies district.
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