- Retired educator, Yvonne Francis, is a treasure in her Kitson Town community in rural St. Catherine.
- Every day, the 75-year-old opens her doors to community members seeking advice or assistance to fill out application forms for jobs, school, or to access government programmes and services.
- The retired teacher, affectionately called Miss Mackie, provides these services free of cost.
Retired educator, Yvonne Francis, is a treasure in her Kitson Town community in rural St. Catherine.
Every day, the 75-year-old gets up at 5:00 a.m. to tend to her small herd of goats and her backyard plot of cassava and gungo peas, before opening her doors to community members seeking advice or assistance to fill out application forms for jobs, school, or to access government programmes and services.
The retired teacher, affectionately called Miss Mackie, provides these services free of cost. She tells JIS News that she keeps herself informed by listening to the radio, and reading the newspapers so she is aware of what is happening and can provide guidance and counsel to other people, who come to her home, or whom she meets on the streets.
“I enjoy it,” she says, noting that it is reminder of her time in the classroom, where she was able to mold young minds.
Miss Mackie spent 29 years in the education system, serving at the early childhood and primary levels, where she helped shape hundreds of lives.
She tells JIS News that as a teacher, she saw it as her business to get children to learn.
“A child had to learn for me, you don’t idle your time. I love you, I respect your parents, so you have to learn, that’s me,” she says.
“You hear people say they see dunce pickney; the dunce pickney, give me him. I will mold that child and bring that child around. I had many late learners that I am very proud of. I tried to reach the children so that they could learn, and when I see them now, I am very proud, very proud,” she states.
Miss Mackie grew up in Cojo’s Hill, where the mainstay for women was domestic work, while the men cultivated agricultural produce.
As a young girl, she knew she wanted to do something other than domestic work, and after completing the Guanabo Vale All-age School, she sat the Second and Third Jamaica Local Examinations, where she qualified for a job at the Lower People’s Cooperative Bank. She worked there as a secretary for six years before taking a job at the Kitson Town Basic School.
While her call to the institution came at the urging and encouragement of its late founder, Leslie Hanson, himself a revered educator, Miss Mackie says it was her love for children that kept her there for 20 years.
She notes that the remuneration was minimal and she did other jobs to supplement her income, even doing the domestic work she previously shunned. “I even did domestic work while I was at basic school, you know. I left home at five in the mornings, returned at eight and I had to reach school at 8:30 a.m. I reared animals and burned coal (charcoal),” she recalls.
After serving for two decades at the Kitson Town Basic School, Miss Mackie, who by then was in her 50s, enrolled at the then Passley Gardens Teachers’ College in Portland, now College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE), to obtain her teaching qualifications. She then went on to the Kitson Town All-age School, where she served as a reading specialist for six years, until her retirement in 2001.
Former Principal at the Kitson Town Basic School, Beverly Robinson, remembers Miss Mackie as a humble and soft spoken teacher.
“She and the children got along very well. She loved to sing and tell stories, and was easy to work with. I did not have a problem fitting her in, it seemed like she was teaching before. She related to parents in a very unique way, and parents could understand her. If there was a problem, she would try to talk it through. She always had advice to give and encourage the young ones to go forward in their education. Kitson Town has benefitted a whole lot from her,” Miss Robinson says.
Part of what endeared Miss Mackie to her students is the fact that she saw to their general well-being. “Some, who are now adults, remind me of how I use to wash them and ensure that they returned home clean,” she tells JIS News.
Past student Peter Wolfin, remembers when as a child in the care of Miss Mackie, “if I had an accident while in school, she said ‘Wolfin come this way, and she would wash my clothes.”
“And even today that thing still sticks to my mind. Each and everyone was her favourite student, that is the love she showed to everyone,” he says.
The retiree, who assists with the annual reading competition at Kitson Town All-age, and helps students doing remedial studies at the Kitson Town Seventh Day Evening Institute, relishes the opportunity to still serve her community.
She says educators should value the opportunity they have to change the society. “The money is not there, but, money is not all, because later on when the children look at you, they will see that you gave them something that they can live with, and become better people,” she states.
She notes that “even the young men on the street corners, don’t care how they are, I try to crack a joke, or encourage them the best way I can. That will help them to change.”
For students in school, Miss Mackie’s advice is for them to make the best of the opportunity for a solid education. “So when your parents send you to school, don’t waste the time.”
“Don’t tell me you don’t want to go to school. Even if it is one suit (that you have), you have to go,” she says, noting that was how she raised her six children.
Chairman of the Kitson Town Development Committee, Donna-Marie Daley, says Miss Mackie remains a teacher and never ceases to impart the value of education.
“She implored the children to be respectful to persons. She was a teacher inside and outside the classroom. People like her never grow old; she is always there to give encouragement to old and young people,” Mrs. Daley states.
She notes that the retired educator also contributed to agriculture through the Kitson Town Branch of the Jamaica Agriculture Society (JAS).