Career & Education

'Miss makes maths fun!'

Students, parents of Crescent Primary heap praises on Maths Teacher of the Year

Sunday, May 14, 2017

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[Continued from last week]

Crescent Primary School's improved performance in mathematics is worth applauding, maths specialist and the Ministry of Education/ JN Bank National Maths Teacher of the Year Neisha Grant-Lawrence agrees, but the level is still far from where she wants it to be.

The school, located on the outskirts of Spanish Town and populated by students from poor and often violent neighbourhoods, previously scored below the national average in the Grade Four Literacy and Numeracy tests. However, the grades have steadily crept up in recent years, with the latest figures reflecting 89 and 64 respectively.

According to the students, Grant-Lawrence, who is also a mom, is a big part of the reason for the improvement.

“My favourite part of mathematics is learning areas and Miss makes it fun,” said the young captain of Crescent's Schools Challenge Quiz team Clive McLeod as he stopped to talk on his way to classes.

Brian Wallace, a grade four student, uttered a very similar opinion: “I love mathematics. She makes it fun and interesting!”

Parents have also noted the difference in their children.

“My daughter loves maths,” said Glendon Jackson, whose daughter, Chennelle Jackson, is a student in Grant-Lawrence's grade four class. He explained that although Chennelle always loved the subject, her interest had increased significantly since becoming Grant-Lawrence's students.

“She will get up on a Saturday morning when everybody else is doing all sorts of things, and she takes up a math book,” he said. “Mrs Lawrence teaches well, loves her kids, and goes the extra mile for them,” Jackson added.

In Grant-Lawrence's classroom, there is little room for chalk and talk. She uses songs, the game of cricket, and even crafts, anything to help the children make the connection between maths and the day-to-day aspects of their lives.

“It has to be fun,” the 32-year-old mother of two emphasised. “Sometimes by the time I'm finished with the activities, the time is up, but I know they would leave with something.”

Her approach to teaching was informed by her own struggles with maths while she was in high school, Grant-Lawrence said. She barely passed the subject — scoring grade three in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exam on two different occasions.

With the support of her principal, Grant-Lawrence intends to transform the once underperforming school into the top maths centre in St Catherine and ultimately the island.

“We know that mathematics is a general weakness, and it will take time for us to see the results the public wants to see, but before that, there is a journey,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

On her journey, she has engaged other teachers at Crescent Primary, providing mentorship and professional workshops to strengthen their capacity, while refining her own skills through the pursuit of an undergraduate degree in primary education.

“I depend on her,” Evette Dillon, a teacher of 29 years, said. “She assists me with the grade two maths syllabus. We talk and she comes by and demonstrates for us.”

Other schools in Spanish Town also seek her expertise, and she contributes to The Jamaica Observer's Grade Four Achievement Test Series.

“Mrs Lawrence's achievement and her work have made a difference for children and teachers. It has uplifted us to realise, 'Yes we can!'” Principal Lewis affirmed. “She has transformed Crescent Primary School and the community.”

For copping the Maths Teacher of the Year title, Grant- Lawrence has been awarded a one-year membership to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) — the world's largest organisation concerned with mathematics education — and a trip to San Antonio for the NCTM's 2017 conference. She also received an Apple iPad.

Other finalists in the competition were Leesan Salmon of Aabuthnott Gallimore High School; Tarique Tomlinson, from the Godfrey Stewart High School; AnnMarie Plummer Wright of Bethabara Primary School; and Rosemarie McFarlane Morris of St Catherine High School.

The Mathematics Teacher of the Year Award is in its fourth year and is sponsored by Jamaica National (JN).

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