All Woman

Mrs Reid's kindergarten

By NADINE WILSON All Woman writer wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, February 04, 2013    

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HER training in nursing made her even more compassionate and her time in the military made her a stronger disciplinarian, but it is her passion for children that has made Norma Reid the successful early childhood administrator and businesswoman she is to today.

Reid is the founder and operator of Smurfs Early Childhood Centre, an institution she founded over 20 years ago while still in the Jamaica Defence Force (JCF) as an army nurse. Her background, as she puts it, "is very complicated", and after an evening spent listening to her story, it's not hard to understand the basis for her conclusion.

Reid was trained as a registered nurse in the United Kingdom and returned to Jamaica in 1970 following her studies. She quickly went about putting her studies into practice by working at the Mandeville Hospital and the University Hospital of the West Indies. After some time in the hospital setting, she joined the staff at Wolmer's Girls' School as a nurse, and stayed there until 1983 when she left to join the army.

"It was very interesting," she said of her experience in the army.

"It was very strange because when I joined, it was three nurses that they took on and we were the first army nurses they had ever had and it was very different because we had to go to New Castle, we had to learn how to march, how to use the weapon, we had to understand how soldiers got injured and what their injuries were like," she shared with All Woman, a hint of nostalgia in her voice.

But the desire to start her own daycare centre was so overwhelming, that after six years in the army, Reid decided to take the plunge and start her business. With the support of her husband and two daughters, she converted the family's three-bedroom house into a daycare centre and gradually added on more rooms to start a kindergarten.

"I went to JAMPRO, sat down, talked with them and said, 'how do I go about this', and they guided me and I started it. It was very challenging because for the first year, numbers were very low and I had to carry it with my salary plus my husband's salary until it started to sell itself."

It was especially challenging for Reid because she was still in the army while she operated the centre. It wasn't until four years after starting the daycare that she finally said goodbye to the army.

"I used to come here in the mornings and then go to work, come here lunch time and then go to work, come back here at the end of the day, and then in 1993, it became too much to do that, so I then left the army and started doing it full-time," she said.

"We used to be open 24 hours in the beginning and we used to be open on a Saturday and I would come here on Saturday and I would come here all day, and I would do my cooking for my girls and my husband," she shared.

While the earlier days were rocky for her staff, her family and herself, Reid is now reaping the rewards of a seed well planted, as her school is now one of the most sought after early childhood institutions in Kingston.

"It has outgrown my wildest dreams, because we started out with like four children in the daycare and then 12 children in the school in January 1990. Now we have an enrollment of about 140 in the school and between 70 to 80 in the nursery," she said.

The institution takes children from three months upwards and these children are then enrolled in the kindergarten. Obviously pleased with their children's development and academic performance, parents have suggested over the years that Reid upgrade the institution to include a preparatory school, and her husband who is now deceased, was very much open to the idea at one point. But the administrator is very much satisfied with the way things currently are.

"We can't add any more unless we are going up there and I don't plan to go up there," she said pointing to the roof of the school. "I should be retiring now, not adding on."

Part of the reason for Smurfs' success, said Reid, is the fact that most of the teachers at the institution have been there from the very beginning, although there are a few who started later. Through a series of trials and errors, they have managed to make the school what it is today.

"We sell ourselves now, we don't advertise any at all and there are times when we turn back parents because we are full. I try not to make the place too congested because it is difficult to manage too many children," said Reid.

One of the persons who was there with her from the very beginning is the principal Annette Isaacs, who still continues in that capacity. Reid, on the other hand, is the school's nurse, and given her nursing background, she is able to pick up on signs of child abuse, for example, so that children can be referred for counseling.

In addition to academics, the school places a lot of emphasis on the performing arts and sports. In Reid's small office are a number of trophies and certificates that her students have secured in both disciplines over the years. So as to ensure that students from all socio-economic backgrounds can benefit from the school's offerings, Reid gives scholarships every year to students whose parents cannot afford to send their child to the kindergarten.

Like many institutions, the school struggles to collect school fees, but that has not deterred Reid from offering quality education to her young ones. She has no regrets about starting the institution despite the challenges she faces.

"Daycare was something I have always had in my mind. I love children, I adore children," she said.

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