EIGHTY-FIVE-YEAR-OLD Fay Simpson, aided by a wooden walking stick, ambles carefully to her comfort chair to the far right of her verandah. Her easy smile seems to mirror the sounds of the birds chirping in her yard, a strange contrast in sound at her home just outside busy Half-Way-Tree.
Looking at the building at the front of her yard, a school built by her father William Carpenter with a mandate for her to teach children who were in need of her help, Simpson tells the story of the school she has been single-handedly running for 62 years, her love for children, and the pain she feels that she now has to close its doors.
Opened on March 3, 1950, the Fay Simpson Preparatory School will officially close on June 29 of this year.
Although deeply saddened by the need to do this, she feels it is inevitable. She said the person she would have wished to take over the reins is now unable to do so.
"I didn't really want to have to do it, but there are several reasons," she said, her voice barely audible.
"Everything I own and have is tied up in this and it's very difficult to find somebody to run your school the way you want it and look after the things and do all the work I did because I handled everything — a friend of mine and myself — to keep the fees down," she said.
She said her father made her promise, when she first began with seven three year olds on her parents' porch, that she would always ensure her fees were affordable. Now, she says the fees are $36,000, which is reasonable when compared to other Corporate Area preparatory schools, and it includes books and other learning materials used by students.
Though she has to deal with various ailments which she finds very challenging, Simpson still manages the school, which now has a student population of 65, down from a maximum of 165. She still has her own class of eight and nine year olds. The school caters to children from age three to nine.
A teacher through and through, she declares that her sole motivation has always been the children.
"I shall miss the children terribly. I will really miss the children because they are my focal point and have always been. I won't miss anything else," she said.
The children have kept her going, she said.
"There was always some child that needed special help, some child that excelled, some child that just needed love. So there was always something, some child that you have to put out for."
From a family of four children, Fay Simpson attended St Andrew Preparatory when it opened and stayed all the way through to the high school.
She then left for Canada where she studied youth education at the University of Toronto. She also went to the Conservatory of Music where she did music and dance. She also did several short courses in special education.
Despite the passion she has developed for teaching, Simpson said her first love was dance. Her original plan upon returning to Jamaica was to set up a dance school. However, her father instructed her otherwise.
Nevertheless, still hanging on to her love for dancing, she decided to introduce a dancing school. After regular school closed in the afternoons, she explained that she would clear the schoolroom and transform it into a dance school, teaching classical and modern dance.
Enrolment, she said, went up to 180 students at one time, and it was in operation for 49 years, before a back surgery forced her to pull down the curtains. The returns from the dance school, she said, helped her to support herself and her three children.
Simpson was awarded the Order of Distinction (Officer Class) in recognition of her faithful service to education. She also received a Council of the Institute of Jamaica centenary medal for cultural development in Jamaica in the field of drama and dance, as well as a Council of the Institute of Jamaica Silver Musgrave Medal 1985 for outstanding work in the field of dance education in Jamaica.
While she credits her mother, Albertha, who was a teacher, for passing on the love of teaching to her, she said her father, who was a land surveyor, is responsible for inculcating the value of being self-employed.
"He was the person. He brought all of us up to say we are always to have the option of being able to work on our own and to do something for our country," she said.
She advises other teachers to always listen to their students.
"It's challenging because you have to be there all the time," said Simpson, who for 24 years accepted special needs children into her school, integrating them into regular classes.
However, she said, she became physically unable to manage anymore and couldn't find anyone willing to take it over.
Janice Hewitt, past student of Fay Simpson Prep, and who now has a son enrolled, describes Simpson as a disciplinarian who was able to cultivate values in students that live on with them.
She said leadership, participation, punctuality, and order are some of the things that were strongly emphasised at the school.
"There are a lot of really very good things that I have been taught here and observed here and I am really going to miss this school," she said.
She said the regular end of year concert will be done in honour of Simpson's contribution on June 30. For the first time in the history of the school, she will be made to sit in the audience while the children and staff put on a thank you show for her.
Hewitt said notable names who have passed through the school include Terri-Karelle Griffith, former Miss Jamaica World, Simon Jackson, cricketer and Shari Tucker, doctor.