#Kingston – June 21, 2019 – Jamaica – Principal of the Bethlehem All-Age School in St. Elizabeth, James Folkes, has been, for the past 33 years, moulding and developing the minds of the nation’s children. He is among the distinguished educators who are to be recogni\sed by Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, for their outstanding contribution to the development of Jamaica in the field of Education.
The Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation for Service to Education ceremony is to be held at Jamaica House on June 26.
Mr. Folkes tells JIS News that during his formative years as a student at Grove Town Primary School in South Manchester, he almost allowed various distractions to lead him astray
However, he expressed appreciation to his former teacher Mr. Ian Mitchell, who motivated him to do well.
“Mr. Mitchell had such a lasting effect on me, and I wanted to walk in his footsteps so much that I decided to become a teacher. I was not a bad boy, but sometimes friends would influence me to do wrong,” he states.
“He saw something in me and, because of that, he did not let up on me, so I told myself that I wanted to be a teacher like him, then be a principal like him and own a car like him,” he recalls with a chuckle.
Mr. Folkes completed his secondary education at the Beaumont Comprehensive High in Mandeville, before attending the Bethlehem Moravian (Teachers) College in Malvern, St. Elizabeth. He began his teaching career at the Bethlehem All-Age School in 1986 and has remained there throughout his professional life.
He did teaching practice at Epping Forest Primary and at Top Hill Primary School in St. Elizabeth.
Mr. Folkes notes that although he was offered a full-time job closer to his hometown in Manchester at Bethabra All-Age School, he took a chance on a temporary stint at Bethlehem All-Age School, as he tried to stay true to the adage that ‘to be a man you have to leave your parents’ house’.
He tells JIS News that the temporary post that he was filling soon become a clear vacancy, and he was subsequently engaged by the school on a full-time basis.
Mr. Folkes explains that having made his decision to one day become a principal, he was proactive in preparing himself for the role.
“I was understudying my principal and I learned quite a number of things from him. I moved up the ranks from teacher (16 years) to Vice Principal (seven years) to Principal (10 years),” he states.
According to Mr. Folkes, his most rewarding experience as a teacher is to see his children achieve.
“Most of our students are athletically inclined, so I used sports to motivate them especially those that are average academically. I let the students know that in order for them to achieve they can’t just stick to athletics. They have to use it to move forward,” he says.
“So, for example, for the students that were lagging but had the desire to earn a place in high school, we established a reading centre which was donated by Digicel Foundation. This allowed the slow learners to get individual attention and that really helped,” he adds.
Mr. Folkes, who has been Principal for the past 10 years, is also the coach of the school’s team for the South East St. Elizabeth District Association Sporting Competition.
“In terms of competition, Bethlehem All-Age School has been the district association champion for 33 consecutive years,” he proudly declares. He also informs that the Parish placed second in the national championship which was held in May and this he believes is due to the contribution of his students.
Mr. Folkes, who is a Past President of the South East St. Elizabeth Principal’s Association, tells JIS News that he is constantly seeking to enhance the student experience, at his school.
The Jamaica Social Investment Fund carried out improvement works at the school, through the construction of perimeter fencing. In addition, the school benefited from an upgrade of its computer lab, by the Universal Service Fund.
The Principal of the Bethlehem All Age School serves the community in a number capacities. He is Chairman for the Malvern Health Committee, as well as member of the Essex Valley Sports Committee.
He also serves as a Justice of the Peace and has formed a number of youth clubs such as the Mt. Pleasant Community Club.
“I find that I have an advantage as I engage the youth. In fact, most of the persons I interact with at the youth clubs are my past students. I would have taught many of them in grade eight. My job is a bit easier than those who may have to try to get to know them at this stage,” he states.
He points out that a youth group started a feeding programme based on the number of elderly persons in the area who were unable to work.
“So the youth club would put packages together and then we would visit them and feed them. It helped a lot and many of them appreciated what we did,” he explains.
Meanwhile, Mr. Folkes says he is satisfied with his chosen career and has no regrets.
“I would still be a teacher, but I would have given myself more latitude for sports administration. My job does not allow me to spend as much time as I would like to on my passion, but I do my best at striking the balance,” he states.
In 1999, Mr. Folkes received the Lasco Salute to Teacher Award and the Jamaica Teachers’ Association Special Award in 2002.
By: Peta-Gay Hodges