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Special bond with children

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

Special bond with children

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Ask Emelda Bell if being the principal of the Ann Hill School was a career goal she had set for her life, her answer would be no.
While it wasn’t something the 28-year teaching veteran intentionally set out to do, according to her it was as if God was preparing her for the path she is now on.
“This wasn’t my projected goal. You know some people sit down and do their five-year or ten-year plan, that wasn’t me directly,” she revealed. “But I did have a love for working with children with special needs.”
As if fate offered her a helping hand, Emelda started out working at what is now known as the Irving Wilson School. Back then it was called the School for the Deaf and Blind. But Emelda’s journey into special education actually started at her church, Abundant Life Assembly, back in 1983.
“There was a hearing-impaired young man and he would see us and come over and say hello and I would run away because I didn’t know what to say after that moment,” she recalled. “Then I had the opportunity to learn sign language and I found that I enjoyed it. I caught on really quickly and where working with the hearing impaired is concerned I would say the rest is history. All the way up until today I still serve in my church as an interpreter for the hearing-impaired.”
Little did Emelda know that a chance meeting with that hearing-impaired young man would be the beginning of her work in special education.
“After that I had the opportunity to start work at the Irving Wilson School,” she recalled. “I spent a term there, then went on to Charles F. Broome special unit where I was working with children with other challenges, autism, ADD (attention deficit disorder), ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), Down’s syndrome and I would have come into contact with slow learners who weren’t thriving academically.”
As her teaching career progressed, Emelda said it was if she was divinely predestined to do what she did.
“I do have a personal relationship with God because I am a Christian. I have always prayed and asked God to lead and direct my path,” she said. “Sometimes when I think back to how things unfolded, I knew that God had directed my path. Not that I expected to end up here.”
Emelda also gets a sense of personal fulfilment from the work that she does.
“I feel very privileged that I can contribute to the development of a child and to equip them to reach their maximum potential,” she said. “I remember when I was working at the Erdiston Special Unit, we were not in a really good facility. I remember meeting a child there and I think he impacted my life in a powerful way. He was a child in care of the state but he was one of the most sweet, intelligent children I’ve met. He did have a problem with his reading, which I suspect was dyslexia, and he was frustrated. He was smart enough to know that there was something wrong that he couldn’t grasp the work like his brother or sister up at the other primary school. He’d say, ‘Ma’am, why we can’t go up there and play with them?’. He started asking questions that made us teachers ask questions. It was his dream to go to a secondary school and he couldn’t understand why his destiny was not letting him get there. He wanted so much more than the system at that time was catering to.”
Students like that little boy have prompted Emelda to push special needs children to reach their fullest potential.
“I thought at that time and I still do that if I can make the difference in the life of one child then I am contributing to saving a generation, and saving some of our future,” she said. “This one child will grow up be an adult and have a family and hopefully I would have been able to instil or support this child growing up that would them a positive outlook on life and instil in them that fighting spirit. I am one that tries to push and encourage my students to reach for the stars.”
The hard work that Emelda has put into her students and her career is not lost on her family. The mother of three is all too familiar with the delicate balancing act that goes into being a mother, wife and a professional.
“I had the support of my extended family and my husband; they were like the anchors in those early days because sometimes I would really come home totally exhausted,” Emelda said. “Sometimes on weekends my mum would take the two boys but now they are adults, one is 23 and the other is 21. So now it’s just my daughter and my niece is here with us for a short time.”
Along with her family being instrumental in her life, Emelda has credited her success with the influence of many past teachers and principals who mentored her along the way.
“The immediate past principal of Ann Hill, her mentorship and training has been invaluable to me,” Emelda said. “She is one who holds education in high esteem and she’s always been very nurturing and encouraging. It’s been an honour to take the baton from her.”