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Sonja’s inspiring story

Donna Sealy

Sonja’s inspiring story

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Life is about experiences. They make you who you are and in most instances they shape your thoughts, your actions and can determine the path you will travel on the journey of life.

Each experience for the 43-year-old deputy principal of The Lester Vaughan School, Sonja Goodridge, is like a jigsaw puzzle, fitting together to form a whole that is the rich tapestry of her life.

On a busy Tuesday morning she told EASY magazine that the Girl Guides, which she joined at the age of 11, was the most impactful experience of her life but she was also influenced by her involvement in Church, the Key Club, the Environmental Club, Sunjet Toastmasters, her travels to faraway places such as Singapore as well as those people she met along her educational journey.

“Guiding is the one thing I devoted much time to.  I credit guiding with getting me out of my shell. Believe it or not I was very shy, very quiet and even my primary school teachers prayed that I would go to a school by myself so that I would be forced to make friends. That’s something they prayed for and my mother prayed the same.

“I found my niche in the First Barbados Guide Unit.  At the time, my mother said to me the uniform was expensive so I’d better stay. I stayed for 29 years straight, even working with the Girl Guide Association of Jamaica when I was there. I did main events with them and [went] to special events that they had.

It is for this reason that she feels strongly that every child should be in an extracurricular activity.  “If there’s one thing I would want each child and parent to understand is how working as a team or group outside of the classroom can change your whole perspective.”

When Lester Vaughan opened in 1997, Sonja was the person who was at the helm of the 69th Girl Guide Unit and the Environmental Club after which she quickly started the Key Club.

“I was totally excited because they each offered children a different way of developing. I like the idea of being able to give back and that’s what the Key Club was about, practically every weekend we were out giving of service . . . The Key Club is one of my best joys,” she said with a smile.

These days she serves as the Division Governor for Division C of District 81 of Toastmasters International, under which 23 clubs in the Eastern Caribbean fall. She said the 90-year-old organisation which develops leadership and communication skills and which she joined in 2009, has exposed her to several leadership opportunities.

“I realised then that all the things I did before were for the development of others but Toastmasters is the first thing I have done that is for me. It is a learning experience in which you work at your own pace. I was really excited by giving speeches for credit because I can talk a lot . . .”.

Why teaching?

“I wasn’t sure that teaching is what I wanted to do initially. I accidentally stumbled into it. When “A” level results came out that year, there were only two “As” and they were both scholarship winners. I was the only “B” for geography so I was approached by several schools asking if I wanted to teach,” she said with a laugh.

She said that the initial experience at Combermere was a great one for a young teacher. She then headed to her alma mater, Queen’s College, after she finished her Bachelor’s degree with a major in geography at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus.

Sonja described that stint as “good but interesting” because she was teaching with people who had taught her just a few years earlier and top of that, some of her younger friends while at school, were still students. Then it was on to the St Leonard’s Girls’ and The Lester Vaughan where she has been from its inception.

“I love teaching. I love the classroom, I love to impart knowledge and spread the love that I have for geography. I like everything about it, understanding how the world works, understanding how climates differ, why an earthquake occurs and being able to explain it,” she said, her face lighting up.

She even led ten departmental caribbean awareness tours for students and teachers beginning with Grenada and ending when she became deputy principal with Jamaica, of course. “These were instrumental in offering our students a greater appreciation of our neighbours.”

She added: “I had some very good teachers including two that stand out at primary school, Hazene Greene, my class four teacher and Cora Ray, my class two teacher. The two had quite an impact on the person that I became. At secondary school, I had some very good ones as well. I think the two that stand out most were my geography teacher, Jeanette Ottley and Cynthia Howard, my first form math teacher. She went beyond being a math teacher and took me to church camps,” she recalled.

The impact of good role models and a great start in the profession influenced Sonja to make teaching her career. At 24 years old, she was the youngest person in her Diploma in education class, five years later she started her master’s and after that she graduated with a distinction in the certificate of educational management and administration, where again she was the youngest person in her cohort. An experience in 2008 when she represented Barbados in Singapore on the course Leading Change In Education has also had a significant impact on her views on education. She has also done a Dale Carnegie course, and courses in sewing, baking and international cooking (none of which she really likes to do).

“Starting early opened many avenues. I was always fully involved in all aspects of school life and thoroughly enjoyed it. As a young head of department, being a part of the admin team where the decisions that you made impacted on the school, gave me great pleasure. My input mattered,” she said matter of factly.

While she credits the school’s first principal Ezra Barker and former deputy principal Pauline Benjamin with seeing “things in me I didn’t see in myself”,

she says it is her parents Godfrey and Heather Brathwaite who gave her that “huge dose of confidence” and allowed her to do all that she has done.

“I’m an only child (in a large extended family) and they both instilled in me ‘you will have an opinion, you will voice your opinion and we will hear you’.

(Even if we do not do what you want) . . . . I’ve had great support from both of them over the years,” she said.

To relax, Sonja watches the USA and HGTV channels and logs on to Facebook where she can spend a long time posting devotional and inspirational messages.

Sonja also loves to travel and makes sure she heads to Jamaica yearly to get some rest and relaxation.  If there’s an athletic meet or any cricket match (she prefers the longer version of the game) you can find her there.

As she continues to weave her story she will do so guided by her mantra: “Do what you love. Love what you do. Deliver more than you promised”. (Green Bananas Media)