“Sybil’s still in school at 90”

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A school day finds Sybil Leacock in the classroom doing what she has been doing for the last 72 years – teaching.

At age 90, nothing can keep her away from Leacock’s Private School Inc., which she founded in 1946.

Today, the Farm Road, St Peter institution has a roll of 50, half of its 100 student capacity, and Leacock still approaches the job of shaping young minds with the same passion as when she was first influenced to take on just one student to begin her teaching career at age 17.

She continues to do it her way, the “old-time way”, teaching students the basics – “their tables; how to add and subtract”, employing a hands-on approach, and making one-on-one contact with students.

For her, education is key to progress and this is the reason she has invested her life in ensuring that countless children from the north and beyond receive a sound educational grounding.

Leacock grew up in The Whim, St Peter, with a single mother who worked for five shillings a week as a domestic servant to support her family after the early death of her husband.

“When we were in primary school, we went from Infants to Class 4,” she recalled, and school ended for many children at age 14. She was bright and completed that early phase at St Peter’s Girls’ School at age 13. For a period after that she continued her lessons at a desk and chair provided by the head teacher, on the school’s platform, until she was taken in at the Muriel Archer Private School located in the St Peter community.

Reflecting on that part of her journey, Leacock said: “My mother, a domestic, could not afford the $23 a month school fees at Alexandra School.” However, the teenaged Leacock went on to sit the Junior Cambridge examinations (the GCE equivalent of the day).

In the meantime, she would help teach other children at Muriel Archer Private School and her performance must have impressed because it was soon after unfortunate circumstances forced the closing of that school, that she was asked by a parent to teach their child.

In the library across the yard from her school, there sits an old-fashioned wooden table, worn with age and use, and a chair which Leacock has preserved as a reminder of those early days when her classroom was the verandah of a nearby Farm Road house. Word of her teaching skills spread and more and more children came, filling the gallery and forcing a move to more spacious accommodation. (GC)

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