Margaret Adams Roberts photographed in a classroom of the Servol Special School, Calvary Hill, Laventille. Make-up by Shenelle Escayg, photography by Mark Lyndersay.
Originally published in Express Woman, November 13, 2016
My name is Mrs. Margaret Adams-Roberts and I have had the opportunity to celebrate 45 years at the Servol Special School, from 1971 to 2016.
In 1971, Fr. Gerald Pantin had a vision to provide formal education to children 3-5 years and I was given the opportunity to become a nursery school teacher.
At the school, teachers observed that most of the children were not performing as they should. After consultation with Fr. Pantin and other educators, it was decided that the nursery school should change its focus to accommodate the needs of the students we had.
On September 3rd, 1972, SERVOL Special School was established. This is one of the oldest SERVOL Centers but we are often overlooked because we are located “behind the bridge.”
I will always be grateful to Fr. Pantin for his undying love, dedication and support towards this cause.
With forty-five years as a teacher I sit nostalgic and very grateful. Looking back over the years, I remember walking through Laventille, Blundell Alley, Village Council Street, St. Barbs, Hamlet Trace, Alvin Trace and Block 22 to lobby parents to send their children to the school. In those days, the dogs chased us out of those areas more than the people.
Over the years, we have educated all different types of children with special needs. I consider these experiences as privileges, because they encouraged me and helped me to believe that anything is possible. As a result I went to university and obtained my degree with honours in education.
I was able to touch the lives of hundreds of children with special needs. This included those diagnosed with autism, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, hearing impairments, mentally, intellectually and developmentally delayed, emotionally disturbed, dyslexia, micro/hydrocephaly, epilepsy, strokes, ADD, ADHD and brain damage.
This experience is worth more than gold. I would never exchange the years to do another job. God has blessed me with this gift; it’s a mission, a vocation with which I am truly satisfied. I sleep comfortably knowing in my heart that I have changed the lives of hundreds in the role of principal, counselor, therapist, nurse, mother and teacher.
Today I can boast of my ex-students. Forty-five of them are married, living normal lives, have built their own houses, have families they look after. They are welders, chefs, plumbers, mechanics, drivers, hairdressers, seamstresses, cleaners, security guards, masons, baby sitters, sales clerks, cruise ship stewards, nurse’s aides and soldiers.
In my early years of teaching, a student caught my heart. Her mischievousness got her into some trouble at the home with the other children, and the nuns decided to place her in the St. Ann’s hospital. I begged them not to do that. She was abandoned by her mother in a wash house on Duncan Street. They found her in a shoebox and took her to the St. Dominic’s Home in Belmont. From there she attended Servol Special School because of her lack of communication. In those days she was very hard to get along with. She was stubborn and destructive.
I became her guardian and everywhere I went she went. I nurtured and gave her every opportunity to learn to cook, clean and shop. She is hearing impaired, has one eye which she did surgery on, and a hole in her heart. There were many challenges I faced as a young person seeing about her with a meager income, but I got through by the grace of God. I taught her the necessities of life so that no one can take advantage of her. She attended the Beetham Life Centre and studied Child Care which helped her when she eventually gave birth to her own three children.
During our years together, we encountered lots of challenges. Whenever we went out people would stare, make remarks or even curse us, because in those days people were not aware of persons who were hearing impaired. They would refer to them as “dummies” and I would always have to remind them that she has a name “Joanne Smith”. In spite of that she has a very friendly and curious personality and makes friends quickly. Things that I did not notice or see she would touch me to show me, and that proves that her one eye is working perfectly. I have two, yet nothing passes her.
She has lots of talent. She can look at someone and imitate them. She likes to dance and even though she cannot speak, she reads your lips and gets into the knowhow of things around her. She has her own apartment, is married, with three children, shops on her own and she loves to dress up and go to the hairdresser very often.
This phenomenal journey has exposed me to various life styles of persons with special needs. I have seen the good, the bad, the ugly and the indifferent. I have encountered roadblocks, gangs, guns, hold-ups; yet through it all I still love special education.
Our school found permanent residence on Calvary Hill in December 1978. I am at the same school premises for the past thirty-eight years.
While I struggle to cope with the effects of crime in the area, my daily joy is seeing the smiling faces of these special children. They keep me going in spite of all the challenges.
As the morning sun rises over the hills that overlook the city and brightens up our school, I am reminded of how good God is. He allows His sun to rise on all His children no matter who we are. He is still in the miracle-working business. He has kept me forty-five years working with and for children with special needs and I have no regrets. None! PRAISE THE LORD!
The production of the Lioness series, highlighting the experiences of 12 mothers, is supported by Cause an Effect, Angostura Limited, First Citizens Bank and A Very Special Disabilities Forum.