bim’s development through the life of Edna Nicholls
by Freida Nicholls
When the Ministry of Education polled the residents of the Boscobelle in 1998 for recommendations on naming the new “Out-of-School Suspension Centre” in their community, officials reported that “the name of Edna Nicholls kept coming up”.
Residents remembered her tireless efforts to ensure a better life for her students and the entire community, and felt that an institution which sought to rehabilitate students and give them a purpose in life should be named after someone who had made this an attainable objective during her teaching career.
60 Years as an Educator
Having made a contribution of 60 years to the teaching profession, Edna Nicholls is the second longest serving educator in the history of Barbados. Entering the teaching service in 1930 as a student-teacher, Nicholls finally retired in 1990 at age 74. Her early teaching experience was in St. Joseph at St. Elizabeth’s Primary School, St. Joseph’s Primary and St. Ann’s Primary, and at St. Augustine’s Primary in St. George.
A Pioneer Teacher at the Secondary Level
A graduate of Erdiston Teachers’ Training College in 1954, Nicholls was appointed to the staff of the newly-opened West St. Joseph Secondary Modern School (now renamed the Grantley Adams Memorial School) the following year. This school was a continuation of the government’s free secondary education programme which was started in 1952 with the establishment of St. Leonard’s Boys and Girls, followed by Princess Margaret Secondary and West St. Joseph Secondary in 1955, and Parkinson Secondary in 1960.
Nicholls always maintained that this development had a transformative effect on the social landscape at the time, as access to a free secondary education gave hope to hundreds of poor people, whose children were afforded the opportunity to progress beyond the primary school level for the very first time.
Love of Music
Music was her great love. She was a trained organist, playing the organ at St Joseph’s Parish Church in the 1940s, at St. Augustine’s Church in the 50s and served as organist and choir director at the St. Lucy’s Parish Church in the 60s.
She was the lead soloist in the Choir for the Sick and Incapacitated (1950s – 1970s) formed by community pioneer Harold Rock, bringing cheer through concerts for hundreds of needy and indigent persons who were housed at almshouses across the island.
She taught music throughout all the schools where she served, and established school choirs at St. Ann’s Primary and Boscobelle Girls’, which won several awards at the National Schools’ Music Festival competition. Her strong belief in God was reflected in her confident faith that “all things worked together for good”, and her students were taught the words of several hymns that were sung at morning assembly.
Community Involvement in Boscobelle
Her appointment as headteacher of the Boscobelle Girls’ School in 1962 required her to move her family to the school’s residence, and her tenure was described by educational officials as “remarkable”. She displayed a natural caring spirit and was fair and compassionate. Always the disciplinarian, she exhibited an unwavering insistence on high standards of deportment, speech and behaviour.
She motivated her students to excel, and spent many evenings giving extra lessons to students at no cost. She personally accessed scholarships and bursaries for her students from several of the private secondary schools of the day. She paid special attention to slow learners and problematic children, and maintained a close connection with their parents and the entire community.
Nicholls embarked on a campaign to sensitise the authorities about the needs of Boscobelle and the surrounding community, which lacked modern conveniences that we take for granted today. Her lobbying efforts paid off in 1965, when electricity was finally brought to Boscobelle. She also made representation to the authorities for indoor plumbing for individual homes. Her love for the environment can still be seen through the oleander trees that she planted in 1962, which continue to be a part of the landscape at the Edna Nicholls Centre.
Nicholls reluctantly bid farewell to a profession that she dearly loved when she retired in 1976 after spending five years as head of St. Luke’s Girls’ School. However, that same year the Government of Barbados raised the school leaving age from 14 to 16 years, and she joined a team of educators to plan and implement a suitable curriculum for those students.
When that assignment was completed, she joined the staff at the Metropolitan High School. She later accepted a one-year assignment at Mapp’s College, followed by several years at the Cooperative High School where she served as deputy principal.
In 1987, Reverend Dr Holmes Williams invited Nicholls to head the newly opened People’s Cathedral Primary School, and preside over its establishment and accreditation with the Ministry of Education. She was 71 years old and still full of energy and vitality, with the capacity to transcend the age and time difference.
Her final retirement was in 1990 at age 74, ending a career in education that had spanned six decades of sterling contribution. She had been a part of this country’s development from the agrarian economy of the horse and buggy days to modern Barbados, and she was comfortable with the advanced technology and the use of the Internet.
A member of the Parochial Anglican Church Councils of St. Joseph Parish Church, St. Augustine’s Church, and St. George Parish Church, Nicholls was a deputy chairman of the Child Care Board and a member of the board of directors of the Transport Board.
Her legacy to Barbados is the contribution made by each life that she touched, and if that contribution is but a fraction of that which she made herself, then Barbados has benefitted tremendously from the life of Edna Nicholls.