On 16 November 2013, a remarkable graduation ceremony took place at Hornby Community Ministries in Christchurch. The graduates were young parents that had completed two years of the ‘Kids Under Construction’ programme, set up at Hornby by Christchurch City Corps soldier and former school principal Jill Garrett.
Jill is passionate about helping parents facilitate their children’s learning and development, and she has been doing this kind of work for a very long time. From the age of eight, Jill knew she wanted to become a teacher. At 15, she was given the opportunity to teach in Sunday school. Her first lesson was on the theme of ‘All things bright and beautiful’. Jill borrowed a canary, brought it to Sunday school in a cage, and set it down in the middle of the room. As the sun streamed down on the cage the canary began to sing. The passion for teaching has been singing within Jill ever since.
Jill began teacher training at 18. In her first year of teaching she was told not to bother about an eight-year-old boy in her class who had had a head injury. Jill thought, ‘Watch me!’, and she found out his interests, cheered him on and gave him lots of encouragement. That boy went on to receive a special prize for English at High School.
Jill believes in character education, making a difference by reaching the heart of a child. That is her philosophy of teaching. She also sees every child as precious, made in the image of God and to be treated with respect and honesty and dignity so that they can become the best they can be.
In her office she keeps close at hand a clipping that says, ‘One hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, or what sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.’ Her motivation is the example of Jesus who said, ‘Whoever welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me … For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest’ (Matthew 9:48).
For close on 50 years, as both a teacher and a school principal, Jill has been working with this attitude. When she retired just a few years ago she was asked what she was going to do with all the experience and knowledge she had gathered over the years. Kids Under Construction has been the outcome of that inquiry.
Statistics on the number of children who come to school unable to read basic words or even write their name are horrifying. Even in this country, with all our reading and writing resources, children are growing up in homes without books.
Jill has an eye for the kinds of resources that help parents to be the very best first teachers for their children. In putting good, colourful, interesting books, toys and charts into the hands of parents, and teaching them how to best use these resources, Jill has been doing a lifesaving work. She has equipped parents to make sure the essential first steps of learning are accomplished and to lay a solid foundation upon which all future learning can be built. The passion of her own life is being passed on to young parents in a way that they will never forget.
By Jill Garrett