There have been many changes in the province’s school system during the past three decades, and Barbara Vokey has seen plenty of them.
Vokey has been secretary of Bishop White School in Port Rexton for more than 35 years and as the school community celebrates Education Week this week, Vokey took time to reflect on how things have changed in that time.
She started working at the school in 1978, when her daughter Tina was eight and her son Tony was seven. Both children are graduates of Bishop White as are her two grandsons.
Initially Vokey’s job was for just 12 hours a week and involved mostly typing on a manual typewriter.
“I worked Tuesday and Thursday, six hours a day. I’d type all the tests for the teachers. You had to bang down your fingers on that typewriter and if you made a mistake you had to get out the razor blade and scrape the ink off,” Vokey laughed.
Vokey’s hours changed over the years. She is now considered permanent part-time and works 30 hours a week.
And the students are not the only ones involved in the learning process. For Vokey, and others who work on the administration end of education, it’s been a constant learning curve to keep on top of new technology.
“When the computer first came here I didn’t even know how to turn it on. But the changes come and you learn as you go.”
Vokey has worked under five principals (Melvin Kelley, Steve Brooks, Lloyd Vey, Graham Butler and Stephanie Gould) and said the school administration, as well as the entire school body, has always been supportive for her.
“I have had the good fortunate to work with an amazing group of staff members over the years and have enjoyed the interaction with both students and staff.”
The all grade school — kindergarten to level III — takes in students from 12 communities from the Trinity Bight area.
Since Vokey started working there the population of the school has gone from more than 400, to just over 100.
Vokey said the decrease in the number of students over the years has meant less teachers but low enrolment doesn’t affect her job as a secretary.
“When it comes to office work my days are full and busy,” she said.
With security concerns beefed up at schools throughout the province, no one can enter Bishop White without pressing a bell which rings next to Vokey’s desk.
“So there has to be somebody in the office all the time,” she said.
Nancy King first met Vokey when King started school at Bishop White as a kindergarten student in 1989.
King returned to the school as a teacher intern in September 2012. She was completing her primary/elementary education degree from Memorial University at the time.
She is now a substitute teacher at Bishop White and looks forward to seeing Vokey today, just as she did when she started kindergarten.
“The one thing that has remained constant is the cheerful voice on the phone when you call, the welcoming smile as you enter the office and (Barb’s) willingness to help in whichever way she can, regardless if you are a parent, teacher or student,” King said.
King has seen first-hand just how kind and caring Vokey is towards her students.
“A student came up one day when I was there. They didn’t have enough money for recess. Barb reached down into her own purse and took out a dollar and gave the student. I thought to myself, ‘now, how many times has she done that over the past 40 years that nobody knows about?’” said King.
In addition to her work in the school, King said, over the years Vokey has served on many volunteer committees in the community such as the Trinity Festival Committee, St. Paul’s Anglican Church Women's Organization, and she was heavily involved in the local 4-H club.
Vokey continues to fundraise for charities such as the Spina Bifida Society and is currently secretary of the local Trinity Historical Society and St. Paul’s Church Vestry.
This September, Vokey will see another change at the school, with the introduction of a full-day kindergarten program.
She doesn’t believe the change will have any negative effects on the children.
“Who doesn’t love kindergarten? All the students here are so busy. You can’t be bored going to school anymore,” she said.
Vokey is humble about her tremendous contribution to the school during the past 38 years.
She enjoys her job, she said, and has no intentions of retiring anytime soon.
“I love coming to work, I love the type of work I’m doing, I love the interaction with the children and the staff. I have no plans on retirement at the present time.”
How things have changed
Some of the highlights during Barb Vokey’s career
Student enrolment in 1978, approximately 475 students
Student enrolment in 2016, 102 students
Support staff became unionized
Progression from a manual typewriter to an electric typewriter to a computer
Introduction of the fax machine
Increased security at the school