Fri | Apr 12, 2024

Dr June Hassall, pioneer in Jamaica’s education system, to be memorialised

Published:Wednesday | February 21, 2024 | 12:08 AMPaul H. Williams/Gleaner Writer
Front row (from left): Dr June Hassall; Dr Sylvia Mitchell (daughter) and her husband, Capt Also Mitchell; and their children, Achsah Mitchell and Samson Mitchell. Back row (from left): Joseph Mitchell, David Mitchell, Meshach Mitchell, and Magdalene Mitch
Front row (from left): Dr June Hassall; Dr Sylvia Mitchell (daughter) and her husband, Capt Also Mitchell; and their children, Achsah Mitchell and Samson Mitchell. Back row (from left): Joseph Mitchell, David Mitchell, Meshach Mitchell, and Magdalene Mitchell, children of Dr Mitchell and Capt Mitchell.

FAMILY, FRIENDS, associates and well-wishers will gather in the Mona Chapel on The University of the West Indies Mona campus to remember and honour the life and work of Dr June Anthea (Mitchelmore) Hassall, “wonderful mother, caring wife, educator extraordinaire, artist and writer”, today from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Dr Hassall, who was born on July 4, 1939, as June Anthea Vivis to Irish and Swiss parents, died in England on September 23, 2023. Her funeral was held on November 13, 2023. “She was hugely admired and deeply loved,” her daughter, Dr Sylvia Adjoa Mitchell, said.

The young June Vivis met Michael Mitchelmore at a Baptist conference, and after both graduated from university they married in 1961. They departed to Ghana a year later for their first job as teachers. There, she wrote her first book while teaching, sewing, and caring for her three young children born in Ghana. Sylvia is the middle child.

In Africa, because she had to teach from biology books about plants and animals in temperate climates, June Mitchelmore decided to write a book with annotated pictures of plants and animals she found around her. Thus, her first book, Tropical Biological Drawings, was published in 1967 and used in Ghanaian classrooms.

Between 1971 and 1973, the family moved to the USA, where she obtained her doctorate in science education in 1973, and Michael gained his in mathematics education in 1974, both from the University of Ohio. The one-year period between the awarding of the PhDs is a result of a very interesting story, which was to benefit children and teachers in Jamaica.

“A Joint School Project (JSP) in mathematics my dad helped initiate brought together mathematicians in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. The first book under the JSP was published in Ghana in 1967. Dr Ian Isaacs, who was at the School of Education, UWI, Mona, was asked to adapt the JSP book for Jamaica. In return, he asked my father for his help in a math summer camp in Jamaica,” Dr Mitchell recalled.

“Having enrolled in Ohio State University, Dad decided to do his PhD research in Jamaica instead of Ghana. This was the gateway to Jamaica for Dr June Mitchelmore and her family (they landed in Jamaica in 1973). Mum secured a job with the Ministry of Education (MOE), while my father finished up his PhD research. After obtaining his doctorate and after a year as an extension officer with the MOE, he settled down at the School of Education, UWI, Mona.”

While she was working as an extension officer at the MOE, Caenwood Centre, Dr June Mitchelmore continued to write. She almost single-handedly produced Jamaica’s first locally written science books, according to Dr Mitchell. These books were distributed islandwide to schools under the ROSE (Reform Of Secondary Education) Project.

“I vividly remember stacks of the black-and-white sheets she brought home, and how we collated them into books. I also recollect walking from my high school, St Hugh’s, to Caenwood to watch her load stencils into this big machine that rolled off copies of the pages. I also helped to staple the pages together, put the correct number of them into their respective boxes to be dispatched to schools islandwide!

“Such was the humble beginning of local science textbooks in Jamaica. Dr Mitchelmore also held training sessions for science teachers all around Jamaica. So great was the impact that there are still science teachers today that tell me they remember this time,” Dr Mitchell said

After sojourning for 10 years in Jamaica, the Mitchelmores left, each pursuing a different marital path, and June subsequently married a Professor Cedric Hassall in 1984. From 1984 until her husband died in 2017 at age 98, Dr June Hassall wrote and published over 27 sets of schoolbooks, including textbooks, workbooks, and teachers’ guides.

She wrote under the name of June Mitchelmore for her Jamaican and African books, and June Hassall for her UK, New Zealand, and China books. Her last set of books were published in 2019 when she was 80. So, she wrote for 52 years. Many of these books are still being used in Caribbean schools and other schools worldwide.

“In total, I estimate that my mother wrote over 132 schoolbooks. The language books are very clear, easy to use, and effective. The science books remain relevant, usable, and hands-on. Her books, therefore, represent a treasure we need to protect while continuing to use them to teach our children,” Dr Mitchell said.