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Anne Coakley ‘broke with convention’ and ended up in Bermuda

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Warwick Academy food and nutrition teacher Anne Coakley retires this year (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

The terror she felt when a roach flew over her head stuck with Anne Coakley long after she holidayed here in 1976.

Despite that, she said “yes” three years later when she was offered a job teaching food and nutrition at St George’s Secondary School.

It was a big change from her life in Salisbury, England.

“I think the students were just very suspicious of me,” the 70-year-old said, explaining that some of the students had academic or behavioural challenges. “Gradually they got more accepting and I got to understand how to help them a bit more.”

After two years she was transferred to Warwick Academy.

“It was another shock to the system because then I was at one of the most academic schools, having had two years teaching at a different ability and behaviour level,” she said. “Most of the children at Warwick did what they had to do because the principal, Dr [Joseph] Marshall, was quite strict with teachers and students. It probably made you a better person because there were no half measures of doing anything. He was on the case all the time.”

Back then Warwick Academy offered five years of secondary school with four classes at each level; 25 students were in each class.

She was initially hired to teach needlework, but in the years since has taught everything — food and nutrition, design and technology, reading, history, citizenship and religion.

“I have a friend who jokes that no one has taught more subjects than me,” she said.

The nutrition and needlework classes were only for girls until a boy complained that it was unfair.

“A student called Paul Sofianos, who has now passed away, wanted to take cooking,” Ms Coakley said.

The school changed its policies, opening cooking and needlework to boys and allowing girls to take design and technology classes.

At first the boys protested having to sew.

“Then they would come into the classroom and see the sewing machine,” Ms Coakley said. “It had a pedal that you pushed with your foot to make it go faster. They loved that.”

When narrower trousers became the fashion, some of the boys told her they were making money by taking in the trousers of their friends.

She said: “One former student told me the other day he was sewing a button onto his shirt. His daughter came in and said where did you learn to do that? He said, ‘Ms Coakley at Warwick Academy’.”

She was there when it transitioned from a government to a private school in 1995.

“Government was going to build one high school, CedarBridge, and they had designated Warwick Academy as a middle school.”

The school’s board felt that would diminish its rich academic history. At the same time it was “very concerned about losing children who could not afford to stay in a private school”.

In the end the school was gradually privatised. Scholarships and bursaries were offered to try to keep the students who could not afford to stay.

Long-serving Warwick Academy teachers from left: Alistair Smith, Shelly Grace, Anne Coakley and Tim White (Photograph supplied)

It is a success today “because of the people who are running the school”, Ms Coakley said.

“We are a very happy and caring school. We have a lot of staff who go above and beyond what is required.”

She was head of the secondary school for seven years and has been working as a part-time teacher since 2020.

“I am still teaching food and nutrition,” she said. “In fact, I am doing more than I should be doing because the main food and nutrition teacher broke a leg nearly three weeks ago. She is off for six weeks.”

She learnt the basics from her mother.

“I was the fourth of seven children,” she said. “So I often had to help my mother in the kitchen, or help her to sew.”

It was family tradition to go right the way through a convent school in Salisbury.

“I broke with convention and left the school early to go to a technical school where I learnt food and nutrition and sewing,” she said. “Then I went to university to study teaching.”

Her sister, Eileen Collins, worked in Bermuda as a nurse. Their brother, John Coakley, who has since left the island, was head of the primary department at Saltus Grammar School.

“He is retiring this year as well,” she said. “Whether he will actually stay finished I am not sure, as he is a bit of a workaholic.”

Her plan is to move back to Salisbury to be closer to her family and pursue her hobbies more.

She learnt woodworking through a class taught by Dave Waltham.

“Dave was great,” she said. “The class was nearly all women. He really encouraged us to have a go at doing things. I can remember making some nice cedar lamps on the lathe and a couple of other things. I have a nice tray table that I made that I am trying to get back to the UK.”

For the last 20 years she and another Warwick Academy teacher, Shelly Grace, have made and sold crafts at special events around the island.

“We make cedar ornaments and things out of driftwood,” she said. “Once I retire, maybe I will do a bit more of that as well.

“The school has been a big part of my life for a long time. But you can’t keep going for ever.”

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens each week. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com with the full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

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Published June 08, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated June 08, 2022 at 7:53 am)

Anne Coakley ‘broke with convention’ and ended up in Bermuda

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