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Oct 23, 2018 3:06 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Let Love Rule: Jackie Lamb Marks 50 Years In Southampton School District

Jackie Lamb is in her 50th year of teaching in the Southampton School District. CAILIN RILEY
Oct 23, 2018 4:45 PM

Jackie Lamb has a ready response whenever people ask if she has children.“Every child is mine,” she says.

She’s referring, of course, to the student body at the Southampton Intermediate School, where she is currently marking her 50th year as an employee of the Southampton School District.

By definition, Ms. Lamb is a monitor/teacher’s aide in charge of the audio/visual equipment at the school, responsible for helping set up equipment and also filming big events or milestones at the school—moving-up ceremonies, sporting events, etc.

But faculty, parents and students at the school know that her official job description only scratches the surface of her role at the school.

Ms. Lamb—who does not have any biological children—is what longtime community liaison Richard “Juni” Wingfield describes as the school’s “mother hen.”

“Jackie has always been there for the kids for every single need you could imagine,” he said. “Food, clothing, shelter and, most of all, just incredible spiritual guidance. Sometimes kids don’t have to tell you that their ‘check engine’ light is on—you can see it. And Jackie always has that wonderful way of being able to really, really know when a child is in need.”

Ms. Lamb was recognized for her half-century of work in the district during the first day of school, in front of fellow faculty members and administrators in the school library. In an interview last week in her small office at the intermediate school, just a short walk down the hall from the library, Ms. Lamb said she wasn’t even aware that this was her 50th year until one of the secretaries in the building told her at the start of the year.

Ms. Lamb began her career in the district in 1968, working as a teacher’s aide in a prekindergarten program that lasted for five years thanks to a grant. When the grant ran out, Ms. Lamb was moved into the intermediate school and started working with the school’s new librarian, who trained her to run the new audio and visual equipment that the school had recently purchased.

Ms. Lamb learned on the job, and then passed that knowledge on to the students, who would produce their own morning news segments, initially in black-and-white video.

Ms. Lamb did not grow up in the area, but rather arrived in the late 1960s, initially on vacation—she tells people she is still on vacation—and ended up staying because she had family nearby and continued to find work in the area, first as a volunteer at the pre-K program in the Presbyterian Church, and later in the district.

Ms. Lamb is the fourth-oldest of eight children, with three sisters and four brothers, many of whom still live in their native Virginia. She grew up at a time when schools were still segregated, attending the all-black Crestwood High School in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Ms. Lamb is the kind of person who has probably been underestimated for her entire life. She is small in stature, and comes off as shy initially. Her small frame can look like it’s been swallowed up by her long winter coat, and she often wears a white ball cap that partially shields her eyes, also covered by glasses.

She has an infectious, child-like laugh, she is passionate about her spiritual beliefs, and is often the most vocal and demonstrative cheerleader for various Mariners sports teams.

She’s also not afraid to offer up strong opinions or stick to her convictions, whether she’s telling a student how he needs to make things right after stealing $20 off her desk, or sharing her beliefs about the negative effects that tablets and smartphones have on adolescent children.

Mostly, she has consistently proven herself as someone both students and teachers can trust with their doubts, fears, and other feelings.

“She’s not afraid to speak to anybody, and children in particular,” said Sue Rumph, who worked alongside Ms. Lamb when she taught instrumental music in the school from 1983 until her retirement in 2015. They also coached the middle school field hockey team together in 1983.

“She reaches out to all of the kids, and she was always in and out of every classroom with her job, so she knew every program so well. She wasn’t afraid to ask questions, and she was sometimes blunt with the kids. But she was a great outlet for teachers if they couldn’t necessarily reach a child. Jackie could always come in from a different direction.”

She’s able to do that, Ms. Lamb says, because she can relate to what many of the children are going through.

“I know what it feels like to be bullied,” she said, referring to events in her childhood. “I know what it feels like when people see you as less than you are. I know what it feels like to feel alone, or to feel like nobody sees you or knows your name.”

Ms. Lamb has a strong devotion to her church and belief in God, and she said that her faith guides her approach with students.

“The basic thing that we need more than anything else in the world is love,” she said. “And, somehow, so many kids don’t know what love is. I want every kid that I meet to know that there is love, and that no matter who you are, there is somebody who loves you.”

Spreading that message has made Ms. Lamb a beloved figure in the school for decades, but she’s had her ups and downs in terms of dealing with the inevitable changes that are part of being employed somewhere for 50 years.

Ms. Lamb’s job security was in jeopardy in 2000, when the district hired current Principal Tim Frazier, and he eliminated some positions in an effort to make the building run more smoothly and efficiently. They both admit there was some friction between them for a while, and Ms. Lamb alluded to that in front of Mr. Frazier and other faculty members on the first day of school. But they say they’ve worked out their differences—which they demonstrated that day with a hug—and have developed a mutual respect for each other.

“She’s really a foundation stone of this building,” Mr. Frazier said. “We look at her as a person who holds things together. She’s really that person who has the flexibility and connection to students and teachers on an ongoing basis. She spends a lot of time before and after school, much more than anybody else has been in that position.”

Mr. Frazier spoke about the importance of her work and her presence in the school, particularly as a model of diversity, as an African-American woman, for what has always been a racially and ethnically diverse student body.

“When I first got here, she was the only diversity I saw,” Mr. Frazier said. “You saw very few teachers of color, and most of our custodial staff and clerical staff was of color. What she helped me understand was the need for more diversity, and for kids to be able to look around and see people who look like them.”

At the age of 70, Ms. Lamb isn’t going to be a familiar face in the building for much longer, although she did not give an exact timetable on when she will retire, other than saying “any day now,” with a laugh.

“I say I’m still on vacation, because when I retire, I plan on going back to Virginia,” she said. “I have my brothers and sisters there, and I want to get to know my nieces and nephews.”

In reflecting on her career, Ms. Lamb seems almost surprised, in a bemused kind of way, that she has been there for so long, saying she “never envisioned doing any of this stuff,” but rather thinking earlier in her life that she would perhaps join the military or become a classroom teacher.

“I honestly believe that God set this job up for me,” she said. “There is no way that I would’ve ever in my life imagined doing what I’ve been doing all these years.”

On her office wall, Ms. Lamb has tacked up a sheet of paper with a message printed on it. It’s meant as a reminder for her students, but also seems to be an apt description of how she’s approached life:

“1,440 minutes was placed in your account today. There are no carryovers. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come. You only have now (today). Did you write your story well today?”

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Jackie is an amazing woman who touched my life and helped me so much. Love you so much lovely lady!!
By LovedHerTown (132), southampton on Oct 28, 18 8:45 AM
1 member liked this comment
I hope she gets a good retirement after 50 years. How much would a teacher get after 50 years?
By jim (48), hampton bays on Oct 28, 18 2:06 PM