Despite anxiety, principals welcome return to classrooms
Although concerned about the rising COVID-19 infection numbers locally, several of the island’s principals are happy that their students will be able to return to their physical classrooms, starting this week, although the eleventh-hour announcement last week has caused anxiety.
Acting principal at St Thomas Technical High School, Ricardo Morgan, has fully endorsed the push for the resumption of face-to-face classes on Monday.
Even though his school has not yet been approved to resume classes, his staff are implementing measures to adhere to the physical-distancing guidelines.
“All schools in Jamaica right now are looking forward to engaging in face to face based on the fact that some students have not been engaged since online school has started,” Morgan said yesterday.
With learning loss being a key concern – as only 65 per cent of his students have been reporting to classes online – Morgan said that an assessment of students is needed to determine how to proceed with the curriculum.
St Thomas Technical had previously received the green light for some students to resume face-to-face classes a year ago, but classes were again suspended in February 2021 after a teacher tested positive for COVID-19.
Lissa Francis-Davis, acting principal of the Robert Lightbourne High School, also in St Thomas, said that preparations are in high gear for her institution to reopen on January 10.
“Our numbers are small, in terms of the student population. I believe that we will be able to manage very well with the social distancing and observing all the protocols, so we are ready and rearing,” Francis-Davis told The Gleaner.
She said that attendance for in-person classes for exam groups stood at more than 80 per cent in November, compared to the 40 per cent of non-exam groups participating in classes online. Thus, her staff is anticipating the successful reopening of school for all grade levels.
In Clarendon, acting principal for the Kemps High School, Vernon Morrison, said that his students are excited that they will be returning to the classroom as only an estimated 50 per cent of the 900 pupils were attending online classes.
The late announcement by the ministry has caused his staff to be rushing their preparation.
“It is a lot of last-minute planning. I am not so much surprised about the announcement because we wanted it, but since we didn’t meet the 65 per cent of students vaccinated, I didn’t know that we would have gotten it,” he said.
Nevertheless, the school plans to have general and senior staff meeting on Monday, parents’ meeting on Tuesday, and orientation for the rest of the week for students with emphasis on first- and second-formers, with Morgan explaining that some of his students do not even know where the school is located.
Duane Forbes, principal of Jack’s Hill Primary School, a multigrade school located in St Andrew, where two classes are each merged into one room, said his school is ready.
“We are on our way because we had to reopen from November 8. As we now speak, we are doing the cleaning by support staff by cutting and cleaning,” Forbes said last Thursday, noting that health inspectors had given his school a passing grade for reopening last November and the school has developed a matrix for proper sanitisation and t0 reduce the risk of transmission.
Forbes told The Gleaner that a hybrid approach will still be used in classes, with online learning still taking place as teachers will assign work for students to complete with their tablets.
He said his teachers are 100 per cent vaccinated and ready to take on the challenges of the new term.
Dr Grace Baston, principal of Campion College in St Andrew, said the institution is ready to open its doors today, with Founder’s Week events planned even before last week’s announcement.
Baston said that half the students for each class will attend face-to-face classes daily. The classes have been assigned into two groups and will turn up at school on alternate days, with approximately 700 at a time.
“That was our plan. We were satisfied that we had met the 65 per cent vaccination rate requirement, and so that was our plan, so we are set to go,” she said.
Although she is concerned about the numbers of new coronavirus cases, Baston said that the overriding concern is to return the students to some form of face-to-face learning.
Class three teacher at the Tarrant Community Basic School in St Andrew, Keisha McKenzie, said that although it was a great challenge getting prepared, her school has been ready since late last year.
“We had gotten the pass from the Ministry of Health the very first time [the school was inspected] … . It was rough because we had to take out so much and put in so much – the sanitisation products that we had to purchase, we had to put up wash stations, making and placing the necessary signs. It was rough and a lot of money was spent,” she said.
She said that the school had to be soliciting donations as the total preparation bill was probably more than $250,000.