Today, for the first time this year, hundreds of students returned to the classroom for face-to-face learning after several months away due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several schools reported a smooth start, but there were some for which the return was not without its challenges.
While the fifth and sixth form students of Combermere reported to the Waterford, St Michael school plant this morning, they were informed that there would be no classes as volcanic ash still had to be removed from some classrooms.
Several Combermere students who indicated that they had become frustrated with online school and were happy to return to face-to-face learning, lamented they were disappointed with the development.
The students said shortly after arriving, they were told to go home and return to online classes until further notice.
Parents were also not satisfied that the classrooms were not ready and that they had to go back for their charges early. Some parents expressed disappointment with the delay, noting that it is critical for senior students currently preparing for CXC and CAPE examinations to return to the classroom without further delay.
NewsWep TODAY was also informed that the canteens at some secondary schools were not re-opened for business today as they did not receive confirmation that students would be returning to face-to-face learning. While the management of some schools where the canteens were not opened made alternative arrangements for students to get lunch, others took the decision to dismiss classes early.
At Frederick Smith Secondary at Trents, St James, Principal Steven Jackman reported a reasonably uneventful day which included students going to Holetown to purchase food and returning for afternoon classes.
He said: “For the most part they have settled down. They have been attending classes. There were one or two minor hiccups with timetabling but we have started. Our examination forms have started and the children who are here seem to be settled and ready to work. We have been using the three-foot, social distancing [requirement] and the children have been adhering to it. They have also been adhering to the wearing of masks.”
Lester Vaughn’s Principal Anthony Alleyne said emphasis was placed today on getting timetables finalized, students settled and re-acquainted with face-to-face learning. He was satisfied that full instruction can continue on Tuesday.
“We are definitely following all the COVID-19 protocols that were in place before and using all the guidelines established by the Ministry of Education,” Alleyne said. “We are placing a pretty large emphasis on trying to ensure that our students when they come in, and teachers and any other persons connected with the school, that they do follow everything that has been said to be done.”
Students in the upper fifth forms were the only students to report to Princess Margaret Secondary today. According to new Principal Dr Wendy Lewis, the lower fifth students will start from next week.
She said the school will be utilizing the A and B system where half of the students will attend face-to-face classes with their schoolmates participating in online studying.
“The students seem to be excited to be back at school and we already had the rooms prepared in that part of the school where there was less ash. The teachers were there to accompany students to their particular classes and they started work right away. We reminded them of the school rules and we reminded them of the protocols, including that they should be six feet apart. The desks are three feet apart and students are reminded not to remove the furniture.
“Seeing that some children are at home and others are at school, we had to put lunch time at the same time for everybody. Some of the teachers who are at school right now, after they have finished the face-to-face class, they might have one that would be online. So we want to make sure that when lunchtime comes, everybody would be going at the same time so that teachers can be able to move from face-to-face to online without any interruptions,” Dr Lewis explained.
NewsWep TODAY also visited St George Secondary where school was in session but the principal was unavailable to speak at the time.
At the primary level, Class 3 and 4 students reported to their respective institutions where many of their beaming faces revealed their excitement to be back in the classroom. School monitors were also observed assisting teachers with ensuring that students follow COVID-19 protocols.
Principal of Sharon Primary School Pamela Small-Williams said the first day of school has been organized. She said there was no influx of parents going through the schools gates of the St Thomas institution today as they were told what to expect in earlier communication.
She said: “Our children understood the main protocols; the wearing of the masks, the three-feet distance, and not touching anyone or taking anything from anyone.
“I have done my rounds and all teachers are comfortable, all children are comfortable, and we bless the Lord for the environment that we have that is relatively clean and we are hoping and praying that things go well continually.”
Just after 10 a.m., the principal at Blackman and Gollop Primary indicated that she was unable to entertain the media at that time as she was extremely busy getting students settled in classes.
After ensuring that all classes were settled, Principal of Charles F Broomes Primary Dr Monica Walton said students were happy to be back at school.
“Obviously they have been away for five months, so now that they are back they are excited to see each other and we are excited to see them. You remind them of the routines and they catch on very quickly. And you can almost always know that they can police each other in the event that a little child forgets to pull up the mask over his or her nose. We are happy to have them. We hope and pray that we can continue with the transition of teaching and learning so that all our students can benefit.”
Dr Walton stressed that while some parents initially raised concerns about their children returning to the classroom in an ongoing COVID-19 environment, they were reassured through a number of meetings that their charges will be kept in a clean and safe environment.