(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — Principals of high schools across the western region say all is in place to ensure a seamless start on Monday to the temporary reopening of schools to facilitate students sitting secondary level exit examinations in July.
Minister with responsibility for education, Karl Samuda, had stated that face-to-face classes are to resume on June 8 and continue until July 3, to facilitate revision and the completion of School-Based Assessments (SBAs).
The Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) exams will commence on July 13.
Checks made by the Jamaica Observer West earlier this week have revealed that the schools are in a state of readiness to accommodate the students.
Principal of Little London High in Westmoreland, Garfield James, stressed that his school, which will be sending some 180 students to sit the examinations, is ready.
“Little London High School is fully ready to accommodate the students owing to the fact that we are only focusing on a niche group which is grade 11 and some grade 10 students who are being prepared to sit the externals,” said James.
“The necessary protocols in terms of the manuals outlined by the ministry [education] for operation in this COVID phase [have been] applied, and the necessary briefing of staff as to the safety precautions that will be applied during this period [has been done],” said James, adding that sanitisers and infrared thermometers are already in place.
“The only issue is, we are hoping that all the students will respond to the call for them to return, as we are now having some issues as it relates to some wanting to return, or not, giving to the fact that some parents are still a little bit concerned about allowing their children out there in the general public.”
Errol Stewart, the principal of the nearby Grange High School, told the Observer West that his school is also ready.
“We see ourselves as decently ready to accommodate our students. So, we are not anticipating any great problems,” stated Stewart.
“There is going to be a level of anxiety, understandably so, because our students are coming back to school during the pandemic, the anxiety is going to be there.”
As part of measures put in place to welcome the students, Stewart said lunches will be served in their classrooms, adding that the sickbay is up and running and an isolation area is in place.
He added, too, that although the ministry has promised masks, efforts are being made to source more overseas.
He also stated that the school has already received some sanitisers, and infrared thermometers are currently being secured.
Stewart said the hope is to have all items fully in place by the end of this week.
Principal of Green Island High, Maxine Evans, noted that while her schools has a number of issues to contend with before the partial reopening, she believes those matters will be resolved by the end of the week.
Among them is the installation of additional hand washing stations and the procurement of sanitisers.
She noted, however, that infrared thermometers donated by the Health and Family Life department are in place, adding that a survey was done at the school to determine the number of teachers who may have underlying health conditions.
Evans noted, too, that a number of meetings— virtual and face-to-face— were held on Monday with ancillary and administrative staff, aimed at sensitising, collaborating and conversing with them on the matters that are necessary to admit students back in school.
Over 200 students are scheduled to sit the exams at Green Island High.
Acting principal of Rusea’s High in Lucea, Donna Anderson, said her school, which is preparing to accommodate about 310 students, is advanced in its preparations.
“So far, we have acquired most of the sanitising equipment, and we have acquired our infrared machines. So, we are preparing. We have our nurses in place, and we are trying to group our students as best as possible. The timetable is complete…so, we are well on our way in terms of the plans and logistics for reopening,” stated Anderson.
“The board of management is on board, the staff, we are having our logistics committee which includes our student council representative, the guidance counsellors and teachers.”
Michael Ellis, the principal of the Montego Bay-based Cornwall College, disclosed that a raft of measures will be implemented at his school come Monday.
“We decided that the protocol will begin at the school gate. Everybody coming to the school will be subject to temperature checks and be required to wear masks and will have to be properly sanitised, and comply with the standard operating procedures communicated by our security team,” he told the Observer West.
“Throughout the school day, we have decided to forego certain traditions. Students will now be served lunches in their designated classrooms and the classrooms will be sanitised at the end of each period while students are making the interchange. We will also be curtailing the movement of students throughout the school day. In fact, students will be stationary in the classrooms, and it is the teachers who will do the travelling from one classroom to the next.”
Ellis added that teachers will be provided with face shields as well as masks, pointing out that “it is going to be very difficult for them to teach in masks.”
He further explained that the school’s administration has decided to reduce the subject offerings to the students, adjust the schedule and stagger the times that the students come in, as well as the teachers.
All principals say they have been following guidelines set out by the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information.
Eddie Whyte, principal of Troy High School in Trelawny, is upbeat about the resumption of school, and has given the Ministry of Education, Youth and Ynformation his full support, as they roll out the ‘new normal’.
“I concur with the guidelines to reduce the class sizes and increase the number of teachers to cater to the overall needs of these smaller classes. These measures, undoubtedly, will have ramifications for most schools in terms of human resource deployment, timetabling and curriculum delivery. Schools may very well need additional human resource to properly implement such measures although we are fully cognisant of the fiscal constraints of the Government at this time,” he argued.
He also expressed confidence that Troy High School will be ready to face the new challenges which may arise as a result of COVID-19.
“Troy High School has been blessed with physical space and with a dedicated and committed staff, the challenges are being prepared for, opportunities are being grasped and together with our stakeholders, we will weather the storms,” he argued.