Wed | Nov 25, 2020

Teething pains - Slowly but surely, students at Red Hills schools log on to new normal

Published:Tuesday | October 6, 2020 | 6:22 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Michelle Peart-Hope (foreground), teacher at Rock Hall All-Agel, discusses how online learning unfolded at the rural St Andrew school on the first day of the new academic year on Monday. In the background are Paula Plummer (right), principal, and Patrick L
Michelle Peart-Hope (foreground), teacher at Rock Hall All-Agel, discusses how online learning unfolded at the rural St Andrew school on the first day of the new academic year on Monday. In the background are Paula Plummer (right), principal, and Patrick Larmond, grade six teacher.

“We are wading through the water ... but we are making our way.”

That’s how principal of Rock Hall All-Age School in St Andrew, Paula Plummer, summed up the first official day of the academic year as online learning resumed as the new normal of COVID-19-era education.

Of the 12 teachers on staff, three reported to school to conduct virtual lessons while the others operated from home.

The school has intermittent Internet connection, which is confined to a staffroom and the administrative offices.

Plummer added that another teacher came in to assist with administrative duties.

The principal described the first day as “like a marathon”, as parents and guardians sought clarity on a range of procedures.

“Persons calling in and asking for information, contact number, and emails. We were doing our checks for books and making preparations for pick-up dates, so it was a real buzz of activity in the morning,” Plummer said.

Even with the Ministry of Education’s roll-out of 40,000 tablets to schoolchildren, there is a huge chasm of potentially 400,000 students who might not have access to computers, Education Minister Fayval Williams has said.

At Rock Hall, only half of the 330 students on roll logged on to interactive online classes. A few others communicated via WhatsApp.

LOST CONTACT

Plummer is hoping that the new term doesn’t suffer from the blackout teachers experienced when Rock Hall lost contact with 133 students as all schools were shuttered by the Government in mid-March, days after the first coronavirus case was detected in Jamaica.

The teaching staff will regroup in short order to do an analysis and work out how many students will need printed material based on the timelines given by parents about device purchases.

So far, the school has partnered with four churches that will serve as delivery points in the west-rural St Andrew community.

“This (Monday) morning, I know we have improved, because more and more persons are beginning to realise that we’re seriously going to be teaching,” Plummer told The Gleaner.

Grade six teacher Patrick Larmond is preparing 32 students to sit the Primary Exit Profile next year.

He was pleased Monday morning as the students, smartly dressed in their uniforms, were ready and waiting for the start of classes.

Eleven students successfully logged on to the Google Suite platform on Monday, Larmond said, while a few others could not communicate their challenge via WhatsApp.

He said those issues will be ironed out as he is aiming to have the majority of students online.

Meanwhile, at Red Hills Primary School, vice-principal Lorraine Bramwell told The Gleaner that an orientation session for students and parents was held on Monday morning.

The school has a population of 500 students and just over 200 participants attended the Zoom session.

She pointed out that accessibility to devices and stable Internet connection remain a challenge.

“The school will be utilising all the methods prescribed by the Ministry of Education.

“So, the students whom we are unable to meet via the Internet, we will be having printed material to be dropped off at different points or arrangements for the parents to pick them up at school,” she said.

Bramwell added that the television schedule has also been circulated to parents.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com