Optimistic future as disabled kids log on
Manoeuvring the virtual classroom since the COVID-19 pandemic has been more difficult for some students than others.
Genesis Academy is a private high school in Kingston that caters to students with autism – at all levels of the spectrum – Down syndrome, and students classified as slow learners, among other learning disabilities.
Principal Angela Bowen-Stewart told The Gleaner that 40, or 37 per cent, of the 108 students also have physical challenges.
“It has been challenging because they are not able, for the most part, to sit still for long periods, and because they are not within the structured environment, they tend to wander off. They will get up.
“They are at home and they want to have a snack, and they’ll decide to have a snack,” the principal said.
The major challenge with transitioning to online was that dozens of students did not have access to a device, and for those who did, the instructors had to use creative means to keep them on task.
“We have some of our caregivers and student assistants, who would be on another computer apart from the class setting on Zoom, and they speak to them and instruct them. For example, ‘You need to sit now,’ ‘You need to pay attention to the teacher,’ ‘Turn the page now,’ and so on,” Bowen-Stewart said.
The principal said that the usual end-of-term assessment was conducted during the virtual sessions, and, on average, there was a 10-15 per cent decline in students’ performance.
The delay in adapting to the new mode of teaching was cited as the key reason.
Come September, the students will be engaged in three days of face-to-face learning, which has been extended by an hour, while the online days will be much shorter.
“For the days we have face-to-face, we plan to do our structured academic classes, and for our online days, we want to make it more fun and interactive, so we’ll do our skill areas,” said Bowen-Stewart.
Data operations, food preparation, jewellery making, art and craft, sewing, and drumming are some of the practical courses the students are taught.
The principal was heartened by the donation of 40 tablets to the school by the Optimist Club of Kingston on Wednesday.
“It means a lot because without it, we would not be able to reach our entire population come September,” she said.
Club President Patricka Wiggan Chambers told The Gleaner that this year’s flagship programme for the Caribbean district is focused on learning disabilities.
“Genesis was supposed to participate in an art project with us, but that couldn’t happen because of COVID. When I asked the principal how else we could assist, she said 40 of her students are not able to log on to do their work because they don’t have the means,” Wiggan Chambers said.
The donation was made in partnership with Royale Computers, the Shipping Association of Jamaica, and Trans Ocean Shipping.
Wiggan Chambers said that the club plans to continue the partnership with Genesis Academy, and the institution will be adopted as one of their annual project partners.