Sun | Oct 24, 2021

St Thomas schools battling mental, tech concerns

Published:Thursday | September 9, 2021 | 12:11 AMShanna Monteith/Gleaner Writer
Middleton Primary School Principal Jennifer Crawford (left) and teacher Castorai Newell discuss where in the communities to places boxes to drop off and pick up assignments for students of the St Thomas-based school.
Middleton Primary School Principal Jennifer Crawford (left) and teacher Castorai Newell discuss where in the communities to places boxes to drop off and pick up assignments for students of the St Thomas-based school.
Josette Doyley, principal of Spring Gardens Primary School in St Thomas, preparing gift bags for her teachers as they return to school.
Josette Doyley, principal of Spring Gardens Primary School in St Thomas, preparing gift bags for her teachers as they return to school.
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Pointing out that depression among her teachers forced her to abandon a meeting agenda this week, one St Thomas principal is concerned that there is reportedly no budget to retain the school’s guidance counsellor. With the pandemic forcing schools...

Pointing out that depression among her teachers forced her to abandon a meeting agenda this week, one St Thomas principal is concerned that there is reportedly no budget to retain the school’s guidance counsellor.

With the pandemic forcing schools across the island to kick off the new academic year virtually this week, old issues, including challenges with technology, have already triggered concern.

The mental toll of the crisis should also not be ignored, noted Josette Doyley, principal of the Spring Garden Primary and Infant School in St Thomas.

To boost the spirits of teachers of her school, they were presented with a welcome package as they returned to virtual classrooms.

“We realise this is nobody’s fault – not the Government’s or anybody else’s – so we really have to just try to work around the situation,” she told The Gleaner of efforts to proceed with classes despite the challenges.

“We also provided a welcome package with little goodies for my teachers as a form of motivation. The teachers are depressed. I had a staff meeting and did a temperature check. I had to forget the agenda,” she added. “We just had to just talk and have the guidance counsellor try to get them relaxed. Now I hear that there is no budget for the guidance counsellor, and I believe she is very necessary at this time.”

Doyley noted that the Internet connectivity challenges, which first surfaced when schools were forced online last year due to the coronavirus outbreak, were also still being faced by students to engage in classes.

“We started online teaching on Monday ... . It has been a challenge because we’ve not gotten to engage our students as a whole, but we are happy that we’ve been able to engage some,” she said, expressing satisfaction with the efforts and commitment of parents to have their students enrolled.

Of the 125 students registered to the small school tucked away in the hills of Spring Garden, the headmistress revealed that roughly half of the students have been logging on since Monday, with most using mobile data plans.

“I’ve been in dialogue with the others. Some persons are in the process of getting a device. There are some with serious challenges, so as a staff, we’re seeing how best we can engage these parents. We have about three tablets here, and we are thinking of lending them to those students,” she said, adding that the school is in need of a new photocopier to supply learning material to students without Internet access.

Jennifer Crawford, principal of Middleton Primary, said her institution, which has four teachers and a guidance counsellor, was facing similar challenges.

“Although the ministry gave students on the PATH programme devices last year, some of them have damaged them and now need new devices. We’re communicating with parents, working with the ministry and meeting with staff to see what can be adjusted to cater to all our students,” she said.

PATH – the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education – is a state welfare initiative.

Crawford said that a drop-box system has been implemented through which containers are left at focal points of the community and other popular areas where her 70 students reside.

“We have someone in the community who monitors these boxes, and children are able to drop off their workbooks or sheets, place them in these boxes, and they are collected at least once per week by the teachers. We also look to see which homes we can visit to help them get organised for school, … especially those who haven’t been using the drop boxes,” Crawford added.

Crawford said that she has called every parent to welcome their students to Middleton Primary, given them an overview of the term ahead, advised who their child’s teacher was, and explained the class setting.

“We continue to build on the relationships we have, and it is also an opportunity for those who weren’t participating to get involved,” she said.

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