J'can teachers in South Carolina hunker down

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J'can teachers in South Carolina hunker down

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Senior staff reporter
dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, March 28, 2020

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SEVERAL Jamaican teachers in the South Carolina county of Kershaw, which is the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in that state, are hunkering down for a long haul with schools declared closed for at least two months as authorities there try to contain the spread.

Kershaw, which is considered ground zero for the virus in South Carolina accounts for 18 of the 33 confirmed cases there so far, grabbed headlines this week with a seven-month-old there testing positive for the novel coronavirus.

Two of the Jamaican educators speaking with the Jamaica Observer this week from behind the boundaries of a curfew imposed on their community because of the outbreak said while not “fearful” they were “concerned” about the trajectory of the virus and the rapid changes to daily life that it has caused.

“My employers kept sending out e-mails with updates regarding the virus but I didn't know that it was that serious. We kept hearing about it on the news…we didn't know how serious it would get,” one Jamaican educator, who has been teaching at the elementary school level for seven months now, told the Observer yesterday.

“It's kinda scary because of how easily it can be contracted. I am concerned. I left the house on the 16th of March and I have not been back outside since I returned. In this case we just have to be careful. I know some of the children are a bit scared,” she told the Observer.

Her Jamaican colleague, who has been teaching there for six years at the high school level, said he has been blindsided by the speed with which things have moved. South Carolina's Governor Henry McMaster on March 13 ordered all schools closed until the 31st of March initially.

“So on the Friday we were at school, and they were like we are not sure what's going to happen but have a plan in place. Because like for my school every day we watched CNN News for like ten minutes so we saw what was happening like in California and in New York and we were like aint nothing going to happen down here and then right next door in North Carolina which was the 12th they declared a state of emergency and they closed all their schools,” he recounted.

“Then the governor declared that they would close all schools for a two week period just so they could monitor what was happening because in the county that we live was like ground zero for it in South Carolina, that's where the first cases popped up. So we had to stop going to school, we had to implement our distant learning protocols so teachers have to now work online,” he shared.

Teachers at the varying levels, he said, have been adjusting to what is a new normal.

“For us at the high school level it was a little bit easier because our students already use devices, so we just utilize online platforms to do whatever we have to do. For the elementary schools however it was a little bit different because they don't take their Chromebooks home so those teachers had to create packets to send home with their students,” he explained.

Now with another extension announced recently, teachers and students will be away from school halls for at least another month.

“Now they have extended it so we are not going back to school until the end of April and on top of that all state tests and so on have been cancelled, so they are not doing like end of year exams, external end of year exams; all of those things were cancelled,” he told the Observer.

In the meantime, life as they now know it, is within the confines of a curfew, for health reasons.

“There are no church gatherings, we can't have any gathering with over 10 persons. You are able to go to the grocery store but you can't be on the road after 10:00 pm unless you are essential service and you are going to work. Pretty much everything Jamaica is doing is what we have done. You cannot dine at restaurants, it's strictly takeout…social distancing is in high effect,” the Jamaican educator shared further.

The teachers who say they will not lose any of their salaries say they are held fully accountable and are seriously working from home in every sense of the word.

“We have to constantly check our e-mails, we do teleconferences, and we have to upload work for students. The elementary school teachers have a lot of teleconferences. For middle school and high schools, because those students have their device, we are able to have one-to-one online meetings. We have to ensure that our students are doing the work. The students have to adhere to the distance learning protocols because if not they would have to go over those lessons when they go back to school which would essentially mean no summer break,” the educator outlined.

In the meantime, the two Jamaicans who say they are in constant contact with other Jamaican educators in other states say their focus is on remaining safe and out of touch with the novel coronavirus as much as it lies within their power.

“One of the good things about us is we buy in bulk so we don't need to go to the grocery stores, we are not driving anywhere so we don't need to get gas. We really don't have to leave the house,” he noted.


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