Albert Town school for disabled to re-engage students negatively impacted by COVID-19 pandemic


Albert Town school for disabled to re-engage students negatively impacted by COVID-19 pandemic

Observer West writer

Thursday, September 17, 2020

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ALBERT TOWN, Trelawny - Cognisant that the closure of her school—which offers a programme for people with varying disabilities such as Down's syndrome and autism from sections of southern Trelawny— is hurting the students, Nicole Nugent, the founder of Nikki Nugent Hope and Divine Centre in Albert Town, is moving to satisfy their needs.

Nugent told the Jamaica Observer West that that she plans to visit the students since they are unable to come to her. She says she will meet with the 27 of them in their respective communities in small groups, while adhering to the health protocols, in an effort to continue the engagement.

“What is happening is that the students are programmed to leave their homes each day and now that is not happening, many of them are affected especially the ones who need a routine to cope each day. The parents have told me that the students are dying to get out of the house. They keep asking, 'When am I going back to school?'. So, what we are doing is seeing if we can find a location, maybe a community centre in the various divisions [in Trelawny Southern] to meet up once or twice per week so the teachers can meet with the students, bring teaching materials and still engage them in various activities,” Nugent explained.

Many of the students in the programme have been displaced from their routine of going to school five days per week from Monday to Friday, from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm daily, since the closure of schools almost six months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rashod Aska, principal of the school, who is also Nugent's son, says he is worried about the well-being of his students, as it relates to their education, seeing that they have been out of the programme for so long.

“You cannot deny that bright spirit that they get when they understand the concept of learning. It makes everyone feels good. They all learn at a different pace, but with time, we try to get them on the same level. It impacts us when they're happy and learning and getting to know stuff that they never knew before due to their disabilities. But due to COVID, that has kind of slowed us down, and I miss the 'good morning, Sir' and the bright smiles showing that they are ready for the day's activities. Not being able to see them makes me worry because they have disabilities and not too many people really interact with them and deal with them like how we do,” he explained.

Before the pandemic, the Nikki Nugent Hope and Divine Centre was very impactful, receiving many accolades for its outstanding work.

Nugent stressed, however, that the safety of her students takes precedence.

“I decided to close my school the day before the Government made the announcement for all schools to be closed. One of the main reasons is that most of my students take public transportation from different communities such as Warsop, Lorrimers, and so forth, and they have to travel back and forth to school. We didn't want the kids to get caught up because some of them don't really know how to manoeuvre themselves with the new protocols once they have left the school premises,” she argued.

Charmaine Williams, the aunt of 25-year-old Thavaghn Vassell, an autistic who has been a part of the programme since he was 20, told the Observer West that she is saddened by the closure of the school.

“I am very satisfied with the programme. He [Thavaghn] couldn't write letters and now he can write and he can spell his name. He wasn't going to school at all because him can't learn in regular school. I miss the school because he would be learning more and performing well because when he is at home and I am teaching, he doesn't listen, but when he is at school he listens to the teacher,” expressed Williams.

Another parent, Natalia Watt, also misses the school. She says her autistic 14-year-old daughter learned housekeeping techniques from the programme.

“Mi thank God fi dat deh school because the regular school never a pay her no mind and God bless Miss Nikki [Nugent] feh dat school because a dem tek her up and mek she feel like she a somebody. When it come pon spreading a bed, when it come pon cleaning, she good pon dat. She kinda back in a di reading part since di school close, mi still kinda help her enuh, but tru mi haffi work... if she did deh a school, she would a get likkle more teaching,” said Watt.

Nugent explained that many of the students were never in the formal education system because the schools in the area are not equipped to accommodate them and private schooling was not an option as several of the parents are from poor background and rely on subsistence farming to earn an income.

Nugent opened her non-profit organisation in April 2015 out of her own pocket, to facilitate disabled children in the Trelawny Southern area, after her own daughter was diagnosed with Down's syndrome.

Since them, the students have participated in a number of competitions including the Special Olympics, winning scores of medals.

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