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Llandilo School of Special Education principal lauds community effort amid COVID-19 pandemic

BY ROSALEE WOOD
Observer West writer

Thursday, May 21, 2020

BY ROSALEE WOOD

LLANDILO, Westmoreland

Despite the challenges being faced by teachers and students of the Llandilo School of Special Education due to the COVID-19 pandemic, principal of the Westmoreland-based institution, Gregory Hewitt, believes that there have been marked improvements by his students and their parents since the outbreak of the disease.

This, he attributes to the collaborative effort of the teachers, students, parents and the community at large.

“Parents who could not read are now learning to read in order to help their children, and so you find that our teachers are teaching both parent and student, therefore creating a more literate and educated society,” Hewitt told the Jamaica Observer West.

“We even have a teacher who is assisting her neighbour, whose child attends a regular school, because the mother was getting frustrated.”

He argued that Llandilo School of Special Education students are not the only ones who require support during this time, but their entire families, as well as members of their communities.

Hewitt commended his teachers for going beyond the call of duty to assist.

“During this time, we have to cater to the spiritual, the emotional, the psychological, the cognitive and all other areas that you want to group things under,” he argued.

He added that parents, who once doubted the abilities of their children, are now experiencing first hand, their child who “once could not do anything”, can now make sandwiches, spread their beds, sew, and do other life skills.

“We have excellent parents, we have excellent teachers, and an excellent community support,” the institution's vice-principal, Nicole Foster, added, stressing that the improvement seen in students since the COVID-19 pandemic can be attributed to “this support system that is in place”.

Like other schools, the Llandilo School of Special Education has moved to remote teaching since March.

“We connect with our students and parents by WhatsApp, telephone calls, e-mails, Google Classroom, recorded videos, audio lessons and home visits,” Hewitt shared.

He, however, explained that while both parents and students are learning more about how to use technology, one of the main challenges is the fact that not all homes are equipped with the necessary tools and finances to participate in the use of those methods, so printed materials are distributed to the various households.

Ryan Grant, a taxi operator who plies the Savanna-la-Mar to Whitehouse route, has played a major role in the school's operation in the wake of COVID-19.

He was already associated with the school before the pandemic, providing transportation services for enrolled students for over 20 years.

“Usually when I drop off the children during school, I help them out with anything else they ask me to do,” Grant said.

His duty since the closure of the school is to drop off the students' workbooks in various communities.

For now drop-offs take place in Whitehouse, Savanna-la-Mar, Content, Williamsfield and Negril for the parish of Westmoreland, and logistics are being put in place to cover the parishes of Hanover and St James.

“We currently are at a 90 per cent contact rate with our students. Our aim is to achieve 100 per cent contact by the first week in June,” Hewitt said, as he appealed to parents who have made changes to their contact information to get in touch with the school as soon as possible.

Additionally, Foster said while their students still require physical interaction, remote teaching will still play a major role in the institution when school reopens in September.

“If a child cannot attend school due to bad weather, or any other reason, we can still send them assignments so that the child is still engaged. We now know that parents are integrated into the system, so there will be minimal challenges with homeschooling as it will be familiar territory for some. So, I see that this will only make our education system better,” she argued.

“Also, teachers are now learning different programmes online that will be incorporated in their classrooms and the students are improving their use of technology as well.”

Hewitt said when school reopens, there will be much to consider and many changes to look forward to.

“Once we have the necessary tools when school reopens we can then incorporate more technology in our education curriculum,” he stressed.

He added that over the years, the Llandilo School of Special Education has been fortunate to have consistent support from various stakeholders.

“Praises must be given to the board chairman of the institution, Mr Russel Hammond, who has been instrumental in the growth of the institution, as well as Hammond's Pastry and Couples Resort, both of whom contribute to our breakfast programme, and the Indian doctors who have provided support by way of transportation, lunch and free medical care for the past 10 years. Also, the Foster Triplet Ministries who are now providing care packages consisting of food, toiletries, and medication to our needy students. They have all played a major role in keeping us grounded,” Hewitt noted.

He further posited that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to life new norms, some of which he believes will have a permanent place in the operation of the institution when the pandemic passes.

There are five special education schools in Jamaica, with units called Learning Centres, attached to each. The Llandilo School of Special Education, which covers western Jamaica, has three units. The main campus, Llandilo School of Special Education, has a population of 139 students, the Lucea Learning Centre in Hanover has 35, while the Montego Bay Learning Centre in St James has 81. The institution caters to individuals with intellectual disabilities at moderate to severe levels, age ranging from six to 21 years old.