Grade six teacher at St Michael's Primary School Camecia Vassell conducting a class yesterday.
School leaders, teachers, students elated as face-to-face classes resume

Pleasure at being back in classrooms was the general consensus across the Corporate Area yesterday as the country began a phased resumption of face-to-face classes after almost two years of online learning, induced by the novel coronavirus pandemic, that experts say has hit the education sector hard.

Wearing face masks and maintaining physical distance in class, students adapted to the new normal on a day that 376 of the island's 759 primary schools reopened for the 2021/2022 academic year.

School leaders who spoke with the Jamaica Observer said they divided students into small groups to be accommodated on different days weekly.

At Central Branch All-Age, Principal Michael Sutherland was seen moving from class to class handing out face masks to some students.

He explained that a helping hand was offered to some parents who were unable to provide their children with uniforms and other necessities.

“We are happy to be back. We decided that we wanted them to come in uniforms, but some parents are not able to purchase them and some students have outgrown theirs, but we have made accommodations, we have tried to get uniforms for those children,” he said, noting that there were over 150 students present.

Grade two teacher Sophia Johnson was happy to interact with her students in the physical space.

“I am really elated to see my students because they were online. We had a great time online but I am happy this morning that I can match a face to a name and they are also happy to see me,” she said.

One of her students, seven-year-old Rhei-Ann Morgan, said she was happy to be back.

“I love school and I get to help my friends,” she told the Observer.

Her classmate, seven-year-old Xavi Gordon who was equally overjoyed, said, “I like to learn and to write.”

At St Michael's Primary School, Principal Juliet McPherson said, even though she is glad to be back with her students, she is still concerned about the novel coronavirus.

“The COVID-19 is still around and we have to still be extra careful. I love my students so much that I can't resist hugging them. That is going to be my downfall. I am still very cautious and still a bit nervous,” she said.

“The only thing missing now is food. The Government is not providing food for the students, probably because we are on a test run and the PATH [Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education] money is going to the parents, but we have already told parents what to expect so they know that they should provide food for students. We also still have our breakfast programme of porridge and sandwiches,” she explained.

Grade six teacher Camecia Vassell said, once she realised that her school made the list for reopening she was excited.

“It's a struggle. Most of these students come from really dirt poor backgrounds. Most of them have no access to Wi-Fi, and for others it's data and with that it runs out, and at times parents are not there. I know most of the students are excited so it is just a joy,” she said.

One of her students, Jodeena Fowler, said, “I am really happy today. I get ahead online but some of the children don't and I am really happy that they have a chance to look at miss and learn.”

At Boys' Town All-Age Principal Sylvia Banks-Claire said, even though her school was included on the reopening list, she was not able to accommodate students yesterday.

“We are still working on some guidelines that were given by the Ministry of Health in order to get us ready. COVID-19 ready we are, but some general things that the ministry pointed out to us we're still working on that, and we are looking to expedite that as quickly as we possibly can,” she told the Observer.

She said she is looking forward to facilitating a total of 179 students in small groups.

One hundred and ninety-one or half of the selected schools for face-to-face classes are small primary schools with enrolment of less than 100 students.

The schools are allowed to engage students full-time or on a rotational basis.

Grade five student at StMichael's Primary SchoolTahleea Taylor using the handwashingstation yesterday.(Photos: Karl Mclarty)
Grade two teacher SophiaJohnson at Central Branch All-Age helps her student FantasiaRichards to put on her facemask yesterday.
St Michael's Primary School Principal Juliet McPherson says “COVID-19 is still around and we have to still be extra careful”.
Central Branch All-Age Principal Michael Sutherland hands a mask to his grade two student Shauntae Clarke yesterday.
BY BRITTNY HUTCHINSON Observer staff reporter hutchinsonb@jamaicaobserver.com

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