Mixed views from central Jamaica school leaders on new academic yearThursday, September 16, 2021
BY KASEY WILLIAMS
MANDEVILLE, Manchester — There has been mixed views from the leaders of five schools in Manchester and St Elizabeth following the start of another academic year online.
The continued surge in COVID-19 cases halted plans for the resumption of face-to-face classes despite a previous pronouncement of allowing vaccinated students for those classes at the beginning of the September term.
The leaders of Maggotty High and Park Mountain Primary in St Elizabeth say they remain worried about the number of students still without access to online classes. But there was a more positive outlook from leaders at three other schools — Bellefield High, Belair High and Holland Primary.
Sean Graham, the principal of Maggotty High, which is located in the remote and mountainous north-west St Elizabeth, is concerned that close to 500 students were yet to get online up to Monday.
“The concern is out there in the communities and the homes and I still don't see from [the] Government that enough is being done to support the schools to make sure [that] out there in the communities students are coming online… whether they give them gadgets or provide data in the communities,” Graham told the Observer.
He had hoped that improvement would have been made for this academic year.
“I don't see any sort of social intervention taking place in the communities. We prepare ourselves as a school to accommodate them (students), so we set up our registration system… I don't see any improvement this year and I think we would have studied a lot last year, [so] that there should be more State support,” added Graham as he noted that most of the school's grade 11 students are yet to be registered.
“We have done our part as a school in terms of settling the students. We had online registration this year which helped a lot to speed up the registration process… There is a concern at the grade 11 level that we are not seeing most of the students coming to register and that is a challenge,” he said.
Graham disclosed that an emergency meeting is expected to be held this week regarding the grade 11 students.
He said the school has so far registered about 900 of the expected 1,400 students for this academic year.
“The next plan is to implement the Google Suite policy for the school, so whatever formal teaching and learning activity will be driven through that,” said Graham.
Principal of Bellefield High in central Manchester, Paul Grant, told the Observer that while there has been some improvement this year, some students are still not yet online.
“This week we began with a general devotional for all grades. We had over 750 students on the platform [on Monday] out of 1,400, so what we have gathered is that there are still some students not represented on the online classroom platform. What we have seen is an improvement over last year, because we are having students who for the first time are logging on,” said Grant.
Principal of Belair High in Mandeville, Lawrence Rowe, said he has also seen improvement in online classes.
“Things are much smoother when compared to last year in terms of the start up of schools for the online classes. One of the things that is of major advantage is the time at which we are starting. We started almost a month earlier than we did last year, so that's a plus. And the fact that the students, who are coming to us from the primary schools, would have already had their email addresses it was just a matter of transferring them to our domain and getting them on our Google Classroom learning management system,” said Rowe.
“I must commend the ministry in this regard that they would have worked with us to get us on board this year much quicker when compared to last year. There are still a few students who are not yet online, and we are working with them,” added Rowe.
Simone Doctor, principal of Holland Primary — located in Holland Bamboo just west of Lacovia — said more students are now online.
“What we have recognised is we have more students engaged at the start of the school year which we really felt upbeat about. We are really happy that we have started out on such a positive note...We recognised that some students that we did not see up to the end of last year are online [now],” she said.
“The students we haven't seen, just a few, we have started making contact with them…Most of the issues now are with devices. Some students don't have devices or the [gadgets] are not working,” she added.
Carlene Williams-Heath, principal of Park Mountain Primary – located about a mile west of Santa Cruz – said the school is still not reaching a number of students with online learning.
“I have over 350 students online which would mean that I'm missing perhaps over one hundred which we are planning to print activities to take out as soon as the 'no-movement' is off, so we will go into the communities to give the 130 students [printed activities as] some are without connectivity and devices,” said Williams-Heath.
“We are hoping by Friday that we would have been able to connect with at least 60 per cent of those who were not seen [online],” Williams-Heath added.