Smooth sailing as student turnout high in western Jamaica

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Dr Michelle Pinnock, the Ministry of Education’s Region 4 director, says yesterday’s temporary reopening of secondary schools to facilitate students sitting the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exit exams in July, went smoothly across western Jamaica.

“The day went very well. Close to 90 per cent of the students were present. Parents have been very supportive; the teachers came out, even those who were not assigned to [do so] came out to support,” Dr Pinnock told the Jamaica Observer.

“I think we were successful in getting our students to observe the social and physical distances…” she added.

The Government had ordered schools closed on March 13 — three days after the country confirmed its first case of COVID-19 — as part of efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

But late last month, minister with oversight for the education portfolio, Karl Samuda announced the partial reopening of schools to facilitate preparation for the exit exams, and for the completion of school-based assessments (SBAs).

The revision programme for students sitting exams for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) will conclude on July 3.

The CXC exams, which are scheduled to commence on July 13, will be administered in both paper-based and online formats. CAPE is scheduled to end on July 27 and CSEC on August 4.

Yesterday, the educational facilities, however, were reopened with a raft of protocols in place.

Andrea Wakeland, vice-principal of Montego Bay High School for girls, who noted that the students were enthusiastic to return to the classroom, told the Observer that it was smooth sailing at her St James school.

“The day went really smoothly. We had to, however, keep reminding the students of the different protocols, because I get the impression that some of them were just happy to return to school,” said Wakeland.

Paul Adams, principal of Herbert Morrison Technical High School, also in St James, concurred that the day’s activities went smoothly.

“Everything was in place. The students are quite intelligent so we didn’t have a problem with them. Today [yesterday] went well, the turnout was very good,” Adams stressed.

In fact, he noted that the school will be using yesterday’s activities as “an exercise in health management, but it is also an exercise in logistics for the future”.

Over in Hanover, acting principal for Rusea’s High School, Donna Anderson said, too, that the day went well, stressing that there was a high turnout of students. She added that the compliance rate for students adhering to guidelines was over 90 per cent.

And principal of Hopewell High School, also in the parish, Byron Grant echoed similar sentiments.

He said administrative staff and teachers came out in their numbers to ensure that the protocols were observed.

In Westmoreland, the principal of Little London High School, Garfield James, said there was a high turnout for the revision of mathematics, which commenced at 9:00 am.

The principal of nearby Grange Hill High School, also in Westmoreland, Errol Stewart told the Observer that all went according to plan.

He said students were, however, somewhat anxious and, as a result, “there was a bit of reminder for students to adhere to the protocols set”.

Stewart noted that the school had received items such as sanitisers, alcohol, spray bottles, soap, masks, gloves, charts, and infrared thermometers from the Ministry of Education last week.

Principal of Frome Technical, Norman Allen reported that the operations at his school also went smoothly, adding that preparation for the transition started last week.

“This morning [yesterday] temperature checks were carried out on each student after they washed their hands and before they were allowed to enter the classrooms,” Allen shared with the Observer.

“In addition, the bathrooms, which were usually cleaned three times during a regular school day, are now being constantly monitored. Students are allowed to purchase their lunches in groups, based on their classes, and return to their classrooms where the supervision is continued. Once classes have ended, students then depart for home,” he added.

At Manning’s School, also in Westmoreland, Principal Steve Gordon said most students arrived by the school bus.

“They were then ushered to the sanitation station to wash their hands, and we encourage them to wash up to their elbows,” he stressed.

And over in Trelawny, newly appointed principal of William Knibb Memorial High School, Linvern Wright described the resumption of classes as a smooth transition.

“Things have been okay because they [students] have been working with us in terms of the distancing — not that you don’t have one or two students who are asking questions, but it is our role to respond to them and have them understand why. So, pretty much, we’re into a lot of explaining why we have these things, however, they have been compliant,” he explained.

“The only thing we had a glitch [with] was that students came in a little early. So we start school at 7:55 am, however, students came in at 6:50 am. I was already here and I made arrangements for them to sit apart until the relevant persons came to take their temperature,” added Wright.

According to Wright, he is also tasked with dispelling the myth that young people cannot catch the novel coronavirus, noting that a few of his students are uncertain about the severity of it.

“We have the teachers explaining to them about the protocols and talking to them about how they feel about the coronavirus. There is one student who told me that it is not going to catch [infect] anybody, so I had to be responding to that because many of them have that notion,” said Wright.

At the nearby Holland High School, Vice-Principal Roxanne Blagrove, who echoed similar sentiments, added that some students felt anxious about returning to school during a pandemic.

Meanwhile, William Knibb grade 11 student, Jamille Williams told the Observer that she was somewhat nervous about returning to school.

“It feels stressing because there are so many rules and changes, but I guess it’s for the better for all of us, because we have exams to do. I am very nervous because I am not used to all of this, but we have to adapt, I guess,” she said.

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