Summer school gets high mark from nostalgic students, teachers

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AS discussions continue about when it will be safe to reopen schools, some parents and teachers at one Corporate Area location where a second round of summer classes was offered until late August are giving the experience of having kids back in school high marks.

The Rose Gordon Kindergarten and Preparatory School extended summer classes beyond the usual dates in July and offered a second round of classes from August 3 to 20.

“Normally, we would have one summer school for the school year but we had to do two this year. At the rate of how things are going it seems like we are going to have to live with the COVID-19 virus so what better time to start adjusting [than] now. We don’t know when the virus will be going away,” Principal Helen Thomas told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview. Back then, they were still preparing for a September 7 resumption date. That was later pushed back to October 5, but now even that date is in question.

“The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information suggested that all schools should conduct two weeks of teaching and one week of assessment when the children return. So summer school [would have helped] the children to be better equipped for the process of assessment and learning after school reopens,” said Thomas.

Quant Scott was delighted to get his two children back in the classroom in August, saying it was a risk worth taking. At the time, he too expected schools to reopen soon.

“I really think that my children needed to get face-to-face teaching; I know it’s risky because of the pandemic and the recent surge of the number of cases but it’s just a risk that one had to take,” he said.

Teacher Da Shae Cole explained the importance of extending summer classes, especially for students who had failed to keep up with lessons while at home.

“The classes provide an excellent opportunity for students to grasp material they may have not learned and also strengthen their knowledge of a subject or lesson,” she said. “Furthermore, the classes prepare the children to be more aware and have a clear idea of what is needed in the upcoming academic period.”

Grade five teacher Eric Thomas also spoke highly about the summer classes, saying there was great preparation for the reopening of school within the context of health protocols such as physical distancing among students.

“Ninety-five per cent of the students have been cooperative in following the safety protocols. The [other] five per cent find it difficult to stay away from friends and to wear the masks all the time. So you have to reassure them of the importance of wearing the mask,” he said.

Principal Thomas assured that students have generally adapted to the new norm and have been following COVID-19 safety and sanitation protocols the school has put in place.

“We have the thermometer to check the temperatures and a register where parents and students are required to sign in every day before proceeding on to the compound. A teacher is placed at the front and takes the child’s name, grade and a contact number. At lunch time, while the children have their lunches, the janitors would sanitise all the desks and chairs,” she explained.

“We have placed coloured circles in the courtyard [that will help them] to observe physical distancing. The teachers have been advised that when it reaches 8:45 am [they should escort] students from the courtyard and into the classroom. Additionally, I have advised teachers that whenever [they] notice that a child is feeling uncomfortable [they should] allow that child to go outside for a while. I have stipulated isolation areas for the students to [use, where they can] take off their mask and relax until they feel more comfortable,” Thomas added.

Even with the need to observe safety protocols, being at school was favoured over online learning. As Thomas explained, there had been a challenge in keeping some of the students focused during Zoom calls.

“I know the entire world is communicating virtually with Zoom, WhatsApp and other platforms, but somehow we just can’t eliminate the physical interaction. We have to have the physical with the virtual,” the principal stressed.

Her colleague Cole spoke about the challenge of managing students on the virtual platform.

“Some were late for classes, there was noise in the background and some were even asleep! Their attention span wasn’t as sharp as it would be in a face to face environment, “she said.

Scott, whose children are five and six years old, respectively, said it wasn’t an easy task keeping them focused during the online classes.

“What I observed was that their concentration levels weren’t up to par during the Zoom lessons. For a young generation like my kids they find it hard to focus and concentrate in front of a screen and also to grasp the material that is being taught online. That form of teaching is more suited to young adults and teenagers,” he said.

Student Rhayna Wellington, who is going into grade four when school resumes, said she had difficulty hearing her teacher during the online lessons.

“Whenever I’m in the Zoom meetings, most times she is very low or I can’t hear her at all,” she said. She was happy to have face to face lessons during summer school, saying it provided more opportunity for her teacher to clarify sections of the lesson she didn’t fully understand.

Teacher Eric Thomas noted that, in addition to technical challenges, students were less engaged when being taught online.

“Sometimes the system would go down and other times it would not work properly. This hampers the classes and we do not get to cover as much as we would want. We found that when we actually have the face to face interaction we get [students] to be more focused and they ask more questions in person than with the Zoom meetings,” he said.

For Principal Thomas, the extended summer school was a positive. She views it as being instrumental in helping her team bolster the school’s reputation of academic excellence. Rose Gordon Kindergarten and Preparatory is located in Richmond Park, Kingston 10.

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