If you look at a map of Jamaica, you’ll find Kellits High School right in the middle. We’re a rural school in Clarendon that is very much rooted in the community.
As a farming community there are certain realities we must contend with, for example many of the students assist in caring for their parents’ farms in addition to their schoolwork, and that was before COVID-19!
Many of the students who come here are slower learners, although we do have some fast learners. We have always had a range of learning needs and so flexibility is not new to us.
Offering different ways for children to learn
During COVID-19 we have had to blend online classes with distance style learning by delivering and collecting schoolwork in person and at station points in the community, which I also am involved in. But these efforts can never be enough as we have many students who live in remote areas.
It is not every student who wants to be reached. The other day I was on the road and saw two boys who as soon as they saw me, took one look and ran off, probably because they assumed, rightly so, that I wanted to give them schoolwork!
Of 866 students we are consistently reaching approximately 500. People might not realise how challenging this situation is, and there are various factors to deal with, like the inconsistent internet services – also, there is something about when we reach 1pm in Kellits, often the electricity goes and so does the internet.
School community increasing its efforts
The school community has rallied support through our guidance counsellors from some past students have donated workbooks and cash for credit to help keep the children online and studying.
This summer is not going to be a normal one. We teachers are always preparing at this time, but right now we are looking at three different scenarios for back-to-school in September and planning three separate school timetables accordingly.
We are looking at splitting the school into a shift basis to deal with capacity issues. Then we are also considering online learning for those who have demonstrated their comfort with that, but of course maintaining face-to-face for those who either do not have access to internet and our slow learners. We also have to consider vocational students who must be able to do practical lab work.
Benefiting from NCEL distance learning course
The National College of Educational Leadership (NCEL) Virtual Instructional Leadership (supported by UNICEF) is one thing that has definitely helped. It has helped me to to approach things different virtually – like training the teachers to use a standard teaching and learning virtual platform and using digital assessment tools. So, we have a lot of homework to do this summer!
To capitalise on this we will be launching a school mobile app to revolutionise the way we do things at Kellits High to keep all our stakeholders updated from students to parents to teachers.
I want Jamaica to know that schools like us are doing our very best to try and reach as many students as possible come September.
There is no longer one way to run a school and certainly there is no one-size-fits-all approach that we apply to our students; and with COVID-19 protocols, this is a shifting reality with which we are all struggling to keep up. There are new ideas for education, new developments with the Coronavirus situation, and we’ll continue to watch and listen to the rest of the world as we plan.
What is UNICEF doing?
This post is part of a series looking at how COVID-19 is impacting children and families and those like Mr. Christie whose work it is to help them. Post your #COVID19diaries story to social media and tag @unicefjamaica to be featured. For more information about our response to COVID-19 assisting government and non-governmental organisations to protect the rights of children, and to access resources for parents, visit our webpage dedicated to this emergency: uni.cf/covid19ja.