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School may be closed but I still leave the house at 6 am every day for work at Union Gardens Infant School. In the community where the school is situated I asked to take over a community blackboard and then painted another where I write each day’s schoolwork – on one for the four-year-olds, and the other for the five-year-olds. I then travel to four other communities to repeat the process on their notice boards.
It’s hard work in this heat and by the time I get home by 10 am, I need a rest! But by then, parents and children, while still social distancing, can keep learning – by writing down the schoolwork in an exercise book or taking a photo. Meanwhile, I am starting to attend to the queries of parents and children from my class.
We are trying to keep this as normal possible for them. Like this school in Westmoreland, we found our own way to continue to mark a register. Children, through their parents, must show proof of at least one piece of work per day or be marked absent from class.
Initiative embraced by community members
At the start, people were just curious. They were wondering: why is she painting the wall black? Some asked if I had permission. They didn’t see the strength of it but then they saw me coming back each day; and parents and children following after.
From that point people started making wonderful, pleasant and positive comments. Other parents want me to paint blackboards in their communities and visit each day with my chalk! I hope that this can spread throughout Jamaica – like a virus, but a good one!
I believe that a simple blackboard like this, in a designated spot for each community, is a practical way to ensure that every child can access educational content. Parents and students from other schools are already coming to Union Gardens to see and use our blackboard.
COVID-19 calls for creative teaching
Honestly, if I could just put up an electronic billboard in Half-Way-Tree then I would. But we don’t have the budget, and neither can I fall over and play dead. I just had to do what I had to do.
In my efforts to keep toiling on “I had to do with my might what my hands find to do.”
Parents are happy because a lot of them couldn’t understand how to use online learning platforms, but when you do it like this it makes it clear.
And the blackboard is only half of what I am trying to do. The other part is about teaching and empowering the parents to be teachers to their children within the home.
Children need hands-on learning
One thing I realised is that Jamaican children can’t just abruptly exit out of the traditional setting. They need that hands-on learning because they were used to the blackboard and the teacher as their physical guide hearing and seeing their instructions.
So, twice weekly I host a Parent Centered Virtual Classroom (PCVC) on Zoom to teach the parents how to be a substitute for me doing any given lesson to their children. Some of the lessons I might send by WhatsApp or use that app to explain it – to show how I would do it and make them more confident to teach their children.
I tell them their duty from birth was also to be a teacher. Now the situation with COVID-19 has brought them to rise to the occasion.
Parents embracing teaching role
Parents will just call or text me to reflect on how it’s working – was their child having challenges or did the child find this to be easy.
When they get it right with their child you hear them bragging, that they are so happy to have found this ability within themselves. Now they are like “I did it!” or “Miss, I never know I could teach!”
Union Gardens’ parents have flipped the script.
Solutions must fit children’s reality
Thinking about it, I was able to come up with this approach because I am not tech-savvy, and so I was more connected to the reality of the parents who lack internet access or digital skills. When the principal asked us for ideas on how to make education more accessible it was easier for me to think of practical ways to reach people like me!
As true Jamaicans I believe we must apply the words of anthem where it says, “stir response to duty’s call”. That part to me, in this time, is for every teacher to realise we can’t specialise, we can’t “if and but” – we just have to be proactive and do what is best for the nation’s children.
What is UNICEF doing?
This post is part of a series looking at how COVID-19 is impacting children and families and also people who are addressing their challenges. 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.