Story and photo by Lara Pickford-Gordon
“When it’s calm, it’s really calm but when it is not… it is really horrid.” This is how the principal of the Rose Hill RC School tried to describe the environment in which the school must function.
A shooting incident on September 6 made the school off-limits for a while and the results of the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) released September 9 had to be distributed at the Nelson Street Girls’ RC.
Principal Charlene Quamina told the Catholic News when she arrived at the Rose Hill in the morning, she was informed there was a murder before 6 a.m. She and a few members of staff were present at the school because laptops were to be distributed for children to access online classes. At around 2 p.m. she heard what sounded like firecrackers.
“A parent was there, she came to collect a laptop, and she pulled her child closer to her. She said ‘look, you not hearing the gunshots?’. Other persons there were breathing heavy,” she said. Quamina later found out the person killed was a relative of one of her pupils.
Rose Hill RC is “nestled in the community,” being located on La Coulee Street, between Schuller and La Resource Streets. The school is in earshot of vociferous quarrelling with ‘industrial’ language, and episodic fights and shootings occur.
Over the July-August vacation there was news about students who lost family members in killings. Earlier this year, the police came to collect footage from CCTV cameras on the periphery of the school because of a murder; coincidentally none were functional.
The feedback from on the ground was that Monday’s killing “is very serious”. She advised her staff to stay away. “We need to catch ourselves after what happened on Monday.” Virtual classes make this easier.
Officers from the Inter-Agency Task Force visit intermittently, and they are called when necessary. “The landscape is something that is not always peaceful, but students and parents see the school as their safety zone.”
The children are not detached from the environment. When there were face-to-face classes, another school official said, dealing with their issues and delivering the curriculum was a challenge.
The “Rose Hill RC School family” as Quamina refers to the team comprising teaching and non-teaching staff, tries to motivate and support the students. “To function in an environment, which also cause some trauma to the adults, the staff need to be motivated. We try to mitigate this by being current with research and engage in trauma and team-building workshops with the staff. However, nothing really prepares for the lived experience.”
Quamina says they begin each day with contemplative meditation, Bible verses and positive affirmations, the main one being— “I am God’s instrument of purpose”. Lectio Divina is done monthly, at the beginning of staff meetings.
A lot of effort goes into supporting the parents through collaboration with governmental and non-governmental organisations. A hamper drive is conducted for families with assistance from churches, other schools, organisations, and staff because “bread and butter issues” are realities.
“Some of our parents can’t look beyond that to education but they do see the efforts of staff.” Quamina met with parents “every fortnight” to foster close ties as a “Rose Hill family”. This resulted in 85 per cent of pupils being online.
From April 2020, the school used Zoom, then switched to Microsoft Teams last September through assistance from the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) securing licences.
Although many students have devices (32 are still in need), connectivity is not available for all. A few modems provided by the CEBM helped. The school had to try and locate a few students absent for extended periods and seek the assistance from the Ministry of Education’s Student Support Services Division.
If things do not settle down, Quamina anticipates the school population could be reduced significantly by as much as 50 per cent through transfers and non-attendance due to connectivity issues. There are presently just over 100 students registered.
For the new school term which started on September 6, 64 per cent of students were online, however she expected this to increase in coming weeks. There are parents who have to purchase weekly data plans for their children to get online using their phones.
Quamina keeps the positives in focus—committed and creative staff, good attendance by parents at meetings, and the hope of getting all students connected remotely.
When things happened in the community that create a stumbling block, the staff got back up and continue “moving forward,” she said.