The United Way Trinidad and Tobago (UWTT) continues to advocate for the return of in-person school for primary school children once the public health safety measures are in place of wearing masks, washing hands, physical distancing, and good ventilation.
Its model project, Phase Two: Support to the new norm, which began at St Mary’s Mucurapo Boys’ RC Primary School, is now complete. The purpose of the project was to transform six classrooms on the first floor to improve the thorough ventilation in the classrooms to address the fourth Covid-19 safety fundamental- ‘open better than closed’ with climate-friendly action.
Vincent Pereira, Vice Chair, UWTT, in a YouTube video via United Way TT spoke to global data that absent in-person schooling and learning loss is an issue.
“Schools for these youngsters serve a bigger purpose than that or an additional purpose to that: enabling development, they are protective environments, they are connection environments for these youngsters,” Pereira said.
Phase Two, launched in July 2021, was developed to help prepare schools and children for blended learning, an approach that leverages both digital tools and face-to-face instruction and is built on the premise that students will be attending classes in school buildings.
“They need that face-to-face interaction. They need to have the experience of a teacher being physically in the classroom with them and they need to have interaction with other students. Those who have brothers, sisters, and cousins nearby, they’re coping a little bit better, but the others, they just need to be back to school,” said Sharon Mangroo, CEO of the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM).
Prior to the ventilation programme, St Mary’s Mucurapo RC—which has just over 250 students— had enclosed classes with air conditioning. This, according to Afesha Catterson, the school’s PTA President, could not have fallen under the scope of the new normal being listed for children to attend school.
“So, with this project our children were able to access fully ventilated classrooms and seating arrangements through this project,” she said.
By restoring the original open design of the school, the model project is also taking advantage of the natural assets as a tropical country.
Sean Leonard, architect at CORD Limited explained that the process involved removing vent blocks to ensure more natural light and breeze via the northeast streets, but at the same time, allowing protection from rain, “which is just hopefully just more uplifting.”
In stressing the connectivity with each other and the environment, Mangroo underscored, “I think that signals to our students and our teachers how important they are and how important having a healthy environment, having air that is circulating throughout the school, how important it is.”
Speaking with Catholic News subsequently, Mangroo explained that while it will be ideal for the ventilation programme to be conducted in all RC schools, “the funds are not available for such an extensive programme at this time.” She said that corporate sponsorship to continue “will be very welcome.”
The UWTT has been collaborating with several schools on a programme to improve student literacy. St Mary’s Mucurapo Boys’ RC is one of those schools. More recently, the UWTT also worked with five RC schools in their ‘New Norm’ programme to support readiness for the physical reopening of schools.
Phase One included improving hand washing capacity at key access points, improving access to communications materials, improving understanding of mask wearing through access to masks, and encouraging universal mask wearing.