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Students’ well-being a priority as full classes resume

Photo source: St. Mary's College - Trinidad and Tobago

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

The Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) on Tuesday (April 19) disseminated ‘Creating comfort before completing curriculum: a return to school orientation/enhancement programme’, to guide principals on the transition to full physical classes.

The CEBM has recognised the need to listen to students and hear of their experiences during the pandemic and to show care and support. “We must engage in education management and in this a humane approach to welcoming our students,” the document stated. Children across the country returned to school en masse for Term III on Tuesday.

Virtual schooling was the norm from 2020 and the return to schools was done on a phased basis with priority given to students preparing for examinations.

The CEBM advised principals and teachers to focus on using the right vocabulary and positive affirmations. According to the guide, “Teachers need to let go of direct instruction and engage in practical activities that will build connectiveness among students. We need to be vigilant in reversing our behaviours: ‘catch students doing the right things (instead of the wrong things)’.”

The impetus for drafting a plan for students was Archbishop Jason Gordon. He visited the Rosary Boys’ RC last term and chatted with Standard Five students present, including some from Rose Hill RC, about how they felt returning to school. Some were happy while a few preferred to be at home.

On March 24, he attended and spoke at the Association of Catholic Principals Conference asking that Catholic schools engage in routines and rituals for slowly weaning students back into the frame of mind for learning, “recognising all the different experiences children had,” CEBM Chief Executive Officer Sharon Mangroo said.

She stated the Education Ministry’s guidelines for the full return to physical school has recommended the first two weeks of school Term III be a transition period. The Student Support Services Division of the Ministry will assist schools. Cognisant of the manpower limitations at the Division, Mangroo said, “we thought we should do something as well”.

A draft timetable was suggested for the first week of school with subjects being introduced incrementally. According to the CEBM guide, “The ideal approach will be projects where the learning process is seamless.” It stated, “There is need to know where a student is before moving forward.”

The uniqueness of the present time was noted with the student cohort comprising: new students in First- and Second-Year Infants; students moving on from Infants to Standard One, students returning to school—Standards Two to Four and Five, and students experiencing grief and trauma.

Schools must also respond to students’ fear, from loss of loved ones, contracting Covid-19, leaving the isolation of home to return to crowded spaces including schools.

“Because this is a special time, there is need for a special programme. It should not be like they went home for the weekend and are returning…Students and staff were away for a long period of time hence they must be reoriented.”

The “relaxed timetable” proposed by the CEBM includes: sharing stories of the Covid pandemic (journal these stories); getting reoriented to the school; engaging in life skills (emotional learning, conflict resolution, decision making, positive affirmation and attributes, meditation).

Other activities to reorient students: discussion on the meaning of each prayer recited on mornings, discussion on the National Anthem and School’s Pledge, School song, walks around the school, aesthetic project – planting and beautifying the school environment, good hygiene practices and getting feedback from parents.

Schools were cautioned about the ’missed opportunity syndrome’ where teachers feel they have to make up for lost tuition and rush to get back to work. “This approach, while motivated by passion and good intent, is plagued with foreseeable disconnectedness among students from schooling and a total ‘unintentional’ sabotage of our education system where students will not want to see work for the rest of their lives.”

Games and fun to start the term

“It was really a wonderful, wonderful day for them; we really missed them, and we are glad to have them back,” Principal of Rose Hill RC, Laventille, Charlene Ross-Quamina told the Catholic News April 19. The school kept students active doing puzzles and the day ended with an Easter egg hunt.

“They did a lot of deep breathing [exercises] today and walked around the school to reorient them.”

Students were encouraged to share their Covid experiences and exposed to a life skills programme and walked around getting familiar with their school environment. The Life Skills programme was introduced this term and will be implemented by teachers. Support will be given by the social worker and guidance officer assigned to the school.

Principal of Tunapuna Boys’ RC, Terrence Caesar estimated a 90 per cent attendance. He said the boys had settled in nicely. Day 1 was hectic as many pupils and parents arrived 8.15 a.m. Pupils were given a tour of the school.

Parents were teary-eyed as they watched their children especially the First and Second Year go off to classes. Caesar said parents did not leave immediately but waited at the school looking on.

He said he “took a page out of the Archbishop’s book” regarding his guidance on “total listening” at the meeting with principals. Caesar implemented with his staff then they would do the same with their students.

Both he and the Vice Principal had “one-on-one” chats with students during the day. He said no academic work would be done for the first week. The focus was on “fun activities” utilising Play-Doh, colouring books, and puzzles. Running races and football also took place.

Caesar said the layout allowed for the Infant classes and Standard One to have their own play space and the higher classes their own area.

There are 118 primary schools managed by the CEBM. Data from 33 schools across the country indicates a pupil attendance of 4, 914 out of 7,654.