The content originally appeared on: The Anguillian Newspaper

Monday, January 10, was back-to-school day in Anguilla, as the Department of Education, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, gave the green light for school to resume in face-to-face fashion. Throughout the better part of last year, Anguilla’s students — like many across the region — remained restricted at home due to the prevailing Covid-19 contagion.

When the new school year began on September 6, 2021, the mode of educating continued to be through online classes.

An air of anticipation prevailed when parents and students were hoping that regular school would resume on Monday September 27, seeing that a portion of the Albena Lake Comprehensive School had returned to the classroom. But that was not to be. Later, however, a decision was made to reopen physical schools on October 4, and students of all six primary school were excited to hit the road again.

But students had only a couple weeks in their classrooms when, suddenly, a new wave of Covid struck, affecting mainly school children. As a result, all primary schools, as well as certain sections of the secondary school, went back under shutdown — students and teachers were required to engage themselves in online lessons via platforms like Google Classroom and Edmodo.

Now that schools have opened once again, the children are happy to be able to benefit from the long-awaited classroom settings. Teachers and parents, in particular, are even more pleased.
During the weekly Government Press Conference on January 10, 2022 — the same day that schools reopened — the Honorable Minister of Education, Ms. Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers, gave a overview of the on-again-off-again maze of openings and closures, as well as a few words of advice to parents: “It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “We have been trying for many months to get our children back to school, and today we have finally executed our plans to have all students returning to physical school.

“Of course, we reinforce the need to implement the necessary protocols with regard to Covid-19. Mask wearing is essential, and so is social distancing. In particular, where the children are unable to social distance in the classroom, we want to emphasise the need to wear masks. There is also the need to frequently sanitise hands and to have the custodians clean the classrooms regularly.”

She continued: “We have been constantly advising our parents to have their children vaccinated. The vaccine is currently available for students between the ages of 12 and 17. We impressed upon parents to have their children vaccinated, and we have been pairing that with keeping their immune systems strong.”

The Minister pointed out that nurses will be on hand at each school to have those children who appear to be symptomatic tested on site. She stressed to all parents and guardians that in the event a child shows signs of flu or flu-like symptoms, that that child should not be allowed to attend school, but should stay at home until he or she would have fully recovered.
The Anguillian visited each primary school early this week and found that, for the most part, the children and teachers are well in compliance with the prescribed protocols as stipulated by the Ministry of Health and Department of Education. We solicited a brief comment from each Principal (or Deputy Principal).

First, we spoke to the Deputy Principal of the Vivien Vanterpool Primary School in Island Harbour, Mrs. Jameisha Gardiner-Webster, who said: “I am extremely happy that we have opened again. During the time when the children were at home, we were involved in e-learning. But this presented challenges which were not allowing the children to benefit sufficiently.

“I am one of those teachers who wanted school to reopen physically because, since September [2021] we were not in regular school, which is so necessary. So, I am very happy that school has opened. At the same time, I am rather apprehensive of the children abiding with the specified protocols. We, at this school, are insisting that they follow the rules religiously.”

Next, at East End, we met with the Principal of the Morris Vanterpool Primary, Ms. Shauna Connor, who stated: “We are happy that we are able to return to school. We thank the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health for coordinating the decision to resume classroom activities at this time. Our children really need to be properly schooled.

“Despite these challenging times, that we are going through, it is my hope and prayer that, with God’s guidance, we can provide a supportive, cooperative and safe learning environment at school for our students and teachers.”

At the Orealia Kelly Primary, we asked its Principal, Ms. Marcia Brooks, for her views relative to her school’s reopening. She observed: “I am happy that we are back in school fulltime because, indeed, I think the children should be in school. Our children have settled in very well. We have over 80% of our students back in school so far, and for that I am very grateful.

“We have been conducting physical school, off and on, for about two years under stringent protocols. We are determined to continue sticking to these protocols now — for the health and safety of our children and our teachers. The Department of Education has put a school nurse in place now, and should any child show any symptoms that might be related to the Covid virus, the nurse will do a rapid test and that child will be sent home. If the test shows a positive outcome, then the child must isolate at home.”

Ms. Tricia Richardson of The Valley Primary School was the next Principal who spoke to us, and she observed: “Though there are Covid-19 challenges around us, I am very optimistic. The staff and I want to ensure that our students move on to mastering their learning, and the number of children that turned up for school, so far, indicates that they too are optimistic. It is noticed that they are happy to be in school again.

“We have all of the protocols in place, and the teachers and custodians are working hard to help the children to observe them. We need the support from the parents in this area, as well as making sure that their children are picked up in time after school — in order to avoid any clustering and congestion.”

The Anguillian team then visited the Adrian T. Hazel Primary, whose Principal is Tiffany Thomas. She reported: “We are all excited about returning to school after being home for so long with e-learning. We have learned a lot through e-learning, but we truly feel that the physical classroom setting is the best place for students to learn.
“We have quite a number of relatively new teachers at Adrian T. Hazel. Thus, the children are able to gain more from these new teachers through an actual physical classroom setting than by means of a remote e-learning platform. Further, a sound teacher/student relationship is easier built by being in the physical classroom rather than via e-learning. Teachers who love students love to be around their students.”

Tr. Tiffany further stated, “As far as the Covid-19 protocols are concerned, all of our students are in their classrooms and each child has his or her own space to facilitate the social distancing protocol. Besides, we have staggered breaks; the children do not play outside; we do prescribed temperature checks; the students sanitise their hands; we are wearing our masks; we are sanitising the classrooms, and the teachers do all they can to monitor the students in general.”

Finally, we paid a visit to the Alwyn Allison Primary School, in West End, where Ms. Electra Buddle is the Principal. She commented: “The teachers and I are very excited to be back out, having the children participating in school once again. We know how important and critical it is to have a face-to-face learning experience. We know that at home some of the children were not logging on to the e-learning platforms, and some, even though they were logged on, they were not doing their work.

“We have created spacious playing areas for the children. The only challenge we have had, so far, was to designate the children to their respective playing area. We are monitoring that very carefully. Each grade has its own designated play area. So, for example, a Grade 6 child cannot play in a Grade 5 playing space. In that way, if a Grade 5 child comes down with any Covid symptoms, the school nurse will limit her testing to all the contacts in Grade 5 without necessarily testing children in Grade 6.

“Additionally,” Tr. Tiffany said, “we follow all the mandatory protocols which include the wearing of masks and avoiding large assemblies, using designated exits, and playing at a certain distance away from each other.”

It is hoped that schools continue to be conducted without significant interruption — as has been the case in the recent past — considering the prevalence of the corona virus.