For 10 primary school-aged children selected because of their vulnerability to “falling through the cracks”, The Bahamas AIDS Foundation has established a safe, supervised study center for them to access their lessons virtually, in the era of COVID-19, according to Camille Lady Barnett.
The children are transported to the Foundation, Monday through Friday, where they are supervised by tutors during school hours. They also work with the same tutor daily, and follow their virtual classes with the tutor sitting beside them.
“Permission was sought from the competent authority to have 10 students from our outreach program to spend the school day accessing their virtual classroom from our office. We got permission to have only 10 children because of limited space. We selected the 10 based on their vulnerability to falling through the cracks because of no internet, no one to supervise their work or even to watch over them,” said Barnett.
Foundation officials said like so many in the community, the ability of many of the participants in their outreach program to learn, suffered tremendously as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The difficulties encountered, they said, include food insecurity, access to the internet, working space, suitable adult supervision and assistance with the technical aspects of the virtual learning platform.
In response, the AIDS Foundation set up the safe, supervised study center for the primary school children to spend the school day engaged in their virtual lessons. They are kept in small groups (bubbles according to grade levels) and interact with the same tutor (adult) every school day.
She said another important factor they took into account was the children’s age.
“We felt as primary school children, they were especially vulnerable and needed to be in a safe, supervised space.”
The students are picked up from their homes in a borrowed church bus to allow for them to be physically distanced. Their temperatures are also taken before they leave home. If a child has a temperature or appears to be ill, Barnett said they are not taken to the Foundation. Each child also has to wear a mask. If they do not have a mask, the Foundation provides them with one.
The children arrive at the Foundation between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. and have to wash their hands and sanitize, before going to their assigned spaces. The children have a morning break around 10:30 a.m. and are given a snack. Their lunch break is somewhere between 12 noon and 1:15 p.m. during which they are given a hot lunch prepared by the Foundation’s cook, which they eat at the desk where they access their classes.
The children also had to engage in a COVID-19 healthcare protocol workshop on the practice of mask wearing, sanitization and social distancing, to “hammer home” the importance of it all.
“The kids have adjusted well,” said Barnett. “Having the tutor beside them makes them more focused.”
Barnett said the Foundation is able to run the study center for the children because of three donors, which enabled them to provide the children with devices/computers in September.
According to Barnett, as soon as the children started taking their lessons at the Foundation, it was an improvement because the children were being engaged in their lessons as opposed to sitting out and “falling through the cracks”.
“There has been some evidence of academic improvement, but not all kids have improved [as] they were operating at a disadvantage. It will take a while to catch up,” she said.
In many cases, she said, from March through June, the children were not able to access Ministry of Education classes, as they did not have digital devices, so the Foundation delivered school work to them when they delivered groceries once a week. The school work was in turn picked up in the same manner and given to the tutors who graded them and sent more work out.
The students are transported home at the end of the school day.
“We know that there are others who could benefit from this support but we do not have the space to have them ‘socially distanced’ nor do we have the resources (financial and manpower),” said Barnett.
The monthly cost to operate the program for the 10 children, she said, runs into $11,000, taking into account the five-tutor complement, along with the social worker, case aide, cook, janitor and IT (information technology) person who also assists with the children’s lessons.
Barnett said the children are also delighted to take their lessons at the Foundation, as it gives them an opportunity to see their friends.
“The little kids at the Foundation are like a family. They have been a part of the program and known each other almost from birth.”
All COVID-19 health protocols including mask wearing, social distancing, hand sanitizing and washing, temperature checks, and sanitizing frequently touched areas and objects multiple times a day are followed. The children stay in their assigned bubbles while they access their virtual classrooms as well as during their breaks. The Foundation’s social worker and case aide remain in contact with guardians/parents concerning the health statuses of family members as it relates to COVID-19.
For the last 10 years, the Foundation has operated an outreach program for children and adolescents infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. The program is comprised of three components – after-school tutoring, psychosocial intervention and medical support.
During the pandemic, the Foundation has received assistance from the Credit Suisse Foundation, First Caribbean International Bank, J.S. Johnson, Open Current and the Securities Commission as well as the Errol Brown Foundation and the general public.
The Foundation is continuing to appeal for the assistance of additional volunteer tutors with teaching experience to assist the students.
Although the Foundation has been unable to hold its primary fundraising event this year, the Red Ribbon Ball, it is seeking donations through its Let’s Not Attend and Fun Run Walk Cycle campaigns.
In this difficult economic environment, they say any donation would be helpful in enabling the work of the Foundation to continue. Further details can be obtained by visiting the Foundation’s website at www.bahamasaidsfoundation.org or calling 242-325-9326/7.