When Melanie Lewis learned Xavier’s Lower School was giving parents the option of in person learning for kindergarten through second grade students for the new academic year, she immediately signed up her daughter.
Xavier’s offered parents a choice to have their children engage in face-to-face or remote learning.
Lewis said she chose face-to-face for Jaya Bridgewater, her six-year-old first grader, and wasn’t apprehensive about doing so at all.
“COVID-19 is something that is here and not going anywhere soon, so we have to learn to live with it, go about our daily lives and just take the necessary precautions,” said Lewis.
School commenced the academic year for CBE (Catholic Board of Education) students on Wednesday, September 9, with online learning.
On Monday, September 14, face-to-face learning started for some grade levels.
Students in kindergarten through second grade at Xavier’s Lower School have the option of face-to-face instruction.
St. Thomas More School and St. Cecilia’s School are offering face-to-face learning to kindergarten students.
Sts. Francis & Joseph School is offering face-to-face to Pre-K and kindergarten students.
Mary, Star of the Star of the Sea Catholic Academy resumed face-to-face on Monday, September 21, for Pre-K to grade two.
The times for face-to-face learning are 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on New Providence and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Grand Bahama.
St. Francis de Sales School will reopen its primary school with face-to-face for the entire primary school on Monday, October 5 the day public schools are scheduled to reopen with 100 percent online learning.
Lewis said she prepared her child to return to the physical classroom setting for face-to-face learning.
“We’ve been speaking about COVID-19 since it started. I let her know that she has to stay away from her friends and can’t play with them and hug them as she used to. And that she has to keep her mask on at all times, use her sanitizer and wash her hands frequently.”
The first case of the novel coronavirus was identified in The Bahamas on March 15, at which point schools were shuttered to face-to-face learning for the remainder of the last academic year. Lewis said she’s been speaking to her daughter about the new normal and protocols. She said Jaya knows what to do and will adhere to them in the classroom setting because they have been practicing what she has been preaching to her.
“I’m essential, so she understood when I came home from work, she could not touch me, and was already in the habit of staying away from people and not having play dates and visiting family and friends. She was already in a routine she understands.”
Lewis admitted there have been times she has had to give her daughter reminders.
At the same token, Lewis said she’s satisfied Xavier’s Lower School is doing everything to ensure her daughter’s safety.
Jaya has informed her mom that there are four boys and four girls in her class and that they’re all spread out. Each student has their individual desk and cubby, and are not allowed to share supplies.
Lewis has not seen the set up for herself.
“I haven’t been into the school because they don’t allow parents in the gate. We drop them off at the gate where they are sanitized, and they walk onto the grounds by themselves.”
Xavier’s has also afforded the students a relaxed uniform protocol in the new environment, allowing students to attend school in their physical education kit or sports-like attire, which Lewis also appreciates.
“Xavier’s has done a good job in what they did preparing the children for school,” said Lewis.
With the protocols implemented in preparation for the children’s return to the four walls of the classroom, Lewis said she would have no worries if the entire student population returned to campus.
“Honestly, if the whole school went back, I would still feel the same because Xavier’s has done a good job in what they did preparing the children for school. I want the kids to go back to school,” she said.
The option for Jaya and other students from kindergarten through second grade to engage in face-to-face learning at CBE schools was an about-face from an earlier directive from the CBE which had previously announced that all CBE schools would begin the 2020-2021 school year with virtual or remote learning on September 9, with the goal to commence face-to-face or in-person learning as soon as it was determined safe to return to campus.
Claudette Rolle, CBE education director, said the decision was made to begin face-to-face with the early learners on New Providence and Grand Bahama because it allows more opportunities for the constructive, kinesthetic approach to teaching and learning.
“There is more immediacy with giving guidance, help and feedback, and allows for increased social interaction to support language development,” said Rolle.
Some CBE schools are also offering learning pods designed for students who have no access to technology at home.
“The CBE learning pods are multi-grades. They serve students who have no access to devices or internet services at home, students whose parents have no support for them at home and children of essential workers,” said Rolle.
The CBE education director said some schools have two pods as no pod is allowed to have more than 12 students. The numbers range from eight to 12 students.
Rolle said as the time drew nearer to reopening, the CBE, which has oversight for the Catholic Board family of schools – Aquinas College, New Providence; Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Academy, Grand Bahama; St. Francis de Sales School, Abaco; St. Cecilia’s School, New Providence; Sts. Francis & Joseph School, New Providence; St. Thomas More School, New Providence; Xavier’s Lower School, New Providence; and Every Child Counts, Abaco – realized that a one-size-fits-all education model was not an option for CBE.
CBE is the second largest education system in the country, surpassed by the public school system.
“As a result of the uniqueness of each school, varied needs of each school community and what each student needs to succeed, and the variation in physical layouts of each school, it was incumbent on The Bahamas Catholic Board of Education to provide a variety of educational experiences and bottom-up options for all students,” said Rolle.
Lewis said remote learning for Jaya would also have meant more expenses incurred as she would have had to hire someone to stay at home with her, as Lewis’ father is off-island and her grandparents still work. She is also not a fan of virtual learning, describing what she went through to end the last school year as “stressful”.
Lewis, the daughter of an educator mother, said the end of the last school year also gave her a greater appreciation for educators and what they do.
“We underestimate a lot of what teachers do. And I have a greater appreciation for them and what they do.”
The CBE has not yet set a date for when face-to-face learning for other grade levels will resume for CBE schools on New Providence or Grand Bahama.
Rolle said they are still waiting for the “safety bell to ring”.
As of Saturday, The Bahamas had 3,838 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Of the islands on which CBE has a presence, New Providence had 2,757 confirmed COVID-19 cases; Grand Bahama had 628 confirmed cases; and Abaco had 135 confirmed cases.
In terms of actions, steps or upgrades made in preparation for the 2020-2021 school year, the CBE has trained teachers in Goggle Classrooms; installed hand sanitizing stations around campuses; installed signs reminding students to wear masks, to social distance and to wash their hands; and upgraded fiber optics internet at all their schools, except at St. Francis de Sales School.
In keeping with the CBE mandate to educate the whole child and ensure students grow and prosper spiritually, academically, emotionally and socially as best they can even during the pandemic and virtual learning, Rolle said the CBE implemented the traditional Opening Mass for teachers which was held virtually; monthly masses in schools which will be held virtually with students participating together on Google Classrooms; and schools are working on establishing and/or continuing clubs online.
“There have been some technical challenges with remote learning that are out of the control of teachers or parents (power outages, internet connection challenges especially in Grand Bahama), but for the most part it has gone well. The upper grade students and teachers are working fairly well because these students are better independent learners,” said Rolle.
“Generally, we are very pleased with the way our students and teachers have adapted to this style of teaching and learning. Each school team in its unique way continues the commitment of placing equal emphasis on the academic, intellectual, spiritual, mental, physical and social development of each child,” she said.