Wallicco Forbes, 11, a fifth-grade student at Yellow Elder Primary School, was nervous about returning to school for the new academic year. He was among many other students around The Bahamas who had been out of the physical classroom for nearly seven months due to COVID-19, and found themselves returning to the classroom in a new educational normal, many without supporting electronic devices to log on to the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) virtual learning platform, electricity at home or reliable internet connectivity. But all those worries are off Forbes, a student at the Bain and Grants Town Community Virtual School Graycliff Campus.
The only thing he has to be concerned about is learning.
The Graycliff campus has allowed Forbes and approximately 70-plus youngsters between grades three and seven to return to school via the online platform without having to worry about devices, Wi-Fi connectivity, electricity or not having responsible adults at home during the day as their parents have to go to work.
Forbes, who has been on campus since October 5, said not having to worry about anything has given him more confidence at school. The nerves he felt about attending school at the Graycliff campus, he said, have also since gone away.
“School was closed for a long time, and I didn’t think I was going to be prepared. I didn’t think I was going to be ready or make it. Since I came here (Graycliff campus), they bring me back up. I’m happy and I’m ready,” said Forbes.
His mom signed up the youngster and his siblings for the Graycliff campus because they did not have supporting virtual learning electronic devices at home.
He said he now looks forward to going to school at the Graycliff campus.
“It’s actually nice,” said Forbes who attends school at the Graycliff campus with his sisters – Rolex Rolle, 10, and Astenia Forbes, eight – and the other students on a rotational basis. Some students attend classes three days per week; others attend two days per week. Those children who need extra assistance attend classes daily so that every effort can be made to assist them in catching up.
“We learn, we do our work and when it’s time to play, we play. Every day we learn something new.”
The children attend classes weekdays in the Humidor Churrascaria, which has been refashioned into a physically distanced classroom setting that seats two students per table, separated by plexiglass.
Students on the Graycliff campus come from Albury Sayle Primary School, Woodcock Primary School, T.G. Glover Primary School and A.F. Adderley Junior School, according to Felicia Carey, dean of the Bain and Grants Town Virtual School Graycliff Campus.
The Graycliff family partnered with Bain and Grants Town Member of Parliament Travis Robinson for the initiative.
Roberta Garzaroli, Graycliff public relations director, said her family was happy to make use of a space that they were not currently utilizing during the pandemic and lockdowns, as a center of learning for the children.
“We saw how difficult it was for Paolo’s (her brother) two boys who have every opportunity in the world to do virtual learning, so we tried to figure out a way to help these kids with no power, no internet and parents who can’t stay home and have to work. We have space not being used, we have internet and our staff is having a blast helping with the children,” said Garzaroli.
She contacted Robinson late one night to offer the space to conduct virtual school, and said that in less than a minute of the offer being made, Robinson had accepted.
The students afforded the opportunity to attend school on the Graycliff campus were selected based on the fact that they may have challenges with electronic devices and Wi-Fi at home, according to Carey. To be admitted into the Graycliff campus, parents had to sign up their children through Robinson’s constituency office.
Four teachers supervise and assist the students in the learning-conducive environment that’s been created. Lunch is also provided by Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant for the children.
One of the perks that children at the Graycliff campus will also be afforded, is the opportunity to learn to swim, taught by an MoE-certified instructor, as they will have use of one of the property’s two pools.
Swimming lessons are one thing Forbes said he is looking forward to.
When public schools went live on October 5 to begin a week of orientation, the students at the Graycliff campus faced challenges just like students joining in virtually from home, but the four teachers supervising and assisting the students stepped in to give the students supplementary work until the online kinks were rectified.
“We stepped in to find out students’ strengths, giving them supplementary work and talking with them one-on-one to build up their confidence, because a lot of them thought they wouldn’t make it,” said Carey.
Since the glitches were ironed out, Carey said the virtual platform has been working seamlessly and the children were able to log on and access their classes.
Owing to the different grade levels, students don’t have classes starting at the same time, so students are given supplementary work. Carey said they also take the time to speak with the children about their experience with COVID-19 and how they’re feeling, because, she said, the children are also feeling the mental weight of the pandemic.
The campus dean said the administration at the Graycliff campus ensures the children know that they believe in them and that they are stronger than they believe, and instills in them that they are smart.
“We want them to know that they are not where they live. They may come from stressful situations – but if they are here and learning, we have reached them,” she said. “They’re already coming from the lockdowns and the stresses from home with family – this environment is taking the weight off them.”
The children are all on rotation, and Dean said many of them would like to attend the campus daily, but unfortunately can’t due to space and adherence to physical distancing protocols.
Carey said they were grateful to Graycliff.
“To put the icing on the cake, Graycliff feeds them beautiful lunches and they also get to experience the campus.”
The students have toured Graycliff’s Heritage Museum, which opened in July 2014 and is the foundation of Graycliff’s Heritage Village. Located in the historically preserved Mountbatten House, opposite the Graycliff Hotel, the museum offers an in-depth look at the history and heritage of The Bahamas, ranging from prehistoric times to the present.
The students will also get the opportunity to tour the Graycliff Chocolate Factory, an educational experience during which they can learn about the chocolate-making process from bean to bar.
Representatives from Baark! (Bahamas Alliance for Animal Rights and Kindness) have also visited the campus to speak to the children from Over-The-Hill communities on how to deal with animals.
Dean said the Graycliff campus experience is also making a memory for the students. She said they will never forget they went to school at Graycliff, the historic, colonial mansion.
Garzaroli said her family (including parents, Enrico and Anna Maria, and brother, Paolo) was more than happy to make use of their unused space as a learning center for the children.
The children at the Graycliff campus are not only getting an academic education, but a culinary one as well. Since October 5, no meal has been repeated since they started, even though there are children different days.
They have feasted on delicacies such as chicken cordon bleu, a delicious French classic made of chicken breasts stuffed with ham and Swiss cheese, in fritter format. And of course, they all wondered what the little balls were.
Another day they dined on meat skewers and one mischievous boy – as boys are wont to be – started a rumor that it was alligator.
It gives Garzaroli pleasure to see how excited the children are to attend school at the Graycliff campus.