Private schools’ return-to-campus plans

Parents of students at private institutions preparing their children’s return to the classroom for the new academic year, will be doing so on campuses offering new learning models, and that will look different from what they were used to, as schools revealed their return-to-campus plans for students. For many students, they will be returning to schools featuring a combination of in-person and online learning.

In a heightened protocol world amid COVID-19, students will be returning to environments where everyone will be mandated to wear masks, there will be staggered start and dismissal times, physical distancing will be enforced and students will not be allowed to remain on campus when school lets out for the day.

Some schools that will offer face-to-face learning have instituted movement on campus to be single-file and in one direction. In other situations, students will not move from a dedicated classroom, but the teacher will instead come to them.

Many schools have also nixed general assemblies and suspended community service and sports until further notice.

In some instances, particularly the younger years, students are to remain seated at their individual desks and across the board will not be permitted to share food, drinks or utensils.

Many schools are advising that parents ensure their children bring a packed lunch with them, even though some schools will offer limited grab n’ go/packed lunch options from lunch vendors.

Catholic Board of Education

All Catholic Board of Education (CBE) schools will begin mandatory orientation for every grade level September 9 to 18, giving students and parents a chance to get used to the new COVID-19 safety procedures in preparation for the official reopening of all schools on September 21, according to Claudette Rolle, director of Catholic Education.

Beginning September 9, each day, one or two grade levels, depending on the school and enrollment size, will have orientation, said Rolle.

CBE, the largest private education system, with oversight for Aquinas College, Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Academy, St. Francis de Sales School, St. Cecilia’s School, Sts. Francis & Jospeh School, St. Thomas More School, Xavier’s Lower School and Every Child Counts, has plans that will allow for face-to-face learning this fall.

“The plan includes measures like mandatory face masks, temperature checks, sanitization and reduced class sizes.” 

Additionally, consideration for parents who wish to  have the virtual learning option, but still remain attached to a Catholic school, CBE said, is being drafted.

 “If conditions in the country change, CBE will revert to virtual learning for all students,” said Rolle.

Margo Gibson, mother of Jalin Gibson, 14, who will enter 10th grade in the fall at Aquinas College, said she’s not prepared to have her child engage in face-to-face, in-classroom learning in the fall as COVID-19 cases continue to spike.

The Bahamas had 989 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, August 11, with 446 cases on New Providence and 438 on Grand Bahama.

Double-digit cases have been confirmed on Bimini, with 45; Abaco, with 30; and the Berry Islands, with 12.

Exuma had four cases; Cat Island, three, Eleuthera and Inagua, one each; and there were nine pending cases.

“Not in these conditions,” Gibson told The Nassau Guardian. She said she is more than ready for her son to engage in virtual learning for the first semester of the new school year, as he begins his Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) course of study. She said she doesn’t mind paying the full school fees.

“At the end of the day, I just want my child to be safe – if that means he will be home for the first term virtually.”

The Gibsons were among thousands of students and parents thrown into virtual learning at the start of the final semester of the last school year after the first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed in-country on March 15. She said virtual learning required discipline on both their behalf.

“We were both in an unfamiliar territory. It required discipline and dedication on both our parts – he was learning at home and I was working from home – and somehow my son and I were able to go through it together. But, at the end of the day, it was comforting to know we were in the four walls of our home and not exposing ourselves to the virus,” she said.

St. Augustine’s College

St. Augustine’s College (SAC) plans a phased reopening over five days for its students, beginning with an on-campus orientation for seventh grade on September 18 and a start date for seventh grade students on September 21. Grade eight’s start date is set for September 22; grade nine, for September 23; and grades 10 through 12 are set for September 24.

SAC shared three instructional models – face-to-face instruction, blended (a combination of face-to-face and virtual) learning and full online learning, which it said will be a full day schedule and not shortened as in the past semester, and that each student should have at least a personal tablet and will receive a school-assigned email.

In preparation for face-to-face instruction, Principal Sonja Knowles said, all classrooms were sanitized and arranged with desks facing the same direction. To adhere to the 20-square-foot per person requirement, she said, classroom capacity will be determined by student enrollment and that school deposits/payments are due on September 1.

SAC’s plans for the new school year were revealed in a letter to parents/guardians, dated August 1 and signed by Knowles, which advised parents of the need to be flexible and ready to adapt to ensure the safety of staff and students.

“While we would prefer the face-to-face instruction, we are aware that we may need to change to one of the other two platforms should the situation call for it,” said Knowles in the letter.

Grades seven and eight students will remain in their assigned room and the teacher will move between classes. Because of the options/electives for grades nine through 12, where possible, students will move to classes while observing social distancing. Movement on campus, Knowles said, will be single-file and in one direction.

In specialty classrooms, acrylic partitions, she said, will be installed between each computer cubicle. Computer stations will be sprayed with disinfectant between class sessions.

The principal said the calendar would be adjusted so that they have the full number of school days. For the first semester, the mid-term break in October will not be added to the calendar and the end date for the first semester will be December 18.

SAC’s heightened hygiene protocols include instituting student campus entry and exit points. Students must go directly to their homerooms, and parents/visitors will not be allowed entry to campus during drop offs.

Students can also expect to have their temperature taken before entering the campus and any student presenting with an elevated temperature, the school said, will be isolated and their parents contacted.

Queen’s College

Queen’s College (QC), which had initially announced it would go through a phased reopening September 1 to 7 offering face-to-face instruction for Foundation Years, blended instruction for Primary Years and blended instruction for high school, has reversed its decision.

A letter to parents/guardians signed by Principal Reverend Henry Knowles, said QC will now reopen school in September using a full remote learning environment in all school sections.

“In our recently published road map for the safe reopening of school 2020-2021, we highlighted the instructional model that each section of Queen’s College would follow was contingent on the current state of the country in relation to COVID-19. Since the release of this document, The Bahamas is experiencing an exponential increase in COVID-19 cases and we are under national lockdown protocols, which may extend for several weeks. Based on these ongoing conditions, we will now reopen school in September using a full remote learning environment in all school sections,” said Knowles.

With the new direction, he informed parents that Google Classroom will be their main online instructional platform for all sections of the school. All students are expected to receive a ‘qccomet’ email account, along with efficient communication and online support. He said an academic technology coordinate will oversee training and support for staff, students and parents in order to successfully implement and use Google Classroom.

Stacy Mackey, mother of 10-year-old Larry Miller who will enter sixth grade in the fall, said she’s comfortable with the new approach sent out from the school.

“I am very comfortable with it based on the fact that I would not have been comfortable with a blended approach, granted that he has asthma. “If the numbers had stayed stagnant or hadn’t increased, I would have been comfortable with the blended approach,” said Mackey.

Prior to QC reversing course, Mackey was considering virtual learning for her son.

St. Andrew’s International School

In a communication to parents addressing its initial return-to-campus plan, dated June 8, St. Andrew’s International School (SAIS) said they were making ready for students to return to school in late August, and hoped to be able to deliver face-to-face, but that remote learning or a hybrid/blended approach remained possibilities, depending upon government directives.

The communication signed by Principal Gordon McKenzie said the school must be ready to adapt to new situations as they arise, as they did in March when they were first forced to switch to remote learning.

“In order to address such uncertainty for students, faculty/staff and parents, and to ensure the school is best placed to respond to developments, we have created an initial return-to-campus plan that details their challenges as we prepare for reopening,” said McKenzie.

Michelle Allen-Ferguson, mother of a 10-year-old student who will be entering fifth grade in the fall, said she is comfortable with her daughter returning to the campus as it’s a small school.

“They have not determined if that (face-to-face, in classroom learning) will happen. They were saying August 31, but [nearer to that date we will know] whether it’s virtual or not. But if they were to decide returning was an option, I would be happy,” said Allen-Ferguson.

In SAIS’ plan for students returning to learning in the classroom, possible modifications included: health evaluation/personal protection equipment (PPE) for everyone arriving on campus; limited access for visitors to campus; distancing between classes or dedicated classrooms; regrouping of students (possibly including part-time attendance to limit numbers); reduction in the number of different teachers a student will see; staggered drop off and pick up times; ongoing health screenings in accordance with government directives and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; as well as increased deep cleaning of rooms and spaces.

Kingsway Academy

Kingsway Academy is set to resume school on September 7, according to a letter to parents dated July 27 and signed by Gina Ferguson, elementary principal, and Deborah Johnson, high school principal.

Students in K3 through grade six will attend school every day for in-person instruction. They are also offering the full remote learning option for the grade levels.

Grades seven through 12RT will follow a hybrid learning program in which they will attend school on alternate days. And the letter also advised that students will participate in regular full school days on the days they are in school. On alternate days, when students are not in school, the letter said they will be given online supplemental instruction and assignments via Edmodo from the teachers of the classes they attended while at school on the previous day.

Grade 12AT will attend school every day for face-to-face instruction.

All high school students, school officials said, must have their own functioning electronic device – preferably a laptop, notebook or desktop computer with WiFi connectivity for use within the hybrid learning. The same, they said, applies for elementary students in the event government once again mandates the closing of schools and they must return to full remote learning.

Tosheena Robinson-Blair, the mother of a 16-year-old and a four-year old, said she’s more comfortable with her teenaged daughter returning to the classroom than her toddler son.

“At 16, she (her daughter Sierra) knows proper hygiene practices – what to do, what not to do, if people aren’t observing [physical] distancing. Meanwhile my four-year-old (Roman), I do want him to return to the classroom, but he is going to be running around acting crazy and touching everything and into everything.”

Robinson-Blair said she and Roman’s father are waiting for the last minute to determine whether their toddler will enter K5 in the fall.

“Sierra is returning no matter what,” she said of her senior. “I have the ability to teach [Roman] and there is a possibility I may keep him home until January.”

Nassau Christian Schools

Nassau Christian Schools (NCS), in their communication to parents, has its school set to open on Monday, September 14, utilizing in-person or blended learning, but said parents should always be prepared to revert to remote learning at any time.

Wee Wisdom (K2 to K5) students will engage in face-to-face, as school officials said tots benefit greatest from this type of instruction. And that each student will be assigned his/her own personalized workspace, observing social distancing standards, and that shared tables will no longer be the format.

Elementary students in grades one through six will engage in blended learning with students following a two-day cycle, rotating between face-to-face classroom instruction and remote learning days; high school (grades seven through 10), blended learning with students following a two-day cycle, rotating between face-to-face classroom instruction and remote learning days; and high school (grades 11 to 12), face-to-face instruction Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday with Wednesday being teacher-directed: virtual or face-to-face instruction.

All students will remain classroom-based for the duration of the day (teachers will move to classrooms).

NCS said their reopening plan prioritizes the health and safety of the campus community while protecting and supporting their educational mission of academic excellence.

In hygiene protocols adopted by the school, NCS staff will temperature check each student at all points of entry and they said students must go directly to their homeroom upon arrival; parents will not be permitted on campus during drop offs.

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor. Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics. Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.

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