After shock, principal guides Maria Regina school through covid19 fear

Maria Regina Grade School closed for ten days from March 12, 2020 to be sanitised when a student's parent became the first case of covid19 in TT. PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE -
Maria Regina Grade School closed for ten days from March 12, 2020 to be sanitised when a student's parent became the first case of covid19 in TT. PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE -

Newsday continues a series on the arrival of covid19 in TT, what it was like a year ago, and how things have changed since then. Principal Elizabeth Crouch speaks about when she got the call that the parent of a student was the first person to contract the virus.

The principal of Maria Regina Grade School in Port of Spain had been paying attention to the international news and was aware of the spread of covid19 in schools, especially in Seattle and Canada.

Elizabeth Crouch saw that schools were closing and school administrators were exploring online options. With that in mind, she did some preliminary investigations into online schooling.

She asked the school’s information technology teacher to follow up on learning management systems, including Schoology. When she got the shocking news that a parent of one of her students had covid19 and the school had to be closed temporarily, she was ready to spring into action.

“I was at home when I got the call from the Minister of National Security. I was on a conference call with (Chief Medical Officer, Roshan) Dr Parasram, and Minister (of Health Terrence) Deyalsingh so right away I said to myself, ‘What is this?!’ It was really a shock.

“They said they needed to let me know a parent of one of my students has been identified as patient one. But they were very good. Very calming and letting me know what the next steps were.”

That step was to close the school for ten days to have the buildings sanitised. By 7 pm on Thursday March 12, 2020, she had informed the parents of the students of the situation.

She said, at the time, not much was known about covid19 so there was a lot of fear. Many parents and teachers were concerned about the wellbeing of the parent with covid19 and his family. But most parents wanted to know the school’s next step, and what it meant that the school had to close.

The school was sanitised the next day.

“They were professional and thorough in their hazmat suits. I don’t think a living thing remained by the time they were through.”

In this September 2020 photo, Jeremiah Auguste, a student of Maria Regina Grade School, his virtual classes with his tutor and classmates, at his home. Maria Regina turned to online learning platforms Schoology and Zoom to make sure children continued to learn during the covid19 pandemic. PHOTO COURTESY SASHA CREED
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People could not enter the school so all the students’ possessions, including books, stationary, and jackets, remained in their desks. It was only during the third term that teachers packed each student’s belongings into individual bags for parents to collect in shifts.

By that Monday, the Prime Minister had announced the closure of all schools in the country.

“Thereafter we put in motion the preliminary discussions we had with what would become our providers. As a private school we have to remain viable and provide opportunities for our parents’ children to continue learning. We immediately signed the contract with Schoology and they had Zoom as an add-on.”

The teachers were trained virtually during the Easter holidays and they trained those who could not make it. So, by the time the third term opened in April, they were ready.

However, teachers had to create a lot of content because, initially, most of the children’s text books were in the school building.

She said online learning was not just about lecturing via zoom. Teachers had to engage the children in content, give them the opportunity to see the teacher, do “board work” using various programmes, and carry out exercises that would let the teacher know whether students understood what was taught.

Crouch noted that other private schools had to wait months to purchase Zoom and Schoology because of the demand. And though they were ahead, Maria Regina still had to pay for the learning system, upgrade computers, buy styluses, and more.

“Our school fees were stretched to the limit to pay for all these things but we survived, through just barely. I consider what happened in March to easily be the greatest challenge of my entire educational career.”

She said the school kept the lines of communication with parents open and it got a lot of parental support. However, what was and continues to be the problem, was that children in a primary school setting need to be supervised. This is a challenge to parents who leave home to work, as well as those who work from home.

Despite the various challenges, she was pleased with the progress all parties made since then.

“I think, if we had not been paying attention, it would have been terrible. It would have been a very abrupt break because then we would have had to decide the next steps to take.”

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