Beyond the classroom: Cayman schools respond to COVID’s impact on students, families

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***Editor’s Note: The Office of Education Standards has completed its one-day ‘thematic visits’ to Cayman Islands schools. This is the fourth in a series of stories looking at the OES reports from a comprehensive perspective.***

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Cayman Islands schools are not limited to what occurs in the classroom – or via remote learning.

Rather, educators are responding to what students and their families are experiencing outside school. Similarly, the schools’ successes often depend on actions being taken beyond the classroom setting, according to reports from Office of Education Standards inspectors.

For example, a major challenge encountered by Sir John A Cumber Primary School was to provide training for parents so they could assist with their children’s home-based learning.

“Senior leaders, staff and some parents highlighted the issue that there were a significant number of parents that had lacked the literacy, numeracy and IT skills to support their children’s learning,” Senior Inspector David Baldwin said.

In response, the school developed an initiative called ‘Cumber University’ to “deliver sessions to parents within the school’s community to support adult literacy, numeracy and IT skills. These were to be delivered in the evening at school and the initiative had been met with considerable support from the community”, he said.

From January to April 2022, inspectors conducted one-day ‘thematic visits’ to 34 public and private schools across the Cayman Islands.

(Inspectors also visited UCCI to examine its dual-enrolment programme with CIFEC.)

Due to the pressures of COVID on schools, the one-day visits were held in lieu of more comprehensive inspections.

At several schools, inspectors noted “at-home” issues that could affect students’ performance at school. On the other hand, many schools reported they had significantly enhanced the quality and quantity of communication among staff and with parents during the pandemic.

At Clifton Hunter High School, staff said “a significant minority of students” had been experiencing emotional issues due to the pandemic, staff reported, linking that “to increased incidence of vaping and marijuana use.”

At Wesleyan Christian Academy, teachers said communication with parents had improved during the pandemic, but mask-wearing had resulted in a slight ‘distancing’ between teachers and students.

Staff also said students’ well-being had been negatively impacted by the effects of the pandemic outside of school.

“Staff reported anecdotally, that some students, particularly higher in the school, had lost a degree of ‘drive’ during the pandemic. Staff contributed this to Covid-related factors such as parents losing jobs, or illnesses in the family, that had led to a loss of focus or optimism for the future,” an inspector said.

At George Town Primary School, “Staff expressed the need for a national parent association to alleviate staff of some of the responsibilities associated with supporting parents and families during a pandemic or other adverse circumstances,” an inspector said.

Schools benefitted from having strong relationships with parents and among staff.

Unlike most schools, Layman E Scott High School students with special education needs did not suffer significant adverse effects due to COVID.

“This was attributed to close monitoring and the relatively small community on [Cayman Brac] that enabled close communication with all stakeholders and thus the ability to address issues swiftly and effectively,” an inspector said.

In their report on Cayman Prep and High School, inspectors made several references to the quality of communications among leadership, staff, parents and students.

“All stakeholders consulted during the visit expressed a strengthening in the depth and meaningfulness of communication between school and parents during the pandemic with staff happy to extend additional efforts to alleviate issues before they became greater problems in the future,” the inspectors said.

At Cayman Academy, the family atmosphere fostered by leaders helped staff to stay optimistic despite the additional pressures caused by COVID.

“The Senior Leaders and Counselling and Pastoral Staff had worked together to create a caring and compassionate school environment for staff and students. Staff expressed that the school community felt like family,” an inspector said.

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