Well, the school year is quickly ending, and we barely had 45 days of the usual 180 days here at the school itself. The year was just starting, we had not even finished our first quarter when the news came: “All schools will be closed until further notice.”. Not unlike anywhere else in the world, the thought of closing schools came as a big surprise but the “further notice” portion was taken lightly; a couple weeks, maybe a month was the thought.
The doors to the building closed, but Colegio Bethel could not close itself off from caring for and continuing to educate its students. The days, weeks and months that followed the mandate to close all schools due to the pandemic have been nothing short of challenging. First, what do we do with the restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Education? How much applies to us as a private school? Secondly, having made the decision to continue…How will we do that with the restrictions of gathering, social distancing as well as the thought of putting our teachers and students at risk? By the grace of God my devotions and Bible studies were centered in the Book of James and I had even begun to memorize the first chapter. Being encouraged and strengthen by God’s word Colegio Bethel is facing the challenges.
High school and Junior high came under different regulations, the education process was to continue therefore online classes became a must. How will that happen without internet? How will that happen without a computer? We don’t even know what online classes entail!! Surveys went out to parents of all the students, teachers began to learn what “platforms” are and now terms like: ZOOM, MEET, Google classroom, Edmodo are thrown around as if they were a part of our everyday vocabulary. Great, junior high education continues, BUT suddenly reality of the situation comes to light. Having internet in the home could mean several things: internet data in phones, sharing Wi-Fi signal from neighbors or actual internet service! The homework assignments were sent to each student via internet and they were required to download the work and then when finished, upload it and send it off to the corresponding teacher. Easy, right? What if you did not have a computer to download it to? What if the telephone that has internet data is mom’s or dad’s and they don’t know how to read, or they don’t have any data left to download it or upload it when it was finished? As a result, many students were dropping off the radar screen! My heart ached for this group of students. Older laptops were serviced and given to those families who were able to receive internet service, and the WhatsApp application became the mode of transmission for homework and information for the rest of that group. Again, reality hit; those students in the WhatsApp group began to fail. Why? They had to read and copy all their assignments from the telephone screen…would you give your son or daughter your phone for the hours it would take to read and copy the material needed to do his or her homework? I don’t think so and neither did their parents. The “cost” of studying became too much of a challenge and the kids began to give up. My heart ached even more for this smaller group of students. Abiding by all the health and safety protocols, they come to the school every day and receive the materials and classes with me. The first month was difficult, they were so far behind and the curfew was so early that we did not have enough time in a day to get everything accomplished before they were faced with their next set of exams. By the grace of God and all the hours they put in studying and doing their homework they more than passed their next set of exams…they had the best results on their math exam with the lowest being 1.5 points from 100%. And they won first place in the Independence Day competition. Their self esteem has increased, and they talk about what they want to do in the future!
Elementary and Preschool came under a different regime, though for all of them internet with all its challenges is a must. All the parents willingly downloaded into their phones the WhatsApp application and “education” continued. For lack of resources on both sides, parents and teachers, online classes were not an option. How do you keep these two age groups interested in school when they can’t come and be with their teacher, play with their classmates and run out their energy in the playground? We started by putting together packets of educational activities for each grade level that could engage the whole family and the teachers would deliver them to each student’s home; after all, this would only last about a month and we would all be together again at the school! It quickly became evident that continuing their grade level was necessary, therefore, simply playing educational games was not enough. The teachers began filming short (5min.) videos of their class lesson and preparing related homework assignments. The videos were delivered via WhatsApp to the parents and the teachers delivered the packets of homework. With what seemed to be a lack of interest on the part of many parents and students, discouragement began to creep in, but quickly dissipated thinking about the family situations. These little kids had been forced to stay inside the confines of their tiny little homes for months. The majority don’t even have a yard to go outside and play in. Mom’s were not used to having them all inside the house 24 hours a day and might I add that most houses consist of 2 rooms big enough for the beds and their eating area. Everyone is cooped up; most kids want to come back to school and most moms want them to! Elementary classes are now online 4 times a week. The preschool teachers faithfully deliver appropriate educational activities to help them finish their school year at the level they should be, and their students get to virtually see them and their classmates once a week as well. Challenges still are great; however, the kids are happier virtually interacting with their friends and teachers.
This pandemic gave us an “expensive” dress rehearsal in many areas. We have learned a lot, cried a lot, prayed a lot and have hopefully truly grown a lot. Please keep us in prayer for all the changes that need to be made for the coming year and for the end of school year activities that for the sake of the students need to be dealt with…grades, promotions and graduations.
We thank you Proyecto Fe family for all the love, care, concern and support of us here at Colegio Bethel.