Coping With Coronavirus Pandemic; Green Hills Academy’s Incredible Initiatives

We are really worried about making sure the students are prepared and making sure that they are ready, wondering if we can come in to take those. That’s pretty stressful, because the kids need these exams to go to university next year. We might be closed for these two weeks or we could be closed for 2 months.

Everyone is looking for what to do to remain actively engaged during this difficult time of the COVID 19 global pandemic.

A quarantine, a social distancing, is taking toll on people who are socially not used to it or even trained to cope up with the new lifestyle.

Businesses are also thinking outside the box and far from the box. The pandemic is pushing minds beyond the edge to think and create ways of continuation while their workforce is only virtually accessible.

After the immediate closure of schools across the country last week; suddenly disrupting their academic calendar and leaving schools in confusion and shock, some schools are becoming innovative and proactive to keep engaged with their students’ community.

One of them is Green Hills Academy.

The school, with over about 1500 students, has continued providing lessons through free resources and subscriptions for remote learning and homeschooling.

The school has began providing remote learning in a structured environment through a curated guide with the help of parents during this quarantine.

The Head of School, Lisa Biasillo, spoke to Taarifa. She explains how the pandemic has affected the school, the students’ community and the faculty. She tells us what the school has done in response.

How have you been affected?

It is a challenge. We have had to be very responsive in the situation. It has changed almost daily. At first we were just exercising extra precautions. Before, there was a case in the country, then after that we found out there was another case. We had put new protocols in place. But before the kids could even come to school, we found out that schools have to be closed. We have had to develop like three or four different sets of protocols to respond to each set of situations as they happened. It has been such a dynamic situation and the situation is kind of changing everyday.

So that’s how it has affected you?

Yeah, it has impacted us in a lot of ways because we have a staff member that tested positive. It means that we have not been allowed on campus. That presented a very big challenge for us because we originally planned to have staff come in this week for additional training and pick up materials and to pick up devices and to get certain things to them and use the internet at school, which is very good. And then after we had a case, obviously the government said we can’t gather everyone in the school. We had to close completely even for staff. We were kind of were put at a disadvantage, where we had to respond really quickly and prevent people from coming in. Prior to that, we had not planned on how to respond if one of our members is affected.

Has Green Hills Academy ever had a thought of contingency measures in a time of a crisis or pandemic?

We have had emergency plans. We started putting emergency plans in place because of Ebola.  Last year, we spent a lot of time preparing for an emergency. But what happened after we got our first case, the government shut the schools. We did not know we had a case yet. There was a delay between the first person and then our staff member. At that point the government said that our staff could still come in for training and to use the resources, to use our Internet at work. So that’s what we planned for and then on Sunday evening, we found out that we had a staff member test positive and then we had to change our whole plan. Now we’re half, we have to deliver training to staff from the comfort of our homes, which is a challenge.

You were swept off the carpet?

Exactly, it changed everything, because some don’t have a device at home or some people their internet is different. Some people have their children at home with them. They’re trying to do childcare, we are physically apart so we can just sit together and and talk and have a conversation and do our trainings. That changed our whole situation. Obviously Green Hills is in a different situation. So for safety, we can’t can’t engage That’s been a bit of a challenge.

Have you found every person who was in contact and got them tested?

We followed all the Rwanda Biomedical Center advice. What we did was to notify everyone that was exposed. And then if anyone is sick from the exposed group, they’re encouraged to get tested, and the Rwanda biomedical center is currently tracking each level of exposure and assessing the risk, and then they will reach out to individuals privately. Now that all the information is with the Rwanda Biomedical Center, they will communicate directly with individuals.

How have students, parents and staff acted in this crisis ?

 

They have been very supportive and very resilient and very open-minded. Every time we email families, we are getting lots of responses saying, you know, thank you for the communication. I think people are very happy that we’re being transparent. We are trying to be responsive, and keep them as informed as we can, and respond as quickly as we can. When we told people that we had a case, I think it was less than 12 hours later. We told everyone who had been exposed, we did it as quickly as we possibly could and of course in that time we were composing a list of who was exposed. We were working with the biomedical center to figure out next steps. So it happened very quickly, and we tried to get the information out to the community to prevent panicking. When people got this email, they didn’t know if they had come in contact with this person. Of course families and staff members were concerned so we had to work very quickly, together in tracking the movements of the infected staff member.

The remote learning resources. How are they working out?

It is working very well, our online learning has not started yet, it will be launched on Monday.  Teachers are building the platforms right now. We are using lots of different systems, like Google Classroom, Kojo learning environment, and different tools for learning. To do that right now, the teachers are getting all the classroom setup and doing all the training and we are upgrading all the accounts and then planning their lessons and recording videos of themselves for teaching. We have taken a few days to do that, and then it will officially go live on Monday.

Basically apart from the fact that the students are physically out of campus, the academic calendar is going to continue?

Absolutely, and we will continue to progress through the curriculum. This won’t be a lot of busy work, it will be actual learning, objective as we planned. We are calling it at-home learning instead of virtual learning, because it will be a mixture of screen time, but also none-screen time, because we have to limit the amount of screen time a child is exposed to depending on their age. It won’t be a kid sitting in front of a computer all day long because that would not be very healthy for children. We are still having PE classes at home and we are still having art classes. Some things will be done with textbooks, some will be done on screens and websites and videos, and then some things will be tasks that students need to physically do and they might have to record a reflection or take a photo of themselves doing it, but it will be a mixture of different things as we have to cater to different ages. We have some kids who maybe are only three or four years old. Then obviously the amount of screen time they can get is very limited.

Where are you getting this expertise to build up this infrastructure, is it locally, or you have help from somewhere else?

It is all coming from our staff committee, some are coming from our leadership team, some of it is coming from teachers that are really adept at these things and have already been using them, and then globally, the education community has been really amazing and there is lots of educational companies offering free resources right now, that they usually charge for, but because of coronavirus tons of additional sites and tools are free and there is a lot of different sites also doing free trainings and tutorials online as well. We are  taking advantage of those, we are using a bit of internal community expertise, or I should say actually a lot of community internal expertise. But then also coupling that with things we can find online being put out there just for school suffering from the coronavirus closures crisis.

What was the most disturbing part of this crisis, and how did you cope up with it?

I would say the most disturbing part is not knowing for how long we shall be closed for, right now it is for an initial 2 weeks period, and that can be easily extended, and all over the world it is being extended, depending on each country’s situation, but very well we could be out longer than two weeks. And then we start worrying about some of our classes that have big tests at the end of the year, so like IGCSE exams and IB exams, we are really worried about making sure the students are prepared and making sure that they are ready, wondering if we can come in to take those. That’s pretty stressful, because the kids need these exams to go to university next year. We might be closed for these two weeks or we could be closed for 2 months.

Have you got comments from students, may be calling saying they miss school already and, like emotional feedback from students?

I haven’t heard directly from students but the parents are saying that they are very grateful that the school is taking such strong precautions and being vigilant because everyone’s number one concern is to keep everyone safe, but number two, that they look forward to when things go back to normal, which everyone who is at home with children right now and I think out of work and having issues with childcare and trying to help their kids with learning. It’s a challenge for the whole community as it is a challenge for the teachers to deliver the lessons online. It’s going to be a challenge for the parents to support their children. Kids need social interaction. I have been home alone for 3 days. I also miss my colleagues. It’s the same. I can’t wait to see my colleagues again and the students and just get back to normal.

Do you feel overwhelmed?

No, I don’t feel overwhelmed right now. We have been really lucky that we are getting such strong support from the government. They are very responsive and advising us what to do. I also have a very strong leadership team and supportive community. The board has been very wonderful. They have been very involved in helping me make these decisions and get communication out. I feel very supported.