As students across the island are challenged to access virtual classrooms, the Yutes4Change Foundation Homework and Integrity Centre in Gregory Park, St Catherine, is demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity.
Children from the community can access a desktop computer or laptop, as well as Wi-Fi connection for their lessons, all the while observing the Ministry of Health and Wellness’s safety and prevention protocols.
The centre was closed in March when the Government ordered all schools shuttered due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. But with the virtual resumption of schools for the new academic year, Yutes4Change founder and manager Ricardo Burke said he was hard-pressed to reopen the centre after seeing the need of students who otherwise would have been left behind.
“Parents are struggling to come up with the funds to provide devices to these students. We actually closed the centre before but then reopened because of the need. We wanted to facilitate the students with online school. We try to assist by providing computer access and Internet to students so they can do their online classes,” Burke told the Jamaica Observer.
The centre, which can house up to 12 desktop computers, currently has seven that are functional, presenting a limitation on the number of children who can use the facility at any given time. Up to nine students get access to the centre each day, some having to take their own device to use the Internet.
“Some of them bring a cellphone, or their parents lend them their cellphone and we give them access to the Wi-Fi. For other students, we lend them a laptop or a tablet and they sit inside and access their online classes. We can facilitate more students but we don’t have the computers to facilitate them,” Burke explained.
“We are trying to get more computers, tablets or laptops to assist these students in the community. We are also trying to get some desktop cameras because currently the students here can see their teachers and classmates but their classmates can’t see them,” Burke added.
As for social distancing, sanitization and the wearing of masks, the 34-year-old youth servant and 2019 recipient of the Prime Minister’s Youth Award for Youth Development said that observing the protocol is key to keeping the doors of the centre open.
“We encourage the students daily to social distance. They can speak to each other but not too close. We ensure that we assign one child to a computer just to prevent them from coming in contact with different computers.
“We also ensure that we have sanitisers and masks when they come. We give them hand-made masks, but we also have disposable masks in case they forget to bring their mask with them,” Burke said.
So far, children at the centre are adjusting well to the protocol, which allows them continued access.
For nine-year-old Tori-Ann Wright, a grade four student of Portsmouth Primary School, access to the centre is the only way she gets engaged with her teacher and classmates in online classes.
“It keeps raining all the while and the Internet at home is not going to work if it is raining. And sometimes I can’t get to go back into my class because the Internet is giving trouble. That’s why I have to come to the centre,” the youngster told the Observer, adding that she misses her classmates.
“I like regular school rather than online school because I can’t see my friends, and when I see them on the computer they can’t see me because there is no camera. And sometimes when my teacher is talking I can’t hear her because sometimes the microphone doesn’t work,” she said.
Burke, in the meantime, is actively working to improve the facilities at the centre. He wants to add more computers and other e-learning devices, as well as some fans.
“We are in need of some fans, as well as some desktop cameras. We actually got a donation of some desktop cameras so we should get those soon. But we ask anyone who can donate used laptops, computers or tablets to do so,” said Burke.