Greetings from sunny Ambergris Caye, Belize. In our previous graduation update, we advised that Belizean schools nationwide would re-open on the 10th of August. This date was about 3 weeks earlier than our usual opening date, to partially make up for the 3 months of lost learning in the previous school year.
To reopen, all schools had to make a plan for student and staff safety, to meet the guidelines set by the Ministry of Education in conjunction with the Ministry of Health. These guidelines ensured that all schools had a plan to enable safe social distancing, mask wearing and frequent hand washing. Holy Cross staff, especially Mr. Freddy and our Principal and Vice Principal, had worked incredibly hard to ensure Holy Cross School was ready.
However, as this post will explain, things changed quickly on Ambergris Caye. But first, let’s take a look at the results of our months of preparation.
What school would have looked like in Belize
To meet the social distancing guidelines we needed to keep desks spaced apart, with markings painted on the floor.
This requirement left us with space for just 13 students per class – half our usual number. To teach all our students we opted to split the school into two groups. The first group would come on Mondays and Wednesdays, while the second group would come on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays would alternate between the two groups. All students would have been given work to do on the days they were not at school.
To lessen crowds at the gate, we planned to have students enter as 4 separate groups. Preschool and middle division students would have their own gates, while the upper and infant divisions would use the main gate at different times. Handwashing stations were set up at all the gates.
Students would also have to wash their hands during the day.
In shared areas, such as the office and cafeteria, we set up screens and had made plans to avoid crowding.
Special plans also had to be made for using computers, library books, swings and anything else that had to be shared.
In terms of education, the Ministry instructed schools to test all students for learning gaps, and issued a simplified curriculum for the 2020 year, retaining approximately 70% of the key learning outcomes.
But despite all our preparations, we did not re-open on August 10.
COVID returned, undetected for weeks, hundreds are now infected.
In late July COVID seemed a distant threat. We knew that in a few weeks the international airport would re-open to tourists and that despite extensive testing measures, COVID could re-emerge. But unknown to all of us, the COVID virus had already returned and was rapidly spreading through our island community.
The first case, identified on August 1 was quickly followed up by more, first in San Pedro and later around the country. Clusters were identified around a church, a construction site and a night club event held in mid July. Given the family oriented nature of Belize culture and the fact that many people travelled to and from the island for work, these clusters quickly expanded to include cases on the mainland of Belize.
By August 14 we had over 300 cases nationwide, nearly half in San Pedro. By August 16 the number had climbed to 450. With families packed into small houses to save on rent and the large number of people who’ve come and gone from the island in the last few weeks this number is expected to climb much higher. Ambergris Caye is once again on lockdown until at least the 3rd of September.
So far, most known cases are in those under 40 and the majority of symptoms are mild to moderate. However, the Belize medical system only has little ability to cope with seriously ill patients. We have only 12 ventilators nationwide, 3 are in use, 1 patient has died and doctors are starting to fall sick.
For now, all we can do as a school is wait and continue to follow guidance from the Ministry of Education. The opening of all schools was put on hold after the first cases were identified and the reopening date is unknown at this time.
Please, keep Belize in your prayers. Pray for families to have food, shelter and to find support in their community. Pray for our children to be safe. Pray for our staff.
You are all in our hearts and we pray for your safety during these challenging times. We look forward to the day we can see you again.