A small school in Zamboanga Sibugay took a huge step as it implemented the pilot limited face-to-face classes for less than 50 children on Monday, November 15.
The reopening of the school to select learners was a big challenge, said Leah Queño, principal of the Siloh Elementary School in Siay town, one of the two public schools in Zamboanga Sibugay tapped by the Department of Education (DepEd).
A total of 100 public schools and 20 private schools were selected to pilot test the limited face-to-face classes nationwide.
Part of the preparations before the opening of the classes, she said, was to ensure that all safety measures were in place to keep learners safe.
“It was quite a big challenge for us preparing the school so that our students can safely return to their classes,” she said.
Some 47 learners from pre-school to third grade were selected to return to face-to-face classes, Queño said.
In choosing these learners, the school prioritized those who performed poorly in the present modular approach.
“We also considered those without pre-existing health conditions,” she added.
DepEd will assess the pilot implementation of limited face-to-face classes after January 30.
It remains to be seen if the children can sustain the required minimum health protocols.
“The wearing of face masks is one issue we have to closely monitor,” the school principal pointed out.
She cited the case of six-year-old preschool learners, saying school officials were crossing their fingers on whether or not the children can keep their face masks on the whole day.
“The children are excited to return to face-to-face classes, yes. But we have to ensure that the health protocols like frequent washing of hands, wearing of face masks, and social distancing will be observed,” Queño said.
Happiness was on the face of the nine-year-old Airene Antalas, a grade three learner.
“I am happy to be back in our school,” she told Rappler.
“Excited,” quipped another learner, eight-year-old Wesmarie Kling.
Julie Cantong, a parent, said the return to face-to-face classes was a big relief for her.
“It was difficult to teach my children at home,” said the 35-year-old mother of a child in pre-school and a third-grader.
The limited face-to-face classes require learners to attend in-person classes for a week and a modular approach for another week. It will run from November 15 until January 30.
While she was adamant about letting her children go back to school, Cantong said she was confident that the teachers have done enough preparations to keep the children safe.
“I believe the school is safe for my children,” she said even as she pointed out that the number of single-day COVID-19 cases has gone down in the province and elsewhere in the Zamboanga Peninsula region.
Before the start of the limited face-to-face classes, Zamboanga Sibugay logged no COVID-19 cases on November 13 and November 14, and in the last 15 days, the province registered only an average of two newly documented cases a day.
The number of active COVID-19 cases in the province also dropped to 35 as of November 14, the lowest since January.
The return to face-to-face classes was a big step towards reopening the schools and normalcy, said Estrelita Peña, education program supervisor of the DepEd division office in Zamboanga Sibugay. – Rappler.com
Antonio Manaytay is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship