Overall, the opening of school has gone well. While we recognize our current learning scenarios to not meet the preferences of all of our families, we are able to offer on-campus classes for those who want to come as well as an online learning program for those outside of Dakar or those who prefer to keep their children at home. We are one of the only schools in Dakar that are offering on-site classes, with the same or more time on campus as other schools, supplemented with online learning. Currently, approximately half of the international schools in Africa are only able to offer online learning.
We currently have students in grades pre-K 3 to grade 2 on campus every day with dismissal at 2:00 pm. Students in grades 3 to 10 are coming to campus every other day with online instruction on the day they stay home. Our grade 11 and 12 students come to campus every day for a full day. In addition, students in Kindergarten through grade 12 can participate in our online learning program. We have added more teachers and teaching assistants to support each of the various learning scenarios. Currently, 17% of our students are participating fully online. There is variation between the divisions, 21% of elementary students are fully online compared to 18% of middle school students and 13% of high school students.
To date, we have not been informed that any community member has tested positive for COVID-19 since school started on September 3. We have had two families who came in contact with a positive case, but no one in the households tested positive. We have had a teacher tested due to illness, but that test came back negative. Based on the daily reports of the Senegalese Ministry of Health, the number of COVID-19 cases and positivity rate declining over the past few weeks.
As we stated before school started, phase one was opening the school to on-site classes, learning how to bring students and staff onto and off-campus, manage recess, and lunch. We have learned a great deal over the past two-plus weeks and adjusted our guidelines as needed. When school started, we declared we would stay in phase one for the month of September. So, what is next? The administration has started developing a plan to phase in changes to the existing health and safety guidelines.
We will make changes to the health and safety guidelines based on the conditions on campus and conditions in Senegal. The guidelines will be adjusted conservatively over time if the conditions on campus and in Senegal are positive. A first step could be to increase the size of the cohorts from ten students to up to thirty students, basically half of a grade would be one cohort. This would allow for two things, face to face French classes and an increase in the number of students someone could interact with at lunch or on break. The administration will develop a draft of the phased-in plan over the next two weeks and will then share it with the community.
Questions and Answers
I receive questions from parents from almost daily. I thought I would share some of the more popular parent questions and my responses.
Question: The WHO does not recommend masks for children under the age of 5 and has a set of conditions to consider whether students ages 6 to 11 should wear a mask. Why does ISD require students to wear a mask for all students?
Answer: To have our youngest students on campus five days a week, they are in larger cohorts. While they have larger classrooms, the masks give an additional layer of protection from the transmission of the virus. There is a belief that younger children may be less likely to be affected if they contract the virus, it is possible for them to spread the virus to adults.
We wear masks to protect others. We ask students to wear a mask to protect our staff and to protect the adults at home. If one student transmitted the virus to other students, the second student could infect their parents.
Question: Why is French being taught virtually? It is an important subject that is best taught in person.
Answer: We teach French by ability level. In normal times, we combine students from different classes for French. If we taught French in person, we would be mixing students from different cohorts.
Question: Why is it important to keep students in different groups or cohorts throughout the day?
Answer: Students are kept in different groups or cohorts to limit the transmission of the virus. If a student contracts the virus and the students stay in one cohort, only that group of students would have to quarantine. If we mix students, and one student contracts the virus, there is potential for a larger number of students who would need to quarantine. We may expand the cohorts if the conditions on campus and in Senegal continue to go well.
Question: Why can’t my child (in grades Pre-K to grade 2) stay until 3:20 like the rest of the students.
Answer: We have an early dismissal for our younger students for two reasons. One, since we cannot teach French in person, we need to leave time for them to do this virtually. Two, it is very hard to maintain physical distance guidelines during dismissal. Our normal dismissal process results in a very large gathering of adults and students in small areas. By dismissing the student in two stages, 2:00 and 3:20, we reduce the size of the crowds and are better able to physically distance.
International School of Dakar