Aroaima Primary excels at NGSA despite a plethora of hardships

0
Classes being kept at a church

It is without a doubt that every pupil and teacher across Guyana was significantly impacted by the dreadful COVID-19 pandemic in their preparations for the 2021 National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) examinations.

However, while the novel coronavirus stands out as the major stumbling block for all, the Aroaima Primary School, located along the upper reaches of the Berbice River in Region 10, was faced with a plethora of additional challenges. Yet, with the perseverance of the students and beaming eyes on the prize of success, all together with unwavering sacrifices and dedication of teachers who have gone beyond the line of their job description, students were able to perform exceptionally.

The students from the bauxite community who sat the exams back in August battled not only the hardship of having to adjust to being home-schooled and having to adapt to a new learning environment created by the pandemic, which made its impact in every corner of the world, but simultaneously the hardships of poor internet connectivity, which made it challenging for parents to maintain their cellphones with a monthly data plan to facilitate research for their child/children, since many persons are now unemployed following RUSAL’s downscaling of operations in 2020.

Some 95 per cent of the community’s population relied heavily on the bauxite industry. A small fraction of the population has resorted to farming and the logging sector, while others have migrated to other parts of Guyana, seeking employment in their efforts to sustain their families.

For a far-flung school encompassed with a series of hardships and beset by limited resources, Grade Six teacher, 25-year-old Patriese Simeon, during an interview with this publication, expressed satisfaction at the results obtained by the students, given that it was not an ‘easy road’.

Teacher Patriese Simeon

“The challenges were numerous. It was tough; out of 11, only two students had internet access. This was one of the main reasons for students not completing the work. Some students even had to move out of the area,” Simeon disclosed.

 

While maintaining a level of satisfaction at the marks gained, knowing the potential of her students over the years, Simeon stated that additional hiccups ranged from students’ failure to complete the curriculum in Grade 4 to being unable to attend school regularly as transportation expenses began to place a tremendous strain on the pockets of parents who were sacked by the Russian aluminum company RUSAL.

“Transportation was an issue. You would find children staying home because of their parents’ financial situation. It would cost two hundred dollars from Ladern’s Ville to Aroaima, and about two to three times in the week, children would be absent because of their situation.

“In addition to this, the students went from Grade Four to Grade Six without getting to complete the curriculum as a result of the pandemic, and everything was packed on them in Grade Six,” Simeon said.

Top students’ journey: The pandemic vs the worst flood

When COVID-19 made its presence known in Guyana in early 2020, schools across Guyana were ordered to shut their doors and operate on an online basis, wherein teachers would send school work to the phones of parents. Although this was somewhat challenging for the majority of parents due to the lack of internet connectivity, teachers at Aroaima Primary footed the unpaved, dusty roads to distribute learning packages to students, and made the necessary arrangements to uplift those packs to be marked.

This went on for a while, until schools reopened their doors for face-to-face learning back in April 2021. Sadly, though, this too was cut short when the worst flood hit the Upper Berbice District, forcing students out of school, since many of the 11 students are residents of Ladern’s Ville, and it was impossible to navigate the floodwaters. The unprecedent floodwaters resulted in the school being converted to a shelter for approximately two months, to house families whose homes were inundated.

Classes resumed some three weeks later in the community at a church that was simultaneously battling the floodwaters.

According to the enthusiastic Simeon, who has been teaching at the primary school for just over two years, the pandemic was a bittersweet moment for her.

“It was like starting back from scratch for some, but there was a differently-abled child who would just write but didn’t know what she wrote, and would join everything together. When school reopened, I saw a major improvement in her. I commend her parents, whom I believe would have continued working tirelessly with her,” Simeon noted.

Orin Garnette
Valencia Daniels

The school’s top students are Orin Garnette, who scored 442 marks, and Valanci Daniels, who scoring 438. Both students gained spots at the Kwakwani Secondary School.

Orin Garnette, the fifth of six children, has been described to this publication by teachers and parent as a hardworking and self-motivated pupil, and him copping the first-place position came at little surprise, as it was highly expected of him.

Just like his peers, Garnette battled his fair share of challenges leading up to his exams. His mother, 40-year-old Euranie Schultz from New Amsterdam, moved to the bauxite mining community as a single mother in her quest to seek employment with Universal Contracting Service. There she was employed as a cook at the canteen.

She related to this publication that moving back home was necessary for her and son, since she was out of a job following RUSAL’s closure, and her son’s education has been threatened with the lack of internet connectivity, which she was unable to afford at the time.

She took her son back to their hometown, where he attended lessons. She said while the road was bumpy, she is a proud mother.

“I have mixed emotions, since I had to move because of work and a royal push-around to get him into a lesson in New Amsterdam. I’m a proud single mother. He would have pushed himself a lot,” Schulz said.

Schulz added that while she was back home, internet remained a challenge, since a monthly data plan on her cellular phone would be soaked up in a matter of three days, forcing her to send her child at the home of a friend who has Wi-Fi in order to get his work done.

Tragedy stuck four days before Garnette’s exams. His mother was hospitalised at the New Amsterdam Hospital with appendicitis and had to undergo surgery. He was left in the care of his older siblings, who ensured his safe journey back to the mining community of Aroaima two days before the sitting of his exams.

As Garnette transitions into his new school environ, his mother wishes to encourage him to study hard and prioritise reading. She also expresses her gratitude to every teacher from nursery to Grade Six, for playing an instrumental role in grooming her son for the NGSA.
Meanwhile, aspiring Nurse Valanci Daniels is happy she has made her parents proud.

Nikitta Patterson, the mother of 11-year-old Valanci Daniels, who came in second place, is convinced that her daughter, who has been a great achiever throughout the years, could have done better, but the pandemic played a critical part in her not achieving the grades which she knows she could have achieved.

She said she had high hopes of her daughter scoring enough marks to acquire a scholarship, but she is maintaining that a top school was not her main focus.

The mother of three, who is also a Grade 3 teacher at the Aroaima Primary School, said she blames herself to some extent, since she would have left her daughter unattended while being taken up in the distribution of worksheets to her students. Patterson maintained that while her daughter put on a show in her performance for Grades One and Two, there were setbacks in her performance for Grades Three and Four since the class had no teacher.

She said concerned parents, inclusive of herself, would go and volunteer. That’s when she took it upon herself to join the profession, as the need was great in her community.

Picking up the pieces and moving forward

Patterson related that while her daughter’s marks have placed her at a spot at the Kwakwani Secondary School, she does not see that as a possible option.

“I believe she would have tried her best, and sending her to Kwakwani Secondary School is not the best option for me. I will send her to Bush Lot Secondary, where her father lives. Kwakwani is not my option because of the transportation situation. In my days, we would have to walk the trail when the bus breaks down, which would sometimes take us until night,” she posited.

She added: “I also need her to have a little more push in lessons, which I know she will have out there.”

Patterson expressed gratitude to the school’s headmistress, who is the only trained teacher, and who assisted tremendously throughout her daughter’s preparation for the exams; and to Patriese Simeon, her class teacher.

Simeon explained that both students performed exceptionally well throughout their school years, and this was most definitely expected of them. She is also of the belief that better could have been done.

Simeon is urging parents to work with their child/children at home and continue to motivate them a little more, since she is optimistic that this would enhance future grades at the National Grade Six Assessment in years to come.