Are the students attending school in Jamaica? We get this question a lot these days as most of the families in the States are dealing with the same back-and-forth issues. The answer is: it depends.

Each school is making its own decision on whether to be in session, and, in addition, the Board of Education has mandated all students be vaccinated to attend.  In the world of ACE in St. Mary, like in the US, there are those who are unable or unwilling to abide by that rule. Families are trying different options, such as online schooling. Last year, ACE implemented the ACE Virtual Classroom (AVC), where we provided space, devices and help for larger groups of children to connect to their classrooms online. We’ve since reorganized this into smaller tutoring sessions with a better staff-child ratio for more productive learning. The tablets generously donated for AVC are still being put to great use by our students and educators.

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All of these learning options – in-person school, online learning, AVC, tutoring – present pros and cons as they (and we) maneuver through this “new normal.” ACE, as the physical arm of our sponsors, is assisting these students in several ways. The most important place to start, as always, is with the health and wellness of these growing students. We’ve mentioned many times on social media and in newsletters how your donations have enabled us to continue to feed and care for our sponsored families, but it doesn’t hurt to remind you – and thank you – again! This past year, ACE was very busy every quarter delivering toiletries and food to the many families that had absolutely nothing. That also included some of our staff who had more mouths than they had funds to feed them.

ACE Jamaica has had numerous conversations with professional teachers and educators from St. Mary as well as other parts of Jamaica to figure out the best way to work through what this past year of school closings, delayed learning and general frustration has done to our students. ACE called on every sponsored family to survey what was their greatest need as schools reopened. Hands down, the feedback was, “Help us with books!” Since many students are still not attending in person, we switched gears from uniforms and shoes (which were still new from last year, should a student need them) to books and supplies. The Ministry of Education was slow in deciding per grade what books each family should purchase, with many changes happening daily, so by the time we knew the curriculum, we were pressed for time. D’Vaun and Althia set out on a mission to locate and purchase hundreds of books before school began.

What a great job they did! Books were coming from everywhere – Kingston, Ocho Rios, private bookshops. In addition, parents expressed a need for workbooks for their children to write in. Hundreds of workbooks, textbooks and reading books filled our boxes and shelves, and our staff worked tirelessly to resource every book possible for the students.

ACE requires each parent to purchase at least one book (and, in some cases, two books) for their child as a buy-in. As challenging as it may be, there has to be that participation (or as we call in the States, “skin in the game”) to show we are all in this together. Playing an active role in their children’s education, these parents feel empowered and the students feel supported.

As the families came for their books, it was almost like a homecoming; everyone was all smiles and excited for a new school year, in whatever form it was! It always feels good to be part of transforming not only our communities, but our families – and especially the children — even in little ways.