In Guatemala the school year is generally from the middle of January to the end of October. Therefore, when the COVID pandemic hit the world last year in March, Colegio Bethel had only been in session for forty-four days, we had one hundred and thirty-six days left! In many, many ways those days were quite challenging, and I am here to tell you the challenges did not end because the school year ended. (Although, for a little breather, we would have liked them to.)
In Guatemala’s educational realm November and December are vacation months for teachers, however, in Colegio Bethel it was necessary for the teachers to commit to working during these months. Once the teaching staff, on all levels, was established, the last three weeks of November were dedicated to teacher training for the coming school year; on November 28th Colegio Bethel’s pre-school and elementary school teachers “graduated” from the training program which by God’s grace was recognized by the Ministry of Education.
Generally, we begin school each year on or around the 15th of January, however, we were notified by the Ministry of Education that private schools were to open on the 7th giving us only a few days to prepare for the arrival of students. For this reason, our teachers were required to work from home the month of December to come in on the 4th with all the necessary materials ready to start that same week. Everyone stepped up to the plate and the doors of Colegio Bethel opened to the parents on Friday the 8th and to the students on Monday the 11th.
One of Colegio Bethel’s goals for the 2021 school year is to remain open, as much as the government will allow, for “on campus” classes. With out the necessary information needed from the Government, the administration along with the directors began to plan for this end in October. Plans and schedules for online and on campus classes were written up, procedures were put in place for disinfecting and sanitizing the school in general as well as procedures each classroom must follow. Distance regulations were established requiring all areas to be measured and maximum capacities to be calculated and adhered to. An overseeing health committee was established as well as protocols for “COVID” issues. And the entire staff of Colegio Bethel was tested for COVID the day before we opened.
At the end of our first week of school we were notified of a meeting with the Supervisor of Education. Long story short, we were all told that no educational establishment could open their doors to a single student until all the documentations that he had mentioned in this meeting had been drawn up and approved and the deadline was Thursday the 21st. Disappointing to say the least, but as our elementary school director expressed to him that we had already been in session for a week and that we had signed documentation from the Health Department; praise the Lord, Colegio Bethel remains open.
Many people comment: “Colegio Bethel is a big school”; we certainly give thanks to God that it is as big as it is; but, with all the restrictions, it now seems small! Our classrooms that were built for 30 students now have a maximum capacity of 16! Colegio Bethel’s high school classrooms that were built for 50 students now have a maximum capacity of 24. During the months that school was closed, Benjamin was able to adequately finish some classrooms on the second floor. These added classrooms make it possible for high school students to meet in the morning all in the same building and our junior high classes to meet in that same building in the afternoon, giving the elementary and pre-school students all seventeen classrooms in our building.
Social distancing, mask, shoe and hand sanitizing as well as temperature reading makes for a long entry time each morning. The first morning took nearly 20 minutes; the kids are now realizing it is easier to use a backpack and have their hands free for receiving a squirt of sanitizing gel. It is difficult for the kids as well as the teachers to keep their masks and face shields on, but the most uncomfortable aspect of the mask is not recognizing who is who!
Logistics, scheduling, masks and social distancing are great challenges, but we give thanks to God that Colegio Bethel is open, that the parents are very supportive, and the students are happy to be here!