Just a few short months ago, we, at WISER, communicated the directed closure of all Kenyan schools until 2021. We sprang into action and, with the help of WISER supporters and our indomitable team of educators in Kenya, created a robust distance-learning plan that included much-needed monthly relief packages, continued psychosocial support, and regular wellness visits.
As a result, WISER students have not faced some of the challenges that students around the world have faced, such as increased adolescent pregnancy, food insecurity, and learning loss. WISER has created an environment for our students to thrive until a planned reopening in January of 2021.
However, on October 5th, Kenyan government officials reversed this original directive and announced that all 12th grade students should return to their campuses on October 12th. WISER was able to negotiate an extended reopening plan that would not see students arrive to our campus until October 19th, but this new directive has presented incredible challenges to our staff to plan how to safely welcome and care for these students amid a global pandemic.
Additionally, on October 12th, news began to circulate that all students should be prepared to return to their campuses before the end of the year. While this is yet to be a formal directive, the WISER team has been planning how we will welcome our entire student body back to campus should the Kenyan government mandate their return.
While WISER does not have control over the government decision to return students to school, we do have agency over how our students return. We are incredibly fortunate to have renowned infectious disease researchers, public health and public administration officials, engineers, Kenyan Red Cross leaders, and more on our board and staff to help us safely navigate this new challenge. We are utilizing every single resource available to us to ensure that our students, faculty, and staff are healthy and safe.
We are proud to have continually invested in our students, faculty, staff, and community in ways that make adapting to this challenge possible. In addition to maintaining students’ learning and support, we did not furlough any of our staff, meaning we will not have to rehire educators who, out of necessity, would have had to seek other employment during the pandemic. Our clean water system has been serving the community for years, providing critical clean water for maintaining hygiene on and off-campus. And our campus has the space and resources to be adapted for socially-distant, on-campus learning and living.
When students return, we are prepared to place students in pods that allow sufficient space for students to eat, learn, and live while avoiding unnecessary exposure to the full school population. In following guidance from experts, WISER will also provide 30 new accessible hand-washing stations throughout campus, multiple cloth face masks per student, and temporary structures to provide sufficient space for students to learn and live safely.
We at WISER take the health of our students and the surrounding community deeply seriously, and so are using our combined expertise to make a plan that goes above and beyond the Ministry of Education requirements.
Once again, we could not have imagined or planned for our school being closed in March of 2020–or for our school being reopened for in-person learning over two months before the government had originally directed. But we will always prioritize our students’ safety and wellbeing, and the safety and wellbeing of our community.
We have adapted–with great success–to completely unprecedented changes before. We will do it again.