Narrowing the educational divide post-COVID: making sure students succeed.

With school back in session for the 2022-23 year, Hands Across the Sea has tackled the impacts of the pandemic on learning losses to get children back on track. See below for the highlights of Terms 1 and 2.

Term 1 Summary

Hands Recognized for Literacy Leadership at Education Conference

Last December, Hands Across the Sea joined the 10th Annual Meeting of the Chief Education Officers, Education Planners, and Development Partners. The 3-day conference was held in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Eleven countries were represented at the regional conference, which was hosted in the French territory of Martinique. UNICEF funded the gathering, and invited partners included University of the West Indies (UWI), Caribbean Development Bank, Global Partners of Education, World Bank, USAID, and leaders from local and regional academic institutions. 

The education conference addressed the ongoing challenges students face including learning loss, motivation, burnout, professional development, and academic recovery. Hands’ Executive Director Amanda Sherlip represented children’s literacy as a Development Partner, offering technical expertise spanning 6 of the member states. 

The conference included a USAID Book Supply Chain event. The organization presented their findings based on the research and report on promoting classroom book use to which Hands contributed. The conference also included site visits to primary and secondary schools to examine the differences among national implementation approaches to the regional education strategy and consider opportunities for innovation, growth, and advancement.

The conference recognized Hands Across the Sea for the critical impact it has through their leadership across the region. Sisera Simon, Director of the OECS Education Management Unit (EDMU), extended her deep gratitude to Hands’ community of donors and offered a call to action for the continuation of Hands’ critical services and commitment to the area. 

Hands Leadership Sees First-hand Impact in Saint Lucia

Following the conference, leadership returned to the field in Saint Lucia. They visited Morne Fortune, Castries (The Morne) at the OECS headquarters to begin drafting the updated Memorandum of Understanding to reflect Hands’ deepened role as a Development Partner working for the mutual benefit of literacy and the regional education strategy. Mr. Konrad Wagner, devoted Rotarian and global philanthropist, hosted the team at his boutique resort Calabash Cove in Marisule, Gros Islet. 

In celebration of National Day on Tuesday, December 13, the team traveled to Pigeon Island with Hands’ Saint Lucia Literacy Link team Mrs. Sheila Serville and Mrs. Mary-Anna Antoine. A day of history, sightseeing, and strategic planning provided a valuable reset as we tackled the post-pandemic landscape of education and community resources. While there, we met a mom fundraising in the community to help get her and her family up on their feet. Sheila Serville mentored her so she would succeed in her efforts. To witness the care, focus, precision, clarity, and expertise Sheila offered demonstrated the impact of Hands Across the Sea in a real way. In that moment, Sheila brought to life the power of the organization’s work in the community. A seasoned professional, she understands the system and importance simply of being a good friend and neighbor. The grateful mother accepted the feedback with grace.


We also visited Saint Lucia to visit Gros Islet primary, where the school’s principal, librarian, and more than 12 primary school students greeted us to celebrate the re-opening of the library, which Hands Across the Sea supported in partnership with CIBC for this year. District Officer Mr. Cyrus Cepal joined CIBC Country Manager Mr. Nigel Ollivierre, Hands Across the Sea Director, and Literacy Links. Members of the Ministry and media joined us to spotlight the students and library programs.

Our Saint Lucia stop concluded our Term 1 visit.


Term 2 Summary

Hands Improving School Libraries from Castle Bruce to Petite Soufriere

Term 2 of the 2022-23 school year began in January. We traveled to Dominica, where The Beverly Foundation honored us as guests on a private IsraAID mission called “Disaster Response to Resilience.”  IsraAID and Beverly Foundation organized the trip to examine the impact of 5 years of global partnership since Hurricane Maria’s catastrophic impact in 2017. All of the Beverly Foundation’s grantees participated in the week-long mission, where we deepened our understanding of IsraAID’s work in the community while sharing how our unique organizations serve Dominica and will continue to work together to support the education, climate, and community resiliency through global partnership. 

We spent the first part of the trip focusing on the Kalinago Territory and throughout Castle Bruce and Petite Soufriere, which are the regions most severely impacted by the recent trough caused by Tropical Storm Nicole. This intense storm in November 2022 took 1 man’s life and caused devastating landslides. Navigating between schools and villages required great skill and care from our drivers, with many roads still inaccessible. Accessible roads posed various challenges even for skilled drivers because of the recent storms. 

While in Kalinago, we visited a remote special needs school and Iskatuli preschool where children and teachers shared the impact of IsraAID’s work on disaster preparedness. This preparation included a literacy resource and workbook each student received from IsraAID as a part of their education and training. 

After the school conducted a productive and impressive earthquake simulation, Hands Director Amanda Sherlip joined the children for an impromptu reading time. The young learners were enthusiastic and engaged. They knew every book in the small library’s collection, and shared how the books and stories make them feel, taking note of the colors, characters, and similarities between themselves and the people in the books.  

We were overwhelmed by the need for new books. The library was well used and loved. The teachers at the school were excited when we shared our plans for bringing new resources and program support to the school and community.

We then traveled to Hands partner school San Sauveur Primary School to visit the principal and students. Our commute took longer than expected due to treacherous road conditions, however. So by the time we arrived, the students had already been dismissed. However, we still met with the principal, who showed us the school’s recently updated library and resource center. We were pleased to witness the continued value and importance of the resources and leadership support Hands has provided. 

We could see the structural vulnerability of the school. The principal showed us how clean water filters that IsraAID had donated were now in use again to remove contaminants following Tropical Storm Nicole. 

Secondary School in Dominica Needs Books

We traveled south for the second half of our visit, where another friendly face, Mr. Samuel Raphael, owner of Jungle Bay Resort in Soufriere, Dominica, greeted us. The resort accommodated us to support our work during the days we traveled between the southern coast and Roseau. 

While in the south, we visited Pierre Charles Secondary School. All the students participated in a disaster drill with the local fire department and emergency services so they could practice response skills taught by IsraAID in the years since Hurricane Maria. During the visit, we reviewed the progress of the important Hands partner library, which is currently being renovated. We noted that this library needs a lot of books, because it serves the largest secondary school student body in Dominica. The principal reiterated her support and deep gratitude for the resources.

We concluded this trip with a closeout session attended by representatives from the Ministry. Experts and panelists reiterated the need for cross-sector and international partnership. 

Hands Meets with Education Minister in Antigua

After a busy week in Dominica, we traveled to Antigua. Arriving late at night, we were warmly welcomed by friends at St. James’s Club Antigua resort. Here, we were hosted by Mr. Robert Barrett and our partners at Elite Island Resorts, who provide hospitality and grants that help ensure Hands’ continued work in the region. 

Our first day in Antigua began at the Education Ministry building, where Antigua Literacy Links Mrs. Vernest Mack and Mrs. Hyacinth Gonsalves-Barreiro joined the Hands Director for a planning session with Mrs. Karen Brown-Francis, Director of Antigua’s Library Services and National Focal Point. Together, we established a working plan for the summer academic recovery program while examining our shared goals, priorities, and opportunities for tackling post-pandemic literacy challenges in the next 18 months.

After a productive meeting, we visited the National Library, where we met with local library staff to identify gaps and challenges faced by public access and resources. The day ended with a partner visit with representatives from Wishing Well Foundation, who recommitted their support to Hands Across the Sea for the 2023 year.

We were pleased to receive a courtesy call with the Honourable Minister Daryll Matthews and join him at the Ministry of Education to discuss the importance of literacy and advocacy and plan steps toward including literacy initiatives in the Antiguan academic calendar. We also met with several Education Officers to discuss challenges faced by the shortage of literacy specialists and resources despite the mounting difficulties students have during their early years. 

From there, we visited Liberta Primary School where we met with Trustees from the Mill Reef Fund who continue to invest in children’s education on the island as a critical supporter of Hands’ work and the local education infrastructure.

In addition to the library site visit, we observed students using the Mill Reef Fund-supported Lexia software and discussed the integrative approach being taken to support library services and programs by school leadership. We were so impressed by the way that school leadership has engaged with the literacy needs of their students and how they are actively tackling these needs through hands-on engagement with students. 

Our final full day included handover ceremonies. At All Saints Secondary School, student council members joined school leadership to celebrate our partnership with CIBC and the library resources and services provided. The ceremony at Christian Union Junior Academy occurred later that day. Younger students, parents, and members of school leadership and the school board attended, as well as CIBC Antigua Country Manager (and children’s book author!) Mrs. Ladesa James-Williams. Local newspapers and television stations covered both events, including the Antigua Broadcast Service.

Following the handover ceremonies, we also visited Villa Primary, where a row of grade 5 students presented their research projects covering the history and culture of Caribbean islands. This event  meaningfully displayed the passion and commitment the school sustains to supporting information and critical literacy.

Through our Term 1 and 2 visits, we noticed numerous literacy staffing concerns. Schools continue to struggle with post-pandemic literacy loss, and finding enough Literacy Links for the need persists. However, we also came away from our Term 1 and 2 trips encouraged about the excitement and enthusiasm we witnessed at each school and Hands’ impact. We still have work to do, but with partnerships both across the region and in these communities, we know students will continue to be supported in literacy at every school. 

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