Fifteen schools within the Territory are due to be reassessed this year as a requirement to be recertified as ‘Safe Schools’.
The schools were certified in 2013 following the implementation of the ‘Safe Schools’ project by the Department of Disaster Management (DDM) in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Culture.
The ‘Safe Schools’ project is in keeping with the global safe schools and safe health structures initiative and was developed to ensure the Territory’s’ learning facilities are prepared to appropriately handle the impact of any hazard while at the same time promote a culture that encourages the health and well-being of students and staff.
An assessment tool designed to award the Safe School certification was formulated based on the minimum standards established in the Ministry of Education’s 2011 School Health and Safety Policy. The assessment tool takes into consideration the safety needs of school at pre-primary, primary, secondary, and tertiary levels as well as “special needs” institutions. Once certified, schools have to be reassessed every three years to maintain their status. To date, 20 schools in the Territory have attained certification.
Director of the DDM, Sharleen DaBreo said, “The number of Safe Schools has been increasing since the project started and we are pleased with the progress made and the level of cooperation shown by the various public and private schools throughout the Territory. However, we want to see this number ‘skyrocket’ to the 63 registered schools in the BVI, because our goal is to have all schools in the Territory certified by 2018.”
She added, “When a learning institution is certified as safe, it sends the message that the school is doing everything within its power to ensure that they are providing a safe and healthy environment for students to thrive”.
The initial assessment conducted between 2011 and 2013 focused primarily on the schools location, design, construction, health and safety operations, retrofitting, environment, play grounds, evacuation and disaster planning procedures. This year’s assessment will examine in greater detail issues pertaining to the institutions physical plant.
Ms. DaBreo explained, “We are paying closer attention to the physical plant and integrity of the buildings because a number of issues linked to potential hazards in the physical plant were identified in the initial assessment. This is particularly important because when schools are damaged, learning opportunities are disrupted, and the quality of education can be affected.”
Significant disaster events that have occurred worldwide have shown that the impact on schools can be devastating. The Pakistan earthquake in October 2005 destroyed more than 7,500 schools and an estimated 17,000 children died in their schools. Similarly, earthquakes in Haiti, Nepal and China have cost lives and resulted in considerable damage to schools.
Schools that have achieved the ‘Safe School’ certification are being encouraged to work towards achieving the SMART School certification. SMART refers to Sustained Mitigation, Adaptation and Resilient Techniques. This is awarded to schools that combine the ‘Safe Schools’ health and safety requirements with green practices aimed at reducing the effects of climate change.
Two schools were designated as SMART Schools this year. They are British Virgin Islands (BVI) Seventh-day Adventist School and the Little Litehous Child Development Centre.
The Safe Schools to be recertified this year are Alexandrina Maduro Primary, Althea Scatliffe Primary, Isabella Morris Primary, Joyce Samuel Primary, Leonard Delville Primary, H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, New Life Daycare and Learning Centre, New Testament Church of God, Visions Child Development Centre, Willows Day Care, Century House Montessouri and Little Penguins, BVI Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Primary and Secondary, Cedar International School Primary and Secondary, First Impressions and Agape Total Life Academy.
The DDM is also encouraging schools that are not yet ‘Safe’ to contact the Department and make arrangements for a reassessment to be done during the third quarter of 2016.