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Adapting Innovative SIFE Learning Practices to Rebuild School Communities in the Caribbean

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

Article by Mrs. Judy Villeneuve-Dyce

November 15, 2022

Edward Jenner, the physician who discovered the cure to Smallpox, noticed people working with cattle did not catch the disease. He later created the vaccine using material collected from cowpox legions. Just as innovative thinking in science produces useful discoveries, out-of-the-box thinking in education results in great learning outcomes for students. Responding to the adverse effects of COVID-19 on students demand more than ever for educators to take a fresh look at solutions they may never have considered before now.

While the acronym SIFE, which means a Student with Interrupted/Inconsistent Formal Education, is used in the United States to refer to English Language Learners (ELLs), it is evident that all students attending school during the COVID-19 pandemic may be accurately categorized as having experienced both an interrupted and inconsistent education due to not attending school in person for over a year, limited technology access or internet service to facilitate online learning, and inadequate instruction received at home often from family members ill-equipped to provide formal training.

The English speaking Caribbean islands share many of the same language challenges as ELLs. They both speak a different dialect at home than the King's English taught in schools. Yet, typically, Caribbean schools have not adopted instructional practices that teach English as a second language. Well, why not? There is no better time than now to try a different approach to teaching, when schools are faced with tackling learning loss along with the complexities of students' social and emotional needs, many of whom are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic.

The following provides 4 innovative SIFE learning practices educators may adopt to rebuild school communities in the Caribbean.

#1 Make Learning Expectations Visible

Much of what teachers expect of students in their learning environments are invisible to the students not previously exposed to the methods used for instruction by a new or unfamiliar teacher. These unsaid rules and norms may inadvertently reduce the learning outcomes for SIFE. Building the classroom community, therefore requires classroom instructors to make these norms visible and transparent by creating (1) classroom instructional routines so that all students may successfully participate in the classroom community, and (2) social norms.

So, when using instructional routines that involve activities like reading aloud, paired thinking and sharing activities as well as writing workshops, teachers must make it clear to students why these activities are useful, how to do them properly and what exactly they need to get from the experience. This level of transparency increases positive outcomes, more meaningful engagement, and improves students' skill mastery.

Similar to the social norms adults share at the beginning of a meeting, such as, placing topics not on the agenda, in the parking lot to be added on the agenda for the next meeting, putting away cellphones and waiting until the speaker is finished presenting before asking questions, predictable rules teach mutual respect, patience, and proper conduct students can use in other aspects of their lives. Educators may begin to make rules and norms visible to students by inviting them to

contribute to the development of rules and norms followed in the classroom which solidifies the classroom community's shared understanding and supports school culture.

#2 Leverage Funds of Knowledge

Funds of Knowledge is synonymous with domains of expertise that a SIFE has learned as part of their family, culture and community. The most authentic student engagement that causes students to master the content is centered around their lived experiences, personal skills and abilities as well as unique perspectives and knowledge. Educators, in their ongoing exploration of how best to achieve student content mastery, must find ways for their students to relate their learning to familiar ideas that make the lesson both meaningful and the content relevant to their lives.

Educators must continuously strive to incorporate both individual and shared student identities to nurture a classroom learning community. The academic end goal is for teachers to positively influence SIFE through culturally relevant instruction that empowers them to critically examine society, to be citizens of positive social change and through advocacy and decision making opportunities in their classroom and school community.

#3 Making Curriculum Culturally Relevant

Culturally relevant curriculum is quite literally providing instruction that incorporates the culture of the SIFE in order to foster a robust learning environment. Island people consist of an amalgamation of cultural identities reflected in food, dialect, a long list of socially accepted and not accepted behaviors and even unique senses of humor.

Including the cultural heritage of SIFE students, past and present is a teaching engagement strategy that build cultural pride, and confidence critical for students to develop the risk-taking attitude needed to learn new things. These strategies also increase student empathy and understanding in students about both similar and different cultures to their own and also teaches them the value of exploring other students' cultures.

Educators should seek out various mediums to share cultural stories through textbooks, art, music and languages, and engage students in discussions that provide a safe space for asking questions and sharing information.

#4 Provide Comprehensive Social and Emotional Support

Supportive learning environments create strong school communities in which students academic learning thrives. Trauma caused by the pandemic, family circumstances, health conditions or financial realities weigh upon the minds of students who are helpless to solve these problems. The school is both the place that provides for a brighter future and should also be a safe haven for students while

at school where they can get the social and emotional support they need to be able to learn. School leaders responsible for establishing programs and hiring staff to provide counseling and medical services facilitate SIFE feelings of safety and care they require to combat trauma and to find support when needed.

Appropriate staff and classroom teachers must be adequately trained to identify students who may be suffering by conducting regular emotional check-ins for which protocols have been established to address student needs. Partnerships with community-based organizations familiar with the student and family populations are an invaluable resource for providing afterschool and in-school programming outside of the classroom.

Social and emotional support encourages positive relationship building for students where they feel welcomed and appreciated which is critical to establishing a school community that is a supportive learning environment for students.

The 4 innovative SIFE learning practices explored in the article are applicable to the rebuilding of school communities in every country grappling with the aftermath of COVID. Seeing how relevant to all children pedagogical strategies reserved for ELLs are to Caribbean students was an eye-opening discovery for me that I truly hope educators will consider adopting in their classrooms and school communities.

Mrs. Judy Villeneuve-Dyce is the Chief Financial Officer at Education Solutions International Inc. a U.S. based 501(c)3 non-profit focused on providing Educational consulting services, leadership workshops to governments executives, senior education administrators, and principals, teacher professional development training, as well as, donations, scholarships, and grants to schools and students throughout the Caribbean and diaspora member countries. For more information about ESI, visit to learn more about the author, visit:

Disclaimer: The 4 innovative SIFE learning practices to rebuild school communities in the Caribbean was inspired by informed pedagogy applied in the context of teaching multi-lingual learners in U.S. schools titled 8 Principles to Build Community with SIFE and has been significantly modified to adapt to the needs of school communities in the Caribbean.

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