And from the new Health Minister to a new semester of school - this morning, primary and high school students across the country entered their classrooms for the first time in almost two years. The Ministry of Education pushed on with its plan to reopen schools today and kids couldn't be more eager to get back on campus. This move to hybrid learning comes after 22 months of distance learning - whether online or using packages. And during that time, students have been hit hard - they have missed out educationally and socially and now have a long journey to make up for everything they've lost during the pandemic. But the first step of that journey began today and Courtney Menzies visited some schools to see how the students were doing.:

For the past twenty two months, schools have been in limbo - will they or won't they reopen? And while some schools had started hybrid learning last year, today was the first official day of reopening for many of them.

So the once ghost town compounds were dotted with students, all smartly dressed up in sharply creased uniforms. And many of the parents had mixed feelings of relief, anxiety, and excitement as they dropped off their kids this morning - especially after two years of online school drama.

And even with Omicron infections going up by the hundreds every day, these parents say it's time to take the leap back to the classrooms.

Voice of: Claudia Ferguson, Parent
"I'm feeling good, well, she's actually happy today, going back to school, it's something great for the kids. I believe they need to be face-to-face with the teachers, it's a different learning other than what we can give them at home. They look forward to coming to school every day so I believe that's the motivation for them to learn in the classroom with their classmates so something good."

"If you ask she, she could tell you. It was kind of difficult because of the internet many days, you can't get on, many days it's telling you like the internet isn't strong enough for them to get online or sometimes the camera not working or stuff like that so."

"I don't believe it's safe to 100% but at the end of the day, where is COVID going? COVID isn't going anywhere so we have to try to move around COVID and try to be as safe as we could. I mean, we could be at home and we catch COVID so at the end of the day, it's a risk we're taking but for a good cause."

Anthony Baldwin, Parent
"He was in school before they closed it but they coming back now and it seemed like it's no different to him, because he's ready again, he's like where's my teacher, so he's happy about it."

"I believe the school they do their due diligence and tried to prepare the children for the most safest way to go back to school so I'm confident that everything should go well. We can't pick and choose and say, oh he won't get sick, but we just have to be ready for whatever comes."

Courtney Menzies:
"And if they allow vaccinations for young children, will you get your son and daughter to be vaccinated?"

Anthony Baldwin, Parent
"I guess, yes, probably because my wife and my other older son in John's, they're already vaccinated so I think it's a move we have to make."

Christine Graham, Parent
"I feel good because they've been home for two years and I think that's too long and I think it's a good thing the minister is doing for them to come back to school and I just feel like if you talk to you child, just keep social distance and wash their hands, and like the teacher said you should pack their stuff, so I'll be honest I feel really good that my daughter is coming to school. See how she's dressed up?"

John Pollard, Parent
"It is more than time for all kids go back into school right now. I know a lot of parents have a lot of relief today that their kids are heading back to school."

Courtney Menzies:
"Do you feel like he wasn't learning enough at home in front of that screen?"

John Pollard, Parent
"Well, it's not feel like, you know he wasn't learning enough. Most kids at home are not getting the benefits that they should be getting by being at home and not face to face system, they need to come in the classroom to gain a better knowledge as to what is happening."

"So far, yes, what I'm seeing here today, they are putting in enough, they have the thermometer checking their temperature, they have the system washing their hands and from there, in the classroom, that's another stage, but all kids must come with their sanitizer. They must have on their mask and they have to be prepared to do what they are doing."

And for the administration of these schools, they're happy to have their kids back on campus - but now they must endure the bumps that come along with a new system. But for two city schools, they say things are going well so far.

Marvin Kellyman, Academic Vice Principal, Wesley College
"We're elated, we're glad that they're back. Today we have the students who came to access internet and computer devices so we're going fully online but we're catering for all students. Some may not have internet and devices at home so we have them come to school. Slowly we are phasing in students back to school. This month those who don't have the devices and internet, even those who may have devices at home but no internet, we have them come in as well."

"So far so good, we have the students who, they come, and we find out what classes they're in from first to third and then we have them go in the computer lab for those who don't have device, those who do have devices, they go to the classes and use the internet that's available in the classroom."

"It's long overdue and for Wesley College, we have realise it works best when we do face to face with them but also other factors come into play so we know that focus face to face works best so that's the route we eventually will take and we're hoping that by February all our students will be back on a rotation basis."

"The students are glad to be back, they're glad to be out of their homes after all this long time, they're glad to see their friends, glad to see their teachers, and glad to be back on campus getting some semblance of what school used to be like."

Mario Rodriguez, Vice Principal, Upper Unit, St Ignatius
"We all agreed that it's very important that the children be back at school because of course their health is a concern to us, they've been out of school for quite a while and we know there's a great possibility there's been retrograde in their knowledge and so we have to make sur that we do whatever is possible to get them back so we feel good about having them back."

"They feel good about being back, we just checked with them and they said they're happy to be back."

"As you can see it's going pretty wonderful, we had them in the morning and we followed the procedures for getting them in, safety is our concern right now. The academics is at the back stage so we're emphasizing the routines and the procedures and the COVID information so they can be better informed."

"They come for a morning shift and then we do part in the afternoon for one group and then the other group comes in the afternoon and they get a little bit of information in the morning."

But despite the Omicron anxiety, the educational staff will have a long road to go to get the students back to where they need to be - both academically and socially.

More schools are expected to reopen next week, and some in February.

Channel 7

Some Show, Some Don't: Mixed Response to School Re-openings

A number of schools across the country officially reopened today to hybrid learning, as prescribed by the Ministry of Education. Despite hundreds of schools receiving approval for this approach, many others have asked for extensions and as we saw today, some schools were scanty. A News Five crew stopped in at several schools on the north and south sides of Belize City where the reality for some of these schools differs for several reasons. Duane Moody files this report.�

Duane Moody, Reporting

After almost two years away from the classroom and not a student in sight, today, a group of students were finally able to set foot on campus - some of them for the first time since starting high school while for others it was a return to some sense of normalcy. At Saint Catherine Academy, there are specific guidelines and safety protocols that were put in place to help with this transition.

Salome Tillett, Principal, Saint Catherine Academy

"We are excited to have the kids here. We realize that for many of them it's their first day back at school. If you are in second form, you have never been on campus. So today was their first day. You know, first day excitement, parents letting go if they are first formers. So it was quiet an exciting day for us. We are using the hybrid, which is different from blended. Hybrid means we are teaching the ones both at home and in class at the same time, synchronously, whilst blended would mean you are teaching the ones on campus and the ones at home are working on their own. We have both groups working together with the teacher. So, the kids do need to have a device with them and the teacher is trying to reach both groups at the same time. We have a third that wants to remain online successfully and if they had a G.P.A of three point zero or more then they had that option. And then we have another third who chose to come in Monday and Tuesday, and the third group, just about even, decided they would come in on Wednesday's and Thursday. So the kids who were struggling at home, who don't have a quiet place, a safe space, reliable internet, they had to come in."

In the case of Pallotti High School, that institution had issued a statement over the weekend that their reopening to hybrid learning was pushed back another week.� But students were on site at other campuses, including Nazarene and Maud Williams High Schools. Principal Deborah Domingo explains their respective approach where first and second formers will come in on Mondays and Tuesdays, while third and fourth formers are scheduled for Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Deborah Domingo, Principal, Maud Williams High School

"The efforts very earlier on was to find out how many of our students are ill or were ill during the break and if they have members of their household who are currently in quarantine or self-isolating or who have tested positive or have flu-like symptoms. So we kinda examined the lay of the land and that's what we did. The next step was look at what are the factors that could help us to be a little bit more safe as we come together for face-to-face. And so we decided we were going to look at ways to reduce the number of students who were on campus all at the same time. That we would look at sanitizing protocols and augment those and we also looked at ways that we could shorten the school day so that there's beside a smaller group, a shorter period of time that they would be together. We looked at how students were progressing up to the last two weeks of the semester; that's where we are now and selected those subject areas where we thought students a little bit of assistance and more of the one-on-one. So those are the subjects we scheduled while we kept the others as remote learning experiences."

St. Luke's Methodist did not open to hybrid learning for several reasons including the lack of resources. We are told, however, that they, like many other institutions, will reopen on January seventeenth in a phased approach, meaning with the standard-six class first on campus and then transitioning to the lower division. All Saint Anglican Primary School will also reopen next week, but with all grades coming back to campus for hybrid learning through a shift system.

Colin Estrada, Principal, All Saints Primary School

"We applied for an extension and we have been granted that extension until the seventeenth and so during this week, we are doing the final touches on the compound. And also during this week, we will be having our PTA meetings with parents to be able to deal with some of their anxieties. At any given time, we are going to be having half of the school so it is going to be Monday/Wednesday and Tuesday/Thursday - that is what we are going to be looking at."

Duane Moody

"That will be complemented with online glasses?"

Colin Estrada

"That will also be complemented whereby because we have the Google Suite, teachers will be able to post for the students, the work that they need to be able to do in that time and we also have the learning packages that will also go out."

Over at Saint John Vianney Primary School, the reality was different. They resumed classes today, but with a much smaller student population. While all grades were back, the upper division students showed up.� In the lower division, however, the turnout of students was dismal. Principal Felix Sutherland says the reasons vary.

Felix Sutherland, Principal, St. John Vianney Primary School

“I was impressed with the upper classes; they were almost where they planned to be. As we get to the lower classes, the numbers dwindled and in some cases, we have only one student in at least one class. The reason being some have COVID; some are in isolation because their family members have COVID; some were not financially prepared to send their children at this time and the others, parents are afraid to send their children at this time. It means that we will have to dig deep as educators, we will have to work doubly hard, we will have to get out everything that we were trained for and in some cases, not trained for because we will have to self-educate and we will be stretched thin because teaching a batch Monday/Wednesday and a batch Tuesday/Thursday, in addition to providing assignment guidelines for those days that they are away from us will require extra work."

Channel 5