Hoping that the tragic death of seven-year-old Tianna Russell will inspire change, the principal of her primary school on Wednesday proposed the establishment of a ‘Tianna Alert’.
The initiative would enable students to give an alert virtually to their teachers if they are being abused.
The virtual nature of the alert comes amid concerns that teachers may not be able to pick up signs of abuse, considering that students have switched from face-to-face to online classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both teachers and students would have to use an agreed code as part of the alert system, said recently appointed Principal of Linstead Primary and Junior High School in St. Catherine Joni Tucker.
“We would have to work together as a staff to come up with a code that children will use to alert the teacher whenever they need help. The teacher will know, for example, that if the child should use the letter ‘T’ on the virtual space, then the child is saying ‘I need Help’,” the principal further explained.
She proposed that the initiative be rolled out across the Jamaican school system if it is piloted at Linstead Primary and is found to be effective.
Tucker said she conceptualized the ‘Tianna Alert’ system after listening comments made by a past student, Ashadane Duncan.
A post mortem has shown that Tianna, on June 28 this year, died of blunt-force trauma. The Jamaica Constabulary Force said her body also had several marks suggestive of abuse.
Her father Rohan Russell and step-mother Lorraine Fletcher, who are from New Works district in Linstead, are charged with murder.
The principal of Linstead Primary, as well as the school’s guidance counsellor Orandy Fletcher, denied any knowledge of Tianna being abused prior to becoming aware of the autopsy report.
“It would have been evident if it was face-to-face [class], but in the virtual space it was not possible at all,” the principal said, adding that there are particular signs to look for to ascertain if a child is being abused.
The school’s guidance counsellor stated that he does not usually ignore signs of abuse.
“We don’t usually ignore what we see; we try to find out what is happening and why the child would be behaving a particular way. We try to find the root of the problem…” he commented.
In the meantime, the principal, during Tianna’s funeral at Victoria district in Linstead on Wednesday (November 3), urged parents, guardians and other members of the community to ensure children are protected.
One of Tianna’s former kindergarten teachers, Kerry-Ann Myers, in a tribute, recounted how she found out that the child’s mother Claudia Francis is not alive. She died some four years ago after a period of illness.
Myers told the gathering: “There are times in the classroom [at Munroe’s Love-Care Pre-School and Nursery] when you would see Tianna sit in her seat and she would cry. And I went over and said to her, ‘why are you crying Tianna?’ She said to me, ‘I want my mommy’. That is the time I realized that she lost her mommy. From that day until now, I am like a mother to her… When I heard the news [of her death], it hit me from the top to bottom.”
Another teacher, Bobbett Nelson, of Linstead Primary and Junior High, told the bereaved family: “I just want to encourage you even as you mourn to cherish those precious memories of Tianna. Think of the good times you’ve spent with Tianna. Think of the kind words that she has said to you. Think of the good deeds she has done. Let those precious memories remain with you. Let Tianna’s passing draw you closer to each other and even closer to God. As you weep, don’t weep as those without hope.”
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