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Big decisions ahead as college students consider coronavirus changes

Hundreds of Bahamian students were slated to return to school abroad to resume their Fall 2020 studies.

However, the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into those plans for many as universities and colleges convert to fully virtual learning.

Jayde McKenzie, 17, a sophomore at Benedict College, will be impacted by her school’s decision to provide only virtual courses this semester.

“It puts me at a disadvantage because I like to be in classes physically. That way I have way less distractions and I can really focus on what I have to do,” McKenzie, a biology major who hasn’t been to school since March, told The Nassau Guardian.

She said she worries that a stable WiFi connection and “random power outages” may be issues for her this semester.

“The biggest challenge for me will be staying focused and on track of my classes. Being home tends to make me relaxed,” McKenzie said.

Julia Mellor, 20, a junior at the University of Toronto, doesn’t have that concern as her school will offer classes in a variety of ways.

“My school has options of taking in-person classes, which are limited capacity as the province has a rule regarding the amount of people per room, and online classes as well,” Mellor said.

“However, things are subject to change and the entire year could be online.”

As it stands, according to Mellor, a majority of classes will be online.

“Only a small portion of classes have an in-person option and they may be switched to online if the situation worsens,” she said.

Mellor expressed frustration about students who are forced to take online courses being made to pay the same tuition as they would for in-person classes.

She said it is “unfair”, noting that international students “are not using resources of the school and online school is not the same”.

Last week, the Ministry of Education advised students studying abroad to contact their respective universities to determine that institution’s proposed course of action for the upcoming school year and to be guided accordingly.

It said parents and students should give “serious consideration” to starting or continuing studies online or “availing themselves of local tertiary opportunities rather than seeking to travel overseas at this challenging time”.

“This affords students the benefits of a protective hedge against the possible contraction of the coronavirus, as well as the huge savings that families will realize from not having to expend precious financial resources on housing and other living expenses,” the ministry said.

“College and university students may also wish to consider deferring the commencement of studies until January 2021.”

However, for Serena Brown, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Iowa, deferment is not an option.

“I haven’t competed collegiately since 2018 due to an injury plus the pandemic,” said Brown who is a student athlete.

“I also haven’t competed for the country since 2016. This year was supposed to be the big comeback year. I’m hoping it’s a blessing in disguise to give me more prep time.

“However, if the collegiate and international seasons were cancelled or postponed, again, it’d make me reevaluate my life plans.”

When asked what she meant by the latter, Brown replied, “I transferred to Iowa in January for athletics. The program has the reigning NCAA champ. I wanted to be in a healthier and more competitive environment to reach my goals: NCAA champs, olympic finalist, potentially pro athlete.

“So, if we were to have another cancellation that would shake up my plans because I had it as finish school, work/compete, go to grad school. But that also depends on the whether the access to training facilities will be as restrictive as it was before.

“Everything is up and the air and it, quite frankly, has my head spinning a bit.”

Georgia Swann, 23, a psychology student at Valdosta State University, anticipates challenges with one of the university clubs she volunteers with.

“I’m the event coordinator for CaribSA (Caribbean Student Association). So all of the events that were planned previously will look different or not happen at all, which is definitely what I’m most upset about,” said Swann, whose semester starts on Monday.

“Also, having to do everything with a mask on, [like going to the gym] and trying to be careful when interacting with my friends will be challenging.

”

Asked how she will manage that challenge, she replied, “Even though it’ll be aggravating having to complete an entire semester through the restrictions, I value my health, so I’ll comply with necessary rules.

“I think that if everyone tries to do what is being asked of us, then we’ll help create a safer environment and protect others.”

She noted that her university will have reduced class sizes and minimized social events.

Swann said masks are mandatory in every university building.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which is located in Daytona Beach, Florida, has implemented similar measures, according to Ryan Bethell, a 20-year-old senior studying to become a pilot.

“I am very eager to start,” he said as he awaited a flight to Daytona Beach.

“My school has consistently sent emails everyday on the status and ongoing safety changes that have been placed for this upcoming school year. My choice to go back was solely dependent on the precautionary measurements that they were putting in place over the quarantine period.

“They have instilled new protocols that are now required to be apart of our everyday life. For example, before class everyday we have to take a daily wellness check from either one of the wellness stops located over our campus.

“Also, to increase social distancing, classes are now classified on how they will be meeting.”

Bethell said the measures create “a much safer and corona free campus”.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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