The fall semester is just around the corner, and with this school year starting during a global pandemic, it presents some unique challenges for both parents and students. For every parent who isn’t concerned, there are those who are worried and confused about sending their students back to college.
As president of Southeastern University, I’m aware there are many valid concerns parents have over complications that the coronavirus may present. On our campus, we’ve had parents calling in and asking, “Is it going to be safe for my student to return?” and “How can my child socially distance in a dorm room?” and “Are there other options for students who don’t wish to return to campus?”
While there are endless questions and concerns filling parents’ heads, there are several ways universities are preparing for students to return to new protocols and standards to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations and ensure student safety.
Last week, the Chronicle of Higher Education released the latest updates on the reopening plans for institutions moving forward toward the fall. While 24% of colleges and universities prepare to teach primarily online, 21% will meet primarily in person, 16% will be hybrid, 12% taking other options, and 27% are still left to be determined.
There are a variety of different approaches depending on the campus. Early last month, Harvard University announced they would only return 40% of their undergraduate students. The University of Texas at Austin will only allow a capacity of 40% in each classroom. Georgetown University will only allow 2,000 students to return in the fall, a majority of them are freshmen along with students who cannot pursue remote coursework and residential assistants.
Overall, universities who are bringing students back to campus are making their preparations by following the guidelines laid out by the CDC. At Southeastern University, we have been creating our plan for the fall since our students returned home in March.
Some of our new procedures moving forward include masks in all communal areas, including classrooms, continually monitoring symptoms for COVID-19, reduced capacity in the classroom and offering classes in hybrid models to accommodate social distancing. We are also putting a heavy emphasis on teaching our students to be “healthy citizens.”
But for most schools like ours, the development of these new protocols is being fine-tuned each day. As universities are making preparations to meet parents’ concerns and remain up to par with CDC guidelines, there are also many ways parents can prepare their students to navigate this pandemic.
Before you begin driving out to campuses or sending your children off to school this fall, there are essential ways to prepare them to safely and wisely navigate college amid a pandemic. Here are three things you can do to prepare your student before returning to school:
Train them to be safe. Teach your children how to sanitize their surroundings, their things and themselves regularly. Also, instill simple reminders such as an appropriate use of masks. It is good to remind and encourage your children to use masks to keep themselves safe as well as to remain considerate of the health of those around them. Encourage them to steer clear of high-risk environments such as theaters, concerts and other prominent attractions.
Equip them to stay connected. While you’re encouraging them to remain socially distant, you also want to encourage them to stay socially connected. Help your children avoid isolation this year. Search extra-curricular groups and activities on campus to engage the campus community this year. Discuss ways to engage new relationships, invest in their communities and also encourage the connection of a spiritual community early on. Help them to search out local churches and other faith-based communities — even if they are still streaming services online so they can connect with a small group in the area via Zoom.
Assure them of your support. Seek to continue to give your children moral and emotional comfort throughout this time. At least every other day, whether through text, call or email, find moments to touch base with your children. Send them periodic care packages, cards or gifts. (There’s not much worse than an empty school mailbox.) Call them and ask them a great question or two, and then take time to truly listen to how they are doing.
As parents, we want to take every measure to protect our children. In this season, parents want to take the proper precautions to avoid any harm that may come to them. It’s easy to be overcome by our worries and concerns about the future, but we never want to place our fears on our children. Instead, we can help them prepare to make the wisest and healthiest decisions possible this semester.
In many ways, this will be a team effort for schools, students and parents as we step forward into a new academic year. Of course, it is vitally important that parents are adequately informed of new protocols and ensure that their children return safely to campus this fall. By equipping your children with the proper safety measures and moral support, you can help give students the knowledge and confidence they need to navigate this pandemic and prepare for a safe return to school.