Kevin G. Walthers: Two words of advice for high school seniors

Dr. Kevin Walthers

As the fall semester rapidly approaches, Allan Hancock College will continue offering most classes remotely. Over the past five months, we have learned a great deal about the coronavirus and the science is clear: virus transmission increases in enclosed spaces, asymptomatic carriers can spread the virus, and wearing a mask and practicing social distancing is our most effective tool to flatten the curve.

With more than 85 percent of our students living at home – many in multi-generational households – returning to campus at full capacity poses a risk not only to our students, faculty, and staff, but also to the entire community.

Colleges (and K-12 schools, for that matter) are intentionally designed to do all of the things that you should avoid during a pandemic. Our spaces are built to facilitate personal engagement, whether in a full classroom or an individual tutoring session.

Classroom and lecture halls are designed to efficiently seat as many students as possible. Performing arts programs bring dozens together to sing, act, and play instruments. Science labs are taught in a team setting, with students working together in close proximity to complete assignments. Intercollegiate athletics places students in close quarters for conditioning, practice, and competition every day.

The college’s experience of quickly moving instruction and student services online in the spring gave us a blueprint for how to best approach the fall. Students, while expressing a strong preference for in-person instruction, recognized the likelihood of continued remote instruction and advocated for adopting a single modality for the fall.

Committing to remote instruction allowed our faculty to optimize their classes for remote instruction without worrying about developing a second set of lesson plans in the case of a mid-semester return to the classroom.

Even though our preferred teaching modality will be mostly unavailable this fall, our faculty and staff are doing all they can to maintain a personal touch with students. Lecture classes that normally meet in person will be taught through video conference, providing students and faculty an opportunity for real-time interaction. Only a few classes – primarily in health sciences, public safety, and career education – will be offered in person, with strict safety rules and close monitoring.

We also recognize that we face a different set of challenges this fall than we addressed in the spring. In March we were closing in on the end of the school year and students had largely completed their financial aid paperwork, educational plans, and applied for graduation. Our task then was to get to the end of the semester in a manner that supported student educational needs.

The start of a new school year brings a whole new set of challenges: new student orientation, completion of financial aid documents, and registration. With a student body largely comprised of first-generation college students, it’s imperative that our professionals provide our most vulnerable students with in-person services in a manner that is consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and our local health agencies.

To facilitate interaction, we have installed safety barriers at our student service windows and placed signage throughout our buildings to ensure social distancing. Masks will be mandatory in public spaces on each of our campuses and required to be worn at all times during face-to-face instruction.

Services requiring in-person interaction will be managed through an appointment process to limit the number of people inside the buildings at any given time. Our goal is to ensure that our students have every chance to be successful as they embark on their academic career in a manner that is safe for them, our staff, and the community.

There is no doubt that it will be a challenging year at Allan Hancock College. However, our community should rest assured that our faculty and staff are committed to keeping students on track to graduate, transfer, or pursue a career even in these demanding times.

Kevin G. Walthers Ph.D. is the superintendent/president of Allan Hancock College, a member of the California Community College System.

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