COA adjusts to educating in a pandemic

By on August 26, 2020

Luther Daniels, left, with his HVAC class at the College of the Albemarle’s Dare County campus. (Michelle Wagner)

College offers mix of learning options

Students at the Dare County campus of College of The Albemarle (COA) may have begun their fall semester a little differently during the COVID-19 pandemic, but classes – whether remote or on-site – have been in full swing since the first day of school on Aug. 17.

As a number of universities and colleges across North Carolina have had to resort to virtual instruction following a rise in COVID-19 cases on their campus, COA Dare Campus Dean Timothy Sweeney said that the Roanoke Island campus has adapted to operations amid a pandemic to serve their student body, which currently stands at 2,552 enrollees.

“We really want the community to know that the community college is still here, and we are open,” Sweeney said, adding that despite challenging circumstances, enrollment is down by just five percent from last year. “That’s remarkable…We are, believe it or not, pleased with that because there are a lot of other colleges down twenty-five percent.”

COA has also included late enrollment this semester, allowing students to enroll late and take courses at an accelerated pace.

Sweeney explained that general education classes at COA are being held remotely, with the exception of some business classes that are using a hybrid approach in which instruction occurs via Zoom video conferencing and on-site lab work is staggered to reduce class sizes.

Other programs that are on-site — and are incorporating safety precautions such as limited class sizes, social distancing and mask requirements — include essential programs such as Nursing, Emergency Medical Technician, HVAC and Welding. The Fire Academy will be held in a large auditorium with some seats taped off to ensure social distancing guidelines.

In addition, the college’s Marine Diesel program will be held on-site this semester with only six students as opposed to its typical number of 12, and its popular Hospitality Leadership program will continue on Zoom. Students enrolled in the Professional Craft Jewelry program received toolkits this semester to take home. They are instructed on Zoom and work at home, then come to the campus to do lab work and refine their pieces.

“It’s allowed us to look at this program in a different way and be able to offer it across a seven-county area,” the dean explained. “So, if you live in Edenton, you can take the class, get your toolkit and work from home.”

The Dare campus has implemented a number of safety procedures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, such as a mask-wearing requirement, strict cleaning and disinfecting protocols and social distancing measures as well as closing off water fountains, coffee stations and other areas where students tend to congregate.

In the spring, the faculty and staff pulled together to help students during the COVID-19 crisis, raising more than $10,000 to aid those who may need help with utilities, rent, food or other needs. Called COA CARES, one aspect of the assistance program includes a small food pantry set up in the library for students to use. The college has also sponsored a confidential and free Student Assistance Program and Work-Life Services hotline for students who may need help with personal or school-related challenges.

COA Dare Campus Dean Timothy Sweeney. (Michelle Wagner)

Another change for students this semester has been transitioning from face-to-face meetings with their academic advisors to getting together with them on Google Meet.  If they choose, students can schedule a time to come to campus and have their Google Meet from a study room at the campus library. Those students needing assistance or guidance can also use the study rooms at the college.

Academic Advisor Katie Cross told the Voice that students have adjusted well to the changes.

“Students are doing a great job setting up meetings and staff is trying to meet the needs of students in any way we can,” she said. “I think whenever there is change, it creases stress or uncertainty, and one of our goals is to be sure we address those concerns and uncertainty and stress that our students have by providing them with information.”Both faculty and students “are trying to be patient as we adjust to the changes in our ‘normal’ operations,” Cross added.

As for Sweeney, he acknowledged how students miss the comradery they enjoy with face-to-fact instruction. Their biggest question, he said, is often “When can we come back and see our teachers?”

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