How are they — really?

By Summer Cherland, PhD
History Faculty, South Mountain Community College

In late March, when this was all coming into focus for many of us in Arizona, the Chronicle of Education asked, “How Many?” How many students would be affected, how many prospective college students would see their plans derailed, how many colleges would feel this impact?

That same day, dozens of college students at the University of Arizona moved out of their residence hall when someone in the building tested positive for COVID-19.

Six days later, Liberty University in Virginia re-opened its doors, welcoming back over a thousand students to campus housing.

In all three of those instances, the writers referenced the voices of students – what were they planning to do in the fall; why they chose to move out of the dorms; and how they reacted to their campus closures and openings.

So many emails, messages, and voices of support have gone out to students in the last few months. Administrators send hopeful videos to students, featuring campus presidents. Faculty include notes of motivation or host weekly Zoom check ins to keep students engaged. But how are they, really? It seems like a lot of decisions and attempts are being made in the students’ best interests. But how are they — really?

What are we doing, collectively as a country to assess the needs of our students? Several institutions are now developing student surveys to consider the experiences and recommendations of students. Quite a few articles have circulated about student privacy, mental health, and trauma as it pertains to learning in the COVID19 era.

But, we know that so much of our stress-management and support comes not from articles written by far-flung researchers and experts. We find solace in individual messages of warmth, strength, and motivation. For the first time in your life, someone compliments your writing skills. A teacher tells you your essay was brilliant. A friend suggests you can succeed.

This blog and podcast started as a small way to keep students motivated. It was a chance for students and teachers to share their thoughts, struggles, and optimism with each other. Even though we have a global audience, our emphasis is still localized. Our focus remains on individual relationships with colleagues, students, and each other. This is why we continue to highlight student perspectives this week.

In one class, students have begun a group email thread to keep each other motivated. One student sent this cheeky messages to the class. She agreed to let us share the note.

I am actually working on my school work right now and I am trying my best to push myself & not fall behind. I also texted our group chat and set up a zoom meeting to encourage each other since we are all having a hard time with doing all this online.

~L
(P.S I miss you but I am pretty sure you miss me more :))

On March 30th, one teenager shared her experiences of school closures with a local news source. She wrote,

I learned about the virus only from my freshman classmates; I mainly heard racist jokes or hysterical comments. My school never taught us about the virus. Instead, they responded to the virus.

~ Mira Goldstein

Sometimes our students are the ones informing each other of the most relevant information. Peer-to-peer communication is a good thing, but in some cases, students need us to guide the way. You’re probably already doing a great job of this. Keep it up!

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