With many Canadian post-secondary schools opting for online classes this fall amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, for some students heading back to class will mean staying at home.
The situation prompted Raja Gupta, a high school science teacher in Summerland, to come up with the idea of creating study spaces for students in the community.
The idea is that post-secondary students, missing the normal sense of connection at school, can use the spaces to study and support each other as they work through their online courses, said Gupta.
“My goal was to get the message across that these students are not alone, that there are others in the community in a similar situation and that together we are going to try to get through this as best as we can.”
Gupta said they’ve already had around 40 students sign up to use the spaces ranging from first year students to law students.
“Hopefully… they can get some support from each other and be more successful then they possibly could be if they are just staying at home,” Gupta said.
While calling the initiative the “University of Summerland” started out as a joke suggestion by students involved in organizing the study spaces, Gupta has used it as another chance to create a lighthearted sense of community for students.
He developed a crest for the “university” with the silhouette of the coronavirus taking the place of a sun.
The study spaces will operate out of three Summerland churches starting Sept. 8.
A maximum of 30 students will be able to use the study space at any one time to allow for physical distancing.
There will also be other COVID-19 precautions in place.
Students doing group work will be asked to wear masks and everyone will need to sign in and out in case contract tracing is required.
Gupta said around 20 people, including retired nurses and retired teachers, have also volunteered to provide their expertise to students needing help with their course work.
Those mentors won’t be on hand at the study spaces, but students will be able to reach out if they need support.
Gupta said he already feels a sense of community starting with students signing up and the churches taking part.
“It’s been so nice just having people step up and say, ‘We can do this and I would love to help by doing that,'” Gupta said.
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“It’s just been rewarding and I hope it is useful for the students.”