Durham College students return to class and face changes amid coronavirus pandemic

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Things are a little different for students heading back to school at Durham College. Classes are back in session in a hybrid model made up of online and in-person learning. Frazer Snowdon has more – Sep 18, 2020

The pandemic has had an unmistakable impact on the school year. Now, students are heading back to a whole new world, with new rules and a different way of learning.

It’s a challenging feat for students like Christine Fox, who’s starting a second career at Durham College.

“The pandemic definitely threw things off,” Fox said. “When I first went into lockdown I didn’t know if I was going to have a school year.”

Now, several months later, Fox and her classmates are learning through a hybrid model which entails in-person and online classes.

“This kind of work, you can’t do over a computer or do your research for,” says Nicole Brouwer, a student in foods and farming.

Classes have been reduced, limiting the number of students in the school. Between learning from online modules and coming into class for individual labs, horticulture professor Shane Jones says the new model allows students get back to basics.

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“They feel much better that their education has a value,” says Jones. “The students feel that they are learning stuff that they need to learn.”

He says after week one, they appear to settling in to the new way of learning just fine.

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“I think everyone is settled back in and they are enormously happy to be back on campus.”

For Jones, who teaches a number of courses for the program, he says it’s important students are back in class, saying it can be difficult to teach someone how to care for plants over the internet.

“It doesn’t work. We have to be hands-on; we have to have hands on soil,” he says.

“It’s hard to adjust,” says Brouwer. “You almost feel like your class is a cohort, so you almost feel safer with them. But we need to maintain our distance because we want to finish our semesters.”

Outside of classrooms, there are several other things that students must get used to as well.

What were once hallways filled with students look a little quieter now. Common areas usually bustling with students are now spaced out and modified to allow for social distancing.

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It’s a different world for students who are coming from last year.

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“Honestly, it is a learning curve, something that I’m getting used to day by day,” says William Hebert, an electrical engineer student. He’s in his third year, and says although it’s been a change socially, he can now put his head down and get to work.

“It takes away for some students, but honestly when you’re dedicated to the education, this kind of hones you in,” says Hebert.

Along with spacing, the college has put several different measures in place in an attempted to keep students and staff safe, including enhanced cleaning. You must wear a mask inside, and security is at separate entrances to ensure hand sanitizer is being used upon entry of the building.

“We have designated entrances and exits so that we can control the traffic that comes to campus,” says Susan Smikle, risk manager for Durham College.

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And the safety protocols don’t just start at the school, but at home as well.

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“All of our faculty and staff are required to do training before coming back, as well as students are required to review before coming back,” says Smikle.

“This has been an effort with a lot of other departments. We have been doing a lot of assessments of shops and labs for capacity and looking at our programs to ensure that our staff and students will be safe returning to campus.”

You won’t be able to go and just hang out at the school, either. Students are being strongly encouraged to limit the number of visits to the campus in an effort to control crowding.

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