Post-secondary students talk about life at school during a pandemic

Mar 20 2020, 2:13 pm

Social distancing to mitigate COVID-19 transmission has seen life across the province change.

While some adults have the privilege of working from home, others are scrambling to navigate the struggle of being unable to work during the pandemic, while elementary school children are looking at a transition to online education.

And post-secondary students, who land somewhere in the middle of the worlds of school and work, are also taking a hit.

“The last week has been challenging hearing all the news about the COVID-19 outbreak and changing our learning styles to adapt to the online classes,” Aidan D’Souza, a student in the 911 Emergency Communications program at Seneca College, told Daily Hive.

Seneca suspended a week of classes on March 13, in order to prep for the transition towards online delivery.

“Normally, at this time of the year at Seneca, we are having awards ceremonies to celebrate student’s achievements during the academic year but because of COVID-19 all events at the college have been postponed or cancelled.”

On the same day classes were reassessed, all events, social, and sporting activities on campus were cancelled, including those off-campus sponsored by the college.

At the time, it was stated the cancellations would be in effect until the end of April.

“Many students look forward to all the social events that happen on campus but understand the school is doing what is best for the health and safety of students,” D’Souza said.

While missing out on the regular end-of-year celebrations is disappointing for students, D’Souza says that the institution has navigated the circumstances well overall.

“I feel like the college is doing a great job with the recent decision to implement course material to an online format so students are not missing any learning,” he said.

“We are using audio lectures, which is a great e-learning tool, to help explain course material. Professors and academic faculty are sending regular communication emails to students to help them with any questions or problems they are facing during this time.”

And, D’Souza said that the college’s library system is mostly digital, so access to books, articles, and even conversations with a librarian has not been an issue.

“I definitely feel like I am not missing the course content.”

When asked about the social climate of the college, D’Souza said he and his colleagues are doing their best to respect the need for social distancing. For example, he and his friends have stopped attending social gatherings and eating meals together.

As an athlete, D’Souza said that he changed his schedule so that he goes running earlier in the day, when fewer people are on the track, and he is careful to keep a safe distance from others.

“I personally find that social media is helping to teach students how dangerous this virus could be if you have it and help them to take precautions to help prevent it,” he says.

But that’s in Toronto. What about more rural parts of the province, where a high volume cases of coronavirus haven’t been identified?

“Nothing has changed in Guelph, really,” says Kurtis Hoover, a first-year software engineering student living in residence at the University of Guelph.

Hoover, along with his friend Zac Gladysz, reflected on the strange turn their first year at school had taken, just one day before Ontario declared a state of emergency in the province.

At the time, students had not yet been directed to vacate their residences, and it hadn’t quite reached those studying in the more rural location just how great the impact of the pandemic would be on Canadians.

“I like online classes more than in-class classes, and the weekend [March 14 and 15] was still the exact same,” Hoover said. “It was probably better, because midterms got cancelled. We’re having an open book final instead.”

And for Gladysz, who studies animal biology, has plans to be a veterinarian, and — full disclosure — is my brother, the coronavirus has actually presented learning opportunities in the classroom.

“In our biology class, we were talking about genetics and mutations and stuff, and my professor has been talking about [the virus],” he said.

“There are slides about it — [the professor] is using this virus going around as a real-life example to keep content relevant, but he won’t be testing us on COVID-19 specific questions [on the exam].”

The friends agreed, at the time, that the news about classes being cancelled was worth celebrating. And while they were cautious — “washing our hands and all the stuff they say to do,” Gladysz said — they still saw friends over the weekend.

But while students were maintaining fairly normal activities, the university was scaling back several hospitality services, including some dining halls providing food to those living in residence.

Gladysz was concerned that they may need to move out, and wasn’t sure he’d see any of the money he had spent to live there back in his pocket.

“We paid for residence. It is expensive already. And when the university closes the hospitality services, it pushes us out because we can’t stay if we can’t eat.”

However, since the Guelph students spoke with Daily Hive, the circumstances across Ontario have changed drastically.

Students at Guelph University have since been told they must move out of residence by March 22. However, those who are unable to do so due to exceptional circumstances will continue to have access to essential services.

In a follow-up conversation, Gladysz told Daily Hive that when he delivered his key to the front desk during his early move-out, he was told that Student Services would be in touch “in about a week” regarding a refund of $500.

Now, students across Ontario will complete their semesters and exams remotely, away from their residences and all the friends they made during the shortened year at school.

It’s a challenging time for everyone, and D’Souza, who has experience with studies — he graduated the Seneca College Police Foundations program in 2019 — has advice for how to cope.

“It is important that students set a schedule to complete their course work as it will all come quickly as we continue the semester online,” he says. “This is important so the students do not miss a critical due date or test date.”

But it’s not all about just powering through and getting the work done. There’s more to staying well than just doing well in classes.

“Another good idea is to take a break from the computer screen, I  personally try to go on a 30-minute run,” D’Souza says.

“It helps me to focus better as well as reduce any stress.”