UCC students embrace positivity and perseverance during pandemic schooling

Published by Sophavid Choum-Starkey on

A desk with all the tools need to study
Photo by Sophavid Choum-Starkey / The Mainstream

UCC students embrace positivity and perseverance during pandemic schooling.

Students have had no choice but to embrace new ways of learning online or remotely if they wish to continue their education, but this transition has caused turbulence, pushing faculty and students into stress and isolation.

Since spring 2020, UCC switched from in-person classes to virtual classes, the only option that UCC could offer.

This switch was especially challenging for UCC’s students who need different learning approaches and support as shown by the substantial drop in enrollment spring term 2020. Teresa Toller, one of the Adult Basic Skills program instructors at UCC’s Woolley Center, expressed that the transition is even more challenging for non-traditional students who are parents.

A UCC student going to school from home
Photo provided by Kacy Buxton / The Mainstream

“It is even harder for students who have children; they choose to prioritize their children’s education first if they have only one computer or iPad at home,” Toller said. “And, some of our students, who have not been successful at school before, find virtual learning classes even harder for them without any supporting system. If they’ve struggled in the past, their natural tendency is to withdraw instead of reaching out to instructors when they start to struggle.”

Experts also say that students from high context cultures face more difficulty in virtual learning compared to the low context culture groups because their communication relies on context and tone instead of just words.

Cecilia Leffler, a 48-year-old UCC student, mother and full-time employee, finds her virtual classes more challenging as she navigates technology difficulties. She describes herself as a visual learner who delayed her enrollment in math and lab classes since the pandemic hit. However, she is so close to finishing her associate degree in Human Services, only needing another 22 credits, that waiting for in-person classes would prolong her graduation too much longer. 

Leffler first tried enrolling in an online math class during this pandemic, and then decided to drop out. “Without the pandemic, I would take math and lab classes. In order to learn better in those subjects, I need to be there in the in-person classrooms and work with instructors,” Leffler said.

Although virtual learning allows Leffler to continue her education while she continues her full-time job to support her family, she also must trade off her personal and family’s time.

Leffler’s son, 11-year-old Gabriel, shared, “The downside of pandemic and online schooling is that I don’t get to spend time with my mom. She is always very busy with her schoolwork if she does not work outside.”

Kacy Buxton, a 20-year-old Computer Science major, shared the similar challenges with some classes that require actual practice and hand on. Although she does not have a problem with technology, she would prefer all her lab classes to be in-person classrooms, where she thinks she can learn the most and get the best learning outcome.

Infographic depicting Honor Roll from Winter 2019 to Fall 2020
Graphic created by Peyton Manning / The Mainstream

Another disruption relates to the friendships and interaction with other students that face-to-face learning facilitates. Buxton reported that she was not able to make any new friends since transitioning to virtual classes. The remote classes are such a rush and have limited space to form friendships with her classmates. She only keeps communicating with who she knew from the previous school terms.

Clayton Brelage, a 19-year-old freshman student who attended UCC since fall 2020, addressed similar difficulties with making new friends. He mostly keeps communicating with high school friends who also attend the UCC for school projects.

Brelage only experienced in-person classes during his high school year. He envisioned himself in college having new learning experiences and new feelings and expressed that he misses a chance to experience a real college life on campus with real connection and interaction with professors, participation in group discussion and hearing feedback from other students in person.

“Virtual classes move so fast. I kind of miss human interaction and the feelings in the in-person classroom. It is like go-go-go,” Brelage stated.

Laffler and Buxton also miss their school facilities and support team on the campus.

“Sometimes I do miss the quiet place studying in the area in the UCC library,” Buxton said. “It’s always a nice quiet place to be able to study. For the most part, studying at home is quiet, but sometimes I wish I could go to the study area on the campus where you can see the outside from the window. In the winter or when it’s raining, when you need a little break, you just look up, watching the rain. It was so relaxing.”

Besides the discomfort and difficulties, students see some positives about pandemic schooling.

Leffler’s son says seeing his mom’s determination with schooling and homework motivates him to keep working hard on his schoolwork too.

Brelage, who has been taking full-time classes and working a part time job, shared the positive effect of his perseverance and persistence with his remote learnings. His sister watches him as an example of schooling and also works hard on her school assignments.

Video clip edited by Peyton Manning / The Mainstream

Buxton, who majors in Computer Science, not only stepped up to take a leadership role in the UCC student newspaper during the pandemic, but also, she has been supporting her community with skills and knowledge from her major. For example, she helped her pastor to set up church service Zoom meetings to help people keep in connection and provide emotional support to one another.

“I never thought a little help could make such differences in people’s lives, especially during pandemics. Every little thing helps if we don’t look over it,” Buxton said.

Despite all of the difficulties of virtual classes, the UCC Honor Roll did not show much difference compared to prior the pandemic. The Director of Registration and Records announced the 2020 fall term Honor Roll has 224 full-time students on the President’s list (earning a 3.75 or higher GPA) and 106 students on the Dean’s list (earning a 3.74 to 3.50 GPA) compared to the 2019 fall term Honor Roll with 229 students on the President’s list and 122 students on the Dean’s list. This may be because the students who tend to drop out are on the lower grade scales.

Video clip edited by Peyton Manning / The Mainstream

Buxton offered words of encouragement to fellow students: “To anybody that attends school online, even it is not at UCC, you have got to keep in mind that it is only for a season. You’re not always going to be online and always away from everyone else. You got to make sure to go see those that you can still see in person or your friends even if you have to talk to them over the phone or Zoom or even just text. You’ve got to remember that they are going through this too. We all are just going through this together. So, we need to be able to support one another and build each up. And if you are struggling or something, talk to your friends, family or whoever you need to talk to about it, and they will listen. And if they need someone to talk to, be that person that listens. We just all need to be able to listen and share with others. With that, we can make it through online learning. As long as we all hold strong together.”

Brelage also offered his advice. “Take it as a good opportunity to have something different,” Brelage said. “Take it as a new step, not take it as a bad thing. Take it as a positive way, something new. Something you can look back on and say ‘Hey, that was different.’ Maybe step away from normal be old school.”

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