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Southern Illinois community colleges unveil plans to welcome back students in the fall amid pandemic
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Southern Illinois community colleges unveil plans to welcome back students in the fall amid pandemic

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Community colleges in Southern Illinois are preparing for the start of an unusual fall semester with plans to offer a mix of online, in-person and hybrid courses. Though the formats and degree to which in-person classes will be offered vary somewhat from campus to campus, the plans that have been outlined thus far are similar.

The colleges said they are following guidance put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Illinois Department of Public Health and local health departments and the Illinois Community College Board. They also noted that their plans are flexible and include the ability to rapidly shift to distance learning-only platforms if necessitated by the spread of COVID-19.

Here’s a look at how each campus is planning to welcome back students next month:

Southeastern Illinois College

Southerneastern Illinois College released a 34-page “Mindful Reopening Plan” on Wednesday that details extensive steps intended to keep faculty, staff and students safe while allowing for face-to-face classroom instruction.

Masks will be required for everyone on campus. Instructors will stagger their face-to-face classroom days to reduce the number of people on campus at a given time. And staff will follow a hybrid operational schedule working some days on campus and some remotely.

Southeastern spokeswoman Angela Wilson said the college is pleased to be able to offer students face-to-face instruction, in accordance with guidance from state and local health officials. Some classes necessitate in-person learning. There are also students who lack adequate access to remote learning tools such as reliable internet, especially in the district’s more remote areas, she said. Southeastern will continue to make the college an open hotspot for students to access the internet from the parking lot if they need to complete or file assignments from their vehicles.

Wilson said the college has been working on the plan, approved by SIC’s board Tuesday night, since March when the pandemic forced the college to move classes to online and other remote learning formats. To prepare for the fall, she said that the college has taken extraordinary steps, including knocking down walls to make bigger classrooms and installing new bottle-filling water stations since shared drinking fountains cannot be used.

When students return for the first day of classes, they will receive a T-shirt, as is typical, and a mask, a sign of the times.

Shawnee Community College

Shawnee Community College also announced this past week that it is ready to welcome students, faculty and staff back to campus for the fall 2020 semester. Though, SCC noted in a press release that this coming semester will be “noticeably different” from a traditional fall return because of changes intended to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

SCC faculty are prepared to effectively use remote teaching technologies, and they are available to assist students in all academic methods, the college said. SCC Interim President Kathleen Curphy said that the college will offer a menu of face-to-face, traditional online, and online hybrid courses as it has every semester.

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“But we have increased the number of online synchronous courses (Zoom) offered on the fall schedule,” she said in a statement. These courses will be conducted on a traditional schedule with specific days and times outlined on the master course schedule. “This option will allow students to participate in class from any location and interact with their instructor and other class members as they would in a face-to-face setting,” she said.

Students who select to take hybrid online courses will meet for in-person instruction for less than half of the course requirements on designated days, and complete other work online. Further, the college said it will have temperature check-in stations at all locations for students and staff. Classrooms have been rearranged to accommodate 6 feet of social distancing space between students. And masks will be required for all students, faculty and staff on SCC’s campuses.

Rend Lake College

In releasing a return-to-campus plan at the end of June, Rend Lake College President Terry Wilkerson said that the school’s leadership team has “put an immense amount of work into planning a safe learning environment for students this upcoming semester.”

“We are going to continue our efforts to provide a top-quality education while staying in compliance with health guidelines,” he said. Those guidelines include practicing social distancing, wearing masks, wellness checks offered by the college and other measures to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Fall classes at RLC will begin as planned in an online, remote or hybrid format. Students will not come to campus for the first two days of the semester, Aug. 17-18, and will receive direction during that time via Canvas, the college’s online learning platform. A majority of the hybrid options — where students meet for some face-to-face instruction in addition to online or remote instruction — are for courses where hands-on learning is a necessity, the college said.

“There have been and will continue to be challenges during this unprecedented time, but RLC faculty and staff are committed to finding solutions and resources to help our students succeed,” said RLC Vice President of Instruction and Student Affairs Lori Ragland.

John A. Logan College

In a message to the campus community this past Monday, John A. Logan College Vice President for Instructional Services Melanie Pecord said there are still many unknowns about the fall semester. She said that students have many questions, such as: Will the semester be "normal?" Can we all be in a classroom at one time? Will we have to wear face masks?

“While we do not have all the answers just yet to this evolving situation, we want you to know we are diligently working on these items and many more to plan and announce our fall 2020 academic schedule in the near future,” she said.

Pecord said that John A. Logan College’s top priority with its planning “is to provide a quality education in a safe environment.” Currently, she said, administrators are collaborating with faculty and staff to create a schedule that aims to best meet the needs of students. She said that while some courses may convert to an online format, many subjects are better experienced in a face-to-face environment. Therefore, she said that JALC’s goal is to provide a semester that offers students a variety of class formats from which to choose: traditional online classes, online classes with a scheduled, live broadcast with an instructor, hybrid courses and primarily lab courses that meet face-to-face in a socially distanced environment.

She said that JALC is “hopeful” that Illinois will remain in Phase 4 of the state’s Restore Illinois plan. In this phase, schools are allowed to hold in-person classes with restrictions. “But we are also planning our response should this change,” Pecord said, echoing a sentiment shared by other community colleges, as well.

Pecord noted that this time presents many challenges, but concluded on an optimistic note. “Together, we will get through this experience and will be stronger on the other side,” she said.

molly.parker@thesouthern.com

618-351-5079

On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​

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