Corona Blog: How Community College Students Are At Risk

From one student to another: How to handle being homesick at WSU ...

Because of the threat of COVID-19, college students nationwide are now finishing the spring semester on line. In response to this challenge, colleges and universities– like Boston University and Cornell– have announced wholesale changes to their grading policies. Commencements have been postponed or cancelled.  On platforms like Canvas and Edmodo, professors are laboring to create a semblance of continuity and community while maintaining the integrity of their courses. Students are logging on, commenting on one another’s threads, getting through required reading and submitting papers.

It’s a brave new world alright full of uncertainty, isolation, anxiety,  and disappointment.

Full disclosure: I am new relatively new to the community college scene; I am not an expert on collegiate achievement. I am privileged to have found a post-retirement position in a community college academic support center as a writing tutor. Therefore, anything you read here is derived from personal observation as opposed to from data driven research.

Completing the semester will be difficult.

Navigating the novel circumstances created by the novel corona virus is challenging for Novel Corona Virus/COVID-19 Resourcesstudents with every ideal resource in place. For community college students, completing the course work they began–and paid for–in January could be a task of Herculean proportions.


Some community college students won’t be able to access the internet.

Computer Engineering BS Degree | Michigan Tech AdmissionsIt’s easy to assume that everyone is equally cyber linked. But the reality, however, is that some students don’t own computers or printers. They rely on on-campus hardware and connectivity to access library data bases, to submit papers, to get to and print assignments and readings. Under ordinary circumstances, these students find what they need at school.  These aren’t ordinary circumstances. Those resources are no longer available. In addition, under current conditions, other options–public libraries, for example–are closed, too.  Our community college is offering  a limited number of students loaner lap tops, but not every school can do this and it doesn’t solve the problem of accessing the internet.

Academic support across the curriculum continues to be available to our students, but that, too, is internet dependent. Accessing tutorials that had physical presence on campus now happens on line. So much of the support the tutors provided students happened during meaningful dialogues. There is just so much that cyber communication can do to reinvent those conversations.

There is discipline, comfort and support in the classroom.

In addition to on campus resources, seats in classrooms provide students with a predictable routine. There is accountability in being members of a  physical learning community. Many of our students are new to the collegiate experience. Others are aduThe Modern College Classroom | Featuring my BU New Media stu… | Flickrlts returning to school after many years.  The discipline and routine of attendance help students meet the academic expectations of college achievement.  Once on campus, professors reinforce independent learning through lecture and in-class activities. There is no substitute for the human interaction that takes place in class.


English Language Learners are particularly at risk.

And what of those students for whom English is not their first language? Our campus has a designated center for international pupils, a place where they share the challenges of attending college in a new place and where they find additional resources and support. There are an estimated 49 languages spoken on our campus, but instruction is conducted in English, a disobedient, unruly tongue. Think of through, rough, though; the same sequence of letters result in three different sounds. We use definite and indefinite articles. Verbs and nouns have to agree. Capital letters and apostrophes. There, they’re and their.  It’s hard enough for those of us who grew up speaking English.  Students whose native languages are Spanish, French,  Chinese, Farsi, Croatian, Greek are tackling  demanding coursework across the content area. Face to face instruction allows English Language Learners to participate in discussion, to ask for clarification. On campus, these students have lifelines. At home, in academic isolation, they muddle through using the imprecision of translator apps–if they have access.

Then there are the external pressures on community college kids.

Add to these obvious obstacles the other factors that put community college students at risk. Out of economic necessity, they may be working one, sometimes two jobs, while trying to keep up with their studies. They may be balancing family obligations with coursework. They may be the first in their families to attend college. They may face food insecurity or the threat of homelessness.

Community college students have to dig deeper for strength to succeed.

The pandemic has changed life as we know. The things we took for granted just a month ago have suddenly morphed into a landscape we never could have imagined outside of a sci-fi novel. I hope that students across the nation find ways to make it through these tough times. I fear, however, that many will be discouraged. Community college students have both more to gain and more to lose during these challenging times. To them I say: don’t give up; you can do this.  The problem with the push for more college degrees





COVID-19 and High School Juniors

On social media, parents and kids are lamenting the things the Class of 2020 will miss because of the COVID-19 pandemic: proms, ceremonies, yearbooks.  Image result for images of graduations

Yes, all of these anticipated rites of passage will be sacrificed in the name of social distancing for the common good.  And yes, it is sad that these kids will not have the closure activities they expected. But…we don’t always get to say what happens next.


It’s the kids who are currently juniors who stand to lose ground right now.

Historically, spring has been when high school counselors help eleventh graders and their families initiate the college search/application process.  Spring is when those of who have taught English 11 typically got our students started on writing the dreaded college essay. Spring is when many colleges ramp up recruitment and campus tours.

This spring, however, is unlike any we have ever seen. Teachers and students are hurtling toward the year’s end via cyber portals and on-line learning. College admission exams scheduled for May have been canceled (at least one school–Boston University–will go test-optional for 2021 undergrad admissions). Local and state tests may–or may not–be factors in pupils’ GPAs.

So what can high school juniors be doing to stay engaged in the college application process?


1.If your school offers the option, reach out to your guidance counselor. This expert has Image result for images of guidance counselrosaccess to the most current information about what you have to do and when you should do it.  Your counselor will likely have access to your academic records, too.



2. One of the things your counselor will likely suggest is to compile a resume of sorts. Create a table of your high school and community activities.  List the name of the activity and a description of the role you played. Be comprehensive. Think of extra-curriculars–sports, student government, clubs–and community/church projects.  Include employment, too.  Colleges often want to know what–beyond academics–you will offer them. Don’t despair if you don’t have an extensive list. Admission committees are good at what they do and they know when students have merely dipped a toe into dozens of activities to pad the resume. Image result for images of high school activity sheets

3. Start thinking about the kind of college experience you might like. Yes, this is a challenge because no one knows the future. But you can start thinking about it.  Consider if you think you would be happier in a rural or urban setting. Do you believe you’d like a small/big school? Public or private?  Two year or four year? Commute or dorm?  How far from home would you like to be? Do you have a specific major in mind?  You can use answers to these questions to begin thinking about specific colleges. Image result for images of college campus

4. Do some research. Access websites of colleges that seem to fit your needs. Take the virtual tours. Look at admission requirements and access an application if you can. Think about the academic offerings and explore student life. It is a good idea to take notes because after you have “toured” a couple of colleges, they can all seem to blend. Do keep in mind that web sites are sales pitches, intended to attract potential applicants.


5. Pull up the Common Application at Poke around the site. It will give you a good amount of information about the application process.  While not every college accepts the Comm App, more and more schools have gone this route. See if the schools you are interested in are among those listed. You can also check out the  application essay prompts. Some colleges will be satisfied with essays submitted through the Common App; others require supplemental essays. Image result for images of common application


6. Use the Common App prompts to write practice essays. The essays are intended to let you show the admissions committees something your other documents will not tell them. Use the essays to showcase something unique to you, something you will bring to their collegiate communities. You can choose a prompt to describe a job experience, the positive outcome of facing an obstacle, accomplishing something you believed to be impossible, a person you admire. You want to consider how the experience you write about has changed you. What have you learned about yourself? About the world around you?  It can help to open with an anecdote, a story to drop your reader into the moment.  Image result for images of students writing


Eventually, this moment of uncertainty will pass and we will get back to school. Life, as we knew it, may never be the same, but with a little luck and a lot of fortitude, we will emerge smarter and stronger.





When This is Over,What Will We Have Learned

Image result for images of optimists


People who know me know that I am an optimist. So, yes, I believe that this, too, shall pass.



Frequently Asked Questions | CDC  But I am also a realist. I understand that life will never be quite the same as it was before we thought of Corona as anything but the beer that helps us find our beach.

The optimist–and maybe the teacher– in me insist that there are lessons here, that like any experience, this should make us stronger and smarter.

We can get by with less, much less.

Image result for images of not being wasteful  We are making due with what we have, wasting less, finding pleasure in simple activities.  It is possible to stretch one meal into two. Pasta with meatballs on Monday becomes meatballs wedges on Tuesday.  Use what you have before risking an outing to the store for more. A walk or run in the woods replaces shopping for sport. Revisit old DVDs or CDs (if you still have a few.) Read the books you have been meaning to get to. Call old friends. Create a blog. Find creative outlets for energy that, in the past, you devoted to other things.

We all inhabit this world together. John Donne was right: no man is an island. Image result for images of unity

The spread of this virus proves the global connection we share. Eevn though it originated in China, calling it the “Chinese virus” doesn’t help us beat it now that it is here. This is a pandemic and people the world over are fighting the same battle to stay healthy. Anyone can host this virus: you, me, the kid next door, your grandma. No passport or visa required. What defines us is our humanity. We owe one another kindness and  support. Think of your neighbors before emptying grocery shelves out of panic. Think of the server or bartender who waited on you last month. Think of the nurse who has to self-isolate from her own family. Let’s remember the power of working together. Staying home protects you and it protects others. As Sister Sledge said in the disco era: We Are Family.

Take no one or nothing for granted; life is fragile and uncertain.

Image result for images of unity  The speed at which life has changed is proof that we don’t always get to say what happens next. We retrace last week’s steps and wonder if anyone we happened to have gotten closer than six feet to could have been infected.The plans we made last month or even last week have been upended. Grocery store shelves that were reliably full are suddenly depleted. Forget about routine medical and dental appointments. Everyone knows people who are now out of work. Everyone knows people performing essential services, often at great risk to themselves. Some of us will know people who get sick and recover. Sadly, some of us will know people who don’t make it. Call your loved ones. You may not know when it will be safe to visit again, but thankfully, we have tools to help us stay connected. Tell people you love them now.

The truth matters. Science matters.Image result for images of truth

We depend on our leaders to tell us the truth. Not propaganda. Not self aggrandizement.  Not unproven conjecture or thoughtless prediction.The truth may be scary, but dishonesty is terrifying. We also depend on our leaders to put the common good ahead of their own self-interests because that’s what leaders do.  We have to trust the experts.  In the age of GOOGLE and Wikipedia, we have a tendency to believe we know more than we really do. This is not a DIY project. This could be life or death, so yeah, science matters. Do your research. Do what we advise our students to do: access reliable sources. Avoid inflammatory outlets that promote opinion over fact.

We are more capable than we imagine. Image result for images of resilience

Finally, perhaps the best lesson we can take away from life in the time of Corona is that people are resilient. Most of us alive today have never truly been put to the test in the way a pandemic does. For sure, we have all had personal moments of great sorrow and strife.  Anyone over the age of 30 clearly remembers the tragedy of 9/11. And some of us have had to claw our way back from the devastation of natural disaster. But in our lifetimes, our nation–indeed, the world–has not dealt with crisis on this scale.  We are going to need that grit going forward because the worst may yet be ahead of us.  Our health care system will be stressed beyond our wildest thoughts. The economy has tanked. So many small businesses won’t survive.  We will have to remember what we have done and what we can do. We will have to find ways to work together. We will have to be one to meet the needs of the many. But here’s the thing: we can do it.

Frequently Asked Questions | CDC  As with any experience, how you see it becomes your response. In this moment of epic fear and uncertainty, be that person, the one who will emerge stronger and smarter. Don’t let this virus define you. Find your strength. Share your love. Look toward hope.





Please Try This At Home

Image result for clip art images of kids reading School is in session. COVID-19 has upended life as we know it. This post is for families suddenly stuck in close quarters, all trying to work from home while doing the responsible thing #socialdistancing.

You have been tasked with a huge challenge. You can take walks, cyber connect with friends, make time for board games.

But, in so many ways, these are the times that try men’s and women’s souls.

Image result for clip art images of parenting And you will still be expected to get your own work done. Here are a few kid-tested projects to keep your new class settled while you hop on Zoom to conference with colleagues. These ideas can keep them productively busy. Remember: this is about survival, making it through these uncertain and scary times.

Programming Note: Those of you who have always known all there is to know about teaching can sit out this post; you know who you are. In any case, you have likely moved on to practicing medicine, running the MTA or patching a fix for the ailing Dow Jones anyway. 

  1. Interview a family member. Kids can call, FaceTime, or email grandparents, Image result for clip art images of grandparentsaunts, uncles, cousins and find out what their lives are like.  The fact of pre-COVID life was that we had very little time to just chat. With activities cancelled and people staying home, now might be a good time to check in. Older relatives are especially good sources of family and historical info. They have stories to tell; now we have time to listen.  Kids can generate a list of questions and even record the conversation on a phone. Older kids can transcribe the interview into a magazine style article. They can send thank you notes/emails/texts after the interview.
  2.   Design/invent a product and “pitch” it Shark Tank style. Kids have amazing   imaginations. Let them come up with a gadget to take out the trash or a way to keep onions from making people cry when we cut them. They can create prototypes   with stuff from the recycling bin and traditional art supplies. Let them watch an episode of Shark Tank and then script a pitch. They can draw backdrops, dress for a TV appearance.
  3. Create a time capsule. What ten or twenty items best speak to how life is lived today in 2020? (Think back to your own childhood: CDs, iPods, Jenco jeans, Saved by the Bell.) Kids don’t have to put the actual items into their capsules. They can draw or download pictures. Encourage them to explain what these items reveal about our lives.  Why is a smart phone important enough to be included? Reusable shopping bags? Tom Brady jerseys and Adidas tennis shoes?  Maybe put the capsule away and plan to open it a year, two years, ten years from now. Yeah, I know that last one is a stretch, but as long as we are dreaming, right?
  4. Write a speech. This is for older kids. Ask them to imagine they have just won an award–ESPY, Oscar, Grammy, Nobel Prize, Olympic medal–and now they have to deliver an acceptance speech. They can deliver a speech to promote a cause they believe in or maybe they have been elected to political office and they will share an inaugural address. There are examples of speeches on line that kids can listen to and use as models.
  5. What do you want to be when you grow up? Every kid thinks about this. Little kids can draw pictures. Bigger kids can conduct research and find out about the profession: training, earnings, availability and satisfaction. They can create business cards for themselves.
  6. Write and illustrate a fairy tale. Kids can revisit a story they love and put their own spin on it. Change the point of view. Set it in modern times.  Or they can write an original fairy tale. They can illustrate using traditional art supplies or computer generated images.
  7. Pick a place to visit and create travel brochure. This is also for older kids–grade 3 and up.  If you had a chance where would you go? A National Park? Disneyland? Niagara Falls? Times Square? Paris? Antarctica? The Great Barrier Reef?   How would you get there? Where would you stay? What would you see? This can be done with traditional art supplies. Some computer programs like Microsoft Office have applications for making brochures.

Teachers know that a good project provides students with multiple learning opportunities, that instruction doesn’t always look like kids sitting at desks listening attentively. Parents know what interests their own kids. We now are faced with keeping our kids engaged and encouraging their curiosity. Stay strong; we can do this!


College in The Time of CORONA

Image result for images of coronavirus Technology is a great gift in the time of COVID-19. Distance learning will allow college students to complete the spring semester even as hundreds of higher ed institutions are forced to close their physical campuses.

The miracle of Zoom, Google Hang Out and other on-line conferencing applications drops us into a shared cyber space even as this viral health threat prevents us from being in the same classrooms. Blackboard and E-School keep professors and students connected, lending a semblance of continuity to instruction. Through links and threads, students will be able to finish what they began in January.

Image result for images of cyber conferencing

Make no mistake. Technology is saving the semester for students from coast to coast. It may be saving lives, too, by minimizing personal contact. 



These platforms, however, should be a line of last resort. Why? Because collegiate learning is more than checking the boxes on a syllabus.

Mastering content is undeniably the important component of higher education. Students have to demonstrate competencies across the curriculum, solving for X, reading and writing for information and understanding, explaining scientific theory, placing events in historical context.

What On-Line Learning Doesn’t Give Students

But learning is more than  accumulating dates and memorizing formulas.  Learning is listening to what others have to say and finding your own voice to join the conversation. Learning is discovering your place in an evolving dialogue. Learning is the exhilaration of discovery as an active member of an instructional community.   On-line platform posts can merely mimic face to face discussion.

Additionally, on-line instruction fails to provide the reliable continuity of in-person courses. Students have built-in accountability when they have to face their instructors and peers who expect them to arrive prepared to participate. Deadlines and due dates loom larger when students have a physical presence in a classroom. On-line learning, by definition, comes with a host of computer generated distractions requiring discipline and time management.

For Now, I Am All In

All that said, I am grateful that, as a member of a team of higher ed student support professionals, I expect to be able to continue my work remotely while the nation grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Already, though, I miss face to face conferences with students, our discussions about Joyce’s critique of  repressive Catholicism and comparisons between Frost’s “Mending Wall” and current events. Students bring to us fresh perspectives. They ask relevant and probing questions.   Our relationships with students are built on trust and that is just one of the challenges of on line instruction. I look forward to the time when it is safe for us all to be on campus again.










Some Truths About Writing Instruction

Image result for black and white images of hands writing    When I was teaching middle school, a cadre of well meaning– but ill-formed– parents believed that structured writing instruction stifled creativity.  They argued vehemently against planning pages,  strong, specific topic sentences, and transitions on the grounds that practicing these basic writing skills interfered with their tweens’ budding imaginations.

Now that my job consists of supporting writers on the collegiate level, I feel a vindication of sorts. Professors across the content areas demand the same clear, organized and unified writing that I required of my middle school students. The very best among these professors provide students with structured exemplars and even templates to help students successfully express and defend complex–and yes, creative–thinking.  Image result for images of student writers

The reality of writing is that it is both a process and an acquired skill. As readers, it is easy to take the quality of the written word for granted. We get lost in novels that transport us and forget that nothing on the page–or screen–has been included haphazardly.  Engaging non-fiction informs, but to keep readers in the loop, these writers rely on text structure.

Writing Instruction Requires Structure

Truth.  Teachers are responsible for showing students how to best present their ideas. Student writers do not arrive in class with this skill. And they will not learn it through a series of unfocused, loose writing activities which may be fun, but which typically do little to help them produce clear, cohesive written responses. Teachers have to explicit teach and model planning.  Students have to first know what they are being asked to accomplish. They have to form a claim/thesis. They have to determine how they will support that claim. Rather than stifling creativity, refining these skills provides a springboard for effective discussion that ultimately frees student writers to take significant risks. Writing within a structure gives student writers a way to see their work with a beginning, middle and ending and the means to unify their ideas.

Writing Instruction Requires Practice.

A lot of practice. A middle school colleague likened this to riding a bike: “You didn’t learn to ride a bike only by watching someone else; you learned to ride a bike by getting on and pedaling.” (Thanks, Madeline, I still use this quote often.) Student writers improve when they are asked to write often. The steps in the process become embedded in their work. They plan. They draft. They edit. They vary their word choices and sentence structure. They do it all organically, as part of their approach to a prompt. And as they gain confidence, they are able to do this on-demand, something they are asked to do for standardized tests, for content areas exams, for placement purposes. Of course, all this practice means work for writing teachers.But. if we want our students to value writing, we have to value everything they write.

Writing Instruction Requires Time for Reflection.

Writing teachers have to build in time for students to see their written work as more than the numerical score earned. Students have to re-engage with their graded assignments through guided reflection. Using thoughtful teacher comments, they have to self-evaluate.  Teachers have to promote this through structured post-writing activities. Is the thesis strong and specific? Is the text-based evidence effective?  Is the response organized through topic sentences and transitions?  What part of this assignment was the most challenging? How is this response better than previous essays? Set two goals for your next written response.

Writing is hard work.

Image result for images of students working hard Plain and simple. This is why students complain so much about having to write. This is why frustrated parents, too, complain about writing assignments. There are no shortcuts, no quick fixes. In our district, administrators searched perpetually to buy into a “program,” some pre-packaged plan to produce stronger writers. They might as well have gone looking for the Fountain of Youth, because no such thing exists.

The good news is that technology gives students the means to revisit their writing. They can juggle sentences, search for synonyms, try on templates to introduce quotes. There are sites to answer grammar and citation questions. Yet as much as tech can help student writers, nothing subs in for the sweat factor.

Image result for images of successGiving students the structure and the tools to write well is a gift that keeps on giving. Writing clearly and concisely is more important now than ever. Students use these skills throughout their academic careers. In the workplace, they are judged by their project proposals, emails, memos and texts often sent to peers and supervisors without the benefit of face-to-face communication. Strong, confident writers will find ways to integrate creativity and imagination.