COVID-19 Leaves Lasting Impact on Local College

     Marvel said that closing the labs in March was perfect timing, although unplanned. Specialty classes had finished before break. The remaining students were mostly first-year students. They had finished midterms and food safety certifications before break. 

     Although the timing was perfect, going online for these students was devastating. Most of them had never taken an online class. They were hands-on students, and now they had four or five online classes. Marvel said, “It was very hard for them to make the transition….  They were disappointed, scared, worried…exhausted.” Many students did not continue.

From her personal kitchen, Chef Krista Marvel prepares a live Zoom class for the first day of spring semester at York County Community College, Wells, Maine, Tuesday, January 19, 2021. (Photo by Krista Marvel)

     Finishing the spring semester was challenging. Each half-hour video Marvel produced took eight to 10 hours to shoot. Students never returned to the lab. They picked up ingredients curbside until no longer allowed. Food shortages were a problem. Chefs used recipes they knew well enough to grade taste by sight. Eventually labs stopped since students did not have the ingredients.

     Marvel said spring was difficult but “My fall was brutal.” Catching the students up from fall added pressure. Marvel taught back-to-back classes in the lab two days each week. She would arrive by 7 a.m. and leave at 10 p.m. Her voice was weak by the end of the night and her face rubbed raw from her mask. The students were eager and put in extra time. They were afraid that each day would be their last in the lab. 

     Rogan acknowledged loss for the college community. Some students and instructors chose not to take part in online classes. Some students lost the traditional college experience with  camaraderie and teamwork.

     Rogan said that YCCC is providing great online instruction and student support. She said, “I still think they are missing some of…the things you just learn from being around each other and working on projects together.” 

     Rogan admitted that she had a difficulty accepting change for herself. Continuing to go to the campus five days each week for eight months, she was often alone or with a couple of others in the building. Rogan misses not being able to pop out of her office to pull a creative team together. She said that she feels lucky to have a long history with her group, but she wonders how someone new would integrate.

     Marvel also teaches in the hospitality programs at YCCC. She expressed concern that COVID bubbles will affect guest relations. Marvel said, “We have lost our ability of how to connect with people, to listen, of how to engage with them.” Enrollment was too low at YCCC to support offering hospitality classes this year.

     Marvel believes hospitality management will need more technology support due to COVID. Maine’s tourism industry needs shape curriculum. 

    Rogan talked about the gains and silver linings of COVID’s challenges. The intake process is now completely online, including placement testing. Potential students Zoom with program chairs and new students attend virtual orientation. For instructors, professional development features national speakers without constraints of time and travel. Software makes exceptional online science labs possible. Instructors discovered classes that adapt well to online learning. 

     For the spring 2021 semester, Marvel tried live Zoom culinary labs. The students love them. They follow her demo and create at home. CARES Act funds allowed students to buy ingredients. Now she imagines ways to integrate technology into future classes. She cautioned that integrating technology may not work for everyone. “For every group of students that we say technology…this is the answer, there’s a group of students, especially within the community college system, we risk leaving behind.” Marvel explained that some students do not have reliable internet. Food insecurity is a major problem for others. Rather than ask for help, students drop out.

     Marvel’s students have amazed her. They persist and grow. She wonders if the idea of individual learning styles is too restrictive. COVID’s impact and barriers broken have made her rethink old labels.

     When the essential labs meet in-person now, things are far from the old normal. Students report their health using an app. Security takes temperatures at the door. Masks are mandatory. COVID dictates class size and room assignments. An instructor may teach one class spread between two adjoining rooms. Another instructor observes a student from behind a rolling plexiglass partition.

     Marvel said that all are doing their best. She asked for grace and understanding for teachers taking on multiples roles. “We got put into this giant snow globe, shook it up, and said ‘go learn.’ It’s amazing how resilient our students and instructors are.” 

     Rogan is confident that YCCC has remained true to its mission. YCCC still provides academic, transfer and career programs that people want and need. Culinary, veterinary technology, precision machining technology and medical assisting labs continue. Workforce development is providing career training and creating community partnerships. Rogan summed up YCCC’s commitment to student success and reaction to COVID’s challenges. “We got creative and we are doing what we are meant to do….  We have learned a lot of good things from it.”