How Contra Costa students, staff are adjusting to a post-COVID campus life

By Jo Bruno, Staff Writer

A year and a half after COVID brought school operations to a halt, students, instructors and staff are working their way back to business-as-usual.

While almost everyone has learned how to cope with makeshift kitchen workstations and the realities of school, challenges remain.

In-person and remote, hybrid learning will continue to be a reality for many students, faculty and staff in future semesters, but it seems that many people are ready and eager to get back to in-person learning. 

Interviews with students and staff show that there’s a sense of community that is rebuilding, reimagining, and even being reinvented as we remember what was, understand what is, and plan for what could be next for our college experiences.

Hybrid learning has become the new normal; school must go on.

For student Sheila Tolbert, having online classes has been a lifeline.

“Virtual learning has kept me connected and [has been] very beneficial to keep the network together,” Tolbert said. “In my depression, it was what kept me focused. The cloud was lifted.”

Tolbert, a Health and Human Services Club officer who arrived on campus for the Associated Students’ Inner Club Council (ICC) mandatory, in-person meeting held Oct. 5 in the evening, said the campus was like a ghost town.

But Tolbert was still glad to be on campus for the first time. The ICC meets weekly, and while it’s virtual now, the first meeting needed to be in person because of the rules of the Brown Act — a law that aims to guarantee access to public meetings.

Remote learning has also opened up new opportunities for students.

That’s the case for Sam Handley, a first-time college student.

“I would have never taken the [SPIRIT] course, or any course, if it wasn’t online,” Handley said of the content of the Service Provider Individual Recovery Intensive Training program, guiding her in her ongoing recovery. 

The SPIRIT program is a Contra Costa County program through the Behavioral Health Department and Office of Consumer Empowerment that partners with the Health and Human Services Department on campus. It’s a focused nine-unit course, which starts in January and ends in June and provides county-wide resources for recovery and mental health

It was because of the opportunity for virtual learning that allowed Handley to be a student, but that she still might not entertain in-person learning in the future. For her, “it’s public anxiety and physical health that makes it easier to attend classes virtually.”

She’s continued her education because of it, she said.

“Remote learning has definitely opened new channels for students who had not attempted online learning in the past,” said Dennis Franco, Dean of Students for the Student Services Division,  “and as we get back to in person learning, the channels that have been opened for students who did not traditionally access learning online will likely continue to do so in some capacity.”

But the forced shift to remote learning during the pandemic has also left some students disconnected from needed resources.

Franco doesn’t get to interact with students as much as he used to pre-pandemic, but he’s still painfully aware of students’ food insecurities, and mental and financial struggles. 

“As someone who likes to interact with students and help them in their journey,” Franco said, not being able to do that “has been a challenge.” 

“Many students and even employees have lost family members to COVID-19,” he said.“We [Contra Costa College] have continued to lose student enrollment during the pandemic, including this semester, so there is some concern about whether or not remote learning meets the needs of all of our students, especially the more vulnerable ones.” 

Kevin Hernandez, ICC chair and Vice President of Clubs, painted a nuanced picture of the situation.

“Zoom has made it possible for us to come together,” he said, but there is something different about meeting in person instead of virtually. 

“Remote learning has affected all of us differently. There has been a big transition trying to recruit clubs and assist them with the charting process,” Hernandez continued, “we will transition and move into bigger things such as events and having more than four clubs on [the] ICC [board].” 

Different clubs comprise the ICC board, providing club representatives the opportunity to collaborate and discuss student concerns, upcoming events for their clubs and anything else that brings awareness regarding student leadership on campus. 

“Student leadership in remote learning has influenced so many students to speak on several topics and bring change with the uprising in social justice and other movements,” Hernadez said. I believe in remote learning, we have a wake-up call and we are moving towards the new era of leadership. I am confident in my colleagues and their abilities in whatever leadership position they are in.” 

——————————————————————————————————————

Those interested in getting involved with the Inner Club Council can contact Kevin Hernadez at [email protected]