By Grace Filloramo
These days, while trying to conform to the new “normal” COVID-19 has brought on, it feels like college comes at more than just a financial price.
In the unprecedented times, it’s no longer just the stress of school work students are worrying about. Family businesses, health restrictions, social life restrictions, virtual learning, the health of family members and loved ones and so many more factors are taken into consideration. These circumstances have led many students to take the semester off, affecting their social life and mental health. . While trying to navigate this new “normal”, students are facing challenges and making massive decisions.
“It’s hard enough already to actually go to classes but when we switched to online last semester it was just so abrupt and hard to stay on top of all the work. Switching to online definitely affected my grades.” said Lauren Henderson ‘21.
Whether it worked out or not, online learning was an unforeseen adjustment all students and faculty faced. “There was no way I could have gone back this semester and felt confidently that I was going to do well. Especially with everything being so up in the air, no one knew what this semester would look like. I definitely feel like I made the right choice to take the semester off.” Henderson said.
Doing what’s best for your mental health is just one factor in deciding whether or not to go back to school during a pandemic, but there are loads of other reasons that influence student decisions. First year Addy Cook from Newport Center, VT said she was looking forward to her first year at SMC playing for the women’s soccer team, but COVID-19 changed those plans. “I decided to stay home because my parents have a business and it’s been really hard to find people that want to come back to work,” she said. “I’ve been able to continue working for them and take my first semester of classes online.”.
Things shifted a bit as more information came in. “Once I got the okay from the NE-10 that I can still practice with the team, it started to feel like, okay this could work. I travel about two hours to campus around three to four times a week to practice with the team,” Cook said. “A full course load on top of bartending and waitressing is definitely a lot of work. I finally feel like I’m in a flow of classes and it’s getting easier. Either way being online for classes kind of sucks, I think it’s more work and a lot of staring at a screen.”
Sophomore Aisha Navarrete of Pawlet, VT is also trying to navigate what her new normal should look like in these unprecedented times. Like so many students, the financial stress of paying full tuition for a semester of hybrid online/in-campus classes was a price she wasn’t willing to pay. “If I were on campus, I only would have had one class in person, two online and one hybrid. To pay full tuition for a nearly all online workload was not worth it,” said Navarrete ‘23. “I’m taking a leave of absence from Saint Michael’s this semester and taking three classes online at CCV [Community College of Vermont] instead. They will transfer to St. Mike’s as some core credits. “ Navarette shared she’s also working three jobs at a retirement home, substitute teaching at an elementary school and reffing soccer, “I have to stay busy otherwise I’d go a little nuts.”
“The biggest change this year is how students are exploring their college options,” said Michael Stefanowicz, Director of Admissions.
“On-campus visits are much more restrictive because our priority needs to be protecting the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff on campus and we are responsible for complying with Vermont’s public health guidance.” he added
Whether a student wanted to go back or not is an individual choice. “I talked to my parents about it but they didn’t want to influence my decision too much,” Navarette said.. With recent back surgery, Navarette would not have been able to play for the women’s soccer team, and that also influenced her decision to stay off campus. “It was a combination of what made most sense, for my health, financially, and also I don’t think anyone knew what it would be like to be on campus with all the Covid restrictions,” Navarette said.
Students who did return to campus have had to adjust to a different normal in their social lives as well. St. Michael’s new guidelines have limited the number of people that can gather in one space, visitors are no longer allowed on campus and masks must be worn at all times when outside one’s dorm, suite or townhouse.
For the students taking a leave of absence, their social life has been even more restricted. “I’m very sociable, I love people so being home is definitely challenging. I miss going down the hall and seeing my friends. I miss my teammates,” Navarette said.
With a social life being limited to a home rather than a campus, these students are at a type of social disadvantage than their on-campus peers. Although we continue to socially distance on campus, those taking a leave of absence face an even greater sense of isolation and distance from their community, friends and loved ones which can have a serious impact on one’s mental health. “I definitely think being remote this semester has had an impact on my mental health,” said Cook.
Silver linings can be found in new approaches taken that broaden the outreach to prospective students who don’t have the capability to come to campus. “The majority of our students come from outside of Vermont which means that campus visits require prospective students to spend time and money visiting campus. The infrastructure we have built for online visits will still continue to benefit students for whom the distance, logistics, or expense of visiting campus is a challenge.” said Stefanowicz.