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Across the country, college students are adapting to new lifestyles as schools transition to online classes. With the fourth week of spring term underway, Treasure Valley Community College students have mixed feelings about the switch to virtual learning.

At TVCC, much of the coursework traditionally follows a hands-on learning approach. Now that classes have moved online to Zoom, some courses have been scrapped completely.

“We canceled all our welding classes, and we canceled some of our aviation classes,” said Abby Lee, associate vice president of TVCC.  “How do you even do that when you have to social distance?”

With the closure of campus and only around 30 students remaining in the dorms, other activities planned for the school year have also been called off. Sophomore Tessa McFetridge, TVCC student government president, expressed her regret about some of these decisions.

“We had dances planned and more outdoor fun activities to do in the spring,” She said. “Unfortunately, we have to cancel all of them.”

College officials said Monday that the number of students enrolled spring term this year is down about 30% from a year ago – 1,472 now compared to 2,122 a year ago.

McFetridge explained how the abrupt change was affecting her and many of her classmates.

“I've talked to a lot of sophomores about it and it's really hit us the hardest because this is only a two-year college, and we were kind of looking forward to our last term together and being able to make the most of it,” McFetridge said. “I would say that it's had a huge, emotional effect on us. I'm trying to keep in touch with as many people as I can.”

In addition to the emotional turmoil they are facing, students are tackling other challenges from home.

Sophomore Megan Price, an equine business student, explains how her academics have changed since last quarter.

“I don’t feel like I’m learning as much as I could, because when you're at home, you want to be outside, or you think of 10 million other things you could be doing,” Price said. “Testing online is difficult. You don’t take it as seriously.”

While taking classes on Zoom is the “New Normal” for students across the U.S., Price explains that the video-conferencing app doesn’t provide the same feeling that being in a classroom does.

“Online classes are pretty awkward,” Price said. “Most of us don’t even show our faces and we all stay muted, because you have that option in Zoom. So, I don’t enjoy it.”

Instructors at the college have also had to make big changes in their curriculums.

Sandra Porter, an agriculture and natural resources instructor, is one of many at the school who has had to modify her classes.

“I teach a class called ‘Purebred Herd Improvement,’ where we would normally go and visit a ranch to talk to experts,” Porter said. “A lot of agricultural businesses are under a pretty intense amount of stress right now so it seems like a particularly difficult time to ask that of them.”

Porter teaches five classes, including one in artificial insemination. She explained. She is offering her students the option to drop the class and take it next spring, or to take it now online with the option to participate in the lab portion the following year. 

Porter added, “I think it would be unfair to say that the students are getting the same education that they would have a year ago, or even a quarter ago. I think they are still getting good things, it’s just not quite the same.” 

Aaron Ashley, a student at TVCC, explained some of the challenges he faces from a virtual learning environment.

“Sometimes a teacher’s microphone will make it hard to hear or I have wifi problems,” he said. 

He misses the traditional classroom setting.

“It’s hard for me to study at home and I’m in the process of trying to find a better study place, which, you know, is hard right now,” said Ashley.

He spends his free time as a student mentor for his peers. While he would normally tutor students in person, he has shifted his services to Zoom to tutor virtually. He explained some of the difficulties that he has encountered.

“Zoom can be difficult if I have multiple students asking questions at the same time,” Ashley said. “It’s hard to manage everyone at once through a screen.” 

Ashley, who also holds a part-time job at Home Depot, explains the stress he is under from being an essential worker during COVID-19.

“I feel like there’s a lot more pressure on the student to try to get everything done because everyone assumes being at home means you have a lot more time,” Ashley said. “I’ve been working more hours than normal, so I’ve been trying to manage my time accordingly and find a good balance between work and school.”

Many students like Ashley have other responsibilities they must tend to during the epidemic. Freshman Ashley Petty is a social work student, and is adjusting to virtual school like the rest of her peers. Only for her, this is her first quarter with the school.

“I first enrolled in school this quarter because I wanted to do classes in person, on the campus,” Petty said. “I'm a stay-at-home mom, so I wanted to get out and not feel guilty about it.”

Petty added, “With the virus, it definitely changed everything. I saw the email that classes were going to be virtual for the whole semester, so that was a little intimidating at first and for me it was disappointing because again, I was wanting to have adult interaction and be able to get out of the house.”

Despite the change, she is optimistic about returning to school in person.

“I have not been in school for five years,” She explained. “I'm always like a social person, but being around other people, and having kids and just having a different identity now is making me nervous, but I think it'll be really good.”

Jennifer Adams is a student at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and produced this story for the Enterprise as part of her coursework.

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