Businesses and workers aren’t the only ones who have suffered during the coronavirus pandemic. Students, too, have seen their routines and educational experiences completely disrupted. Most elementary and secondary schools, as well as colleges and universities, quickly out in place some form of distance learning as they closed their buildings and campuses. Some have done a better job than others of delivering quality education, but undoubtedly, the transition both students and teachers have gone through created a gap in their learning – especially considering there is also a wide gap in access to technology between demographic groups.
Now, as schools are hopeful they can return to their facilities for the fall semester, they continue to develop contingency plans should that not be possible. Some school systems, like the California State University system, which includes 23 campuses across the state, have already said they are going mostly virtual for at least the fall. Others, like the University of North Carolina, are taking a different approach, announcing an early start to their semesters with a longer winter break from Thanksgiving, hoping to avoid a potential second wave. The majority, though, as taking a wait and see approach and are currently still planning on a normal 2020-2021 school year.
Most students are still optimistic, with the overwhelming majority remaining positive about the prospects of getting their education and graduating on time. However, this same optimism isn’t necessarily reflected in their thoughts on how long it will take for things to return to “normal” – only about half believe it will happen by the end of the year. The prospect of a virtual learning experience next year is also problematic for many, with a third of students saying they would likely seek alternative opportunities if they were forced into a distance learning situation again.
This is largely in line with what high school seniors, specifically, are saying. While 42% won’t delay their college education under any circumstances, 33% say they will consider deferring their education if their schools go all-virtual. We probably shouldn’t be surprised. Sitting at home on a couch in front of a laptop is hardly the same as the campus experience – an experience that helps develop students socially as much as professionally.
To help those students who decide to pass on a virtual freshman year cope with the burden and stress that could create, and to help keep them on a career-focused path, Champlain College announced the launch of the Virtual Gap Program. The school says its program is the first all-virtual gap program offered through an accredited college, and is designed to give students access to new growth experiences at a time when their regular college programs aren’t available.
The school’s 15-week program is designed to keep students intellectually active by exploring a variety of experiences through three distinct learning modules:
- Well-being – Explores the human brain, teaching students how to apply mindfulness in all aspects of life, and helping them manage the stress of not only a gap year and the COVID-19 pandemic, but everything else that life will throw at them.
- Academic – Virtual lectures from leading experts from a variety of fields, business leaders, and public figures introduce students to a variety of topics through college-level thinking and engagement.
- Professional – During the final five weeks, students will take part in a virtual group internship, collaborating with fellow students and industry insiders, just like they will in the “real world,” to hone the skills that will help them on their career paths.
The school also offers a second level of its Virtual Gap Program, for students who have enjoyed the experience and want to continue their work during the second half of the year. Students can earn three college credits through each of the two programs.
While it may not be for everyone – and it may seem counterintuitive for students delaying their college experience because their schools are going virtual, programs like this offer students an opportunity to stay active educationally, while still engaging in other activities, such as working during their gap years. For many, it’s also an opportunity to discover their career paths – it’s hardly fair that we make 18-year-olds just out of high school make a decision on what they want to do for the rest of their lives.
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