More colleges and universities switch to ‘block’ schedules for Pandemic Fall

Plus, three CC paraprofs explain their decisions to stay for a second year

Good morning, and happy Wednesday. On this pre-pandemic date last year, Colorado College was hosting a “Whiz Bang” summer program for elementary school students. (The campus is currently closed to visitors).

Today, we take a look at five colleges and universities that are taking a page out of CC’s book and implementing Block-Plan-like schedules for their fall semesters. We also talk to three Colorado College paraprofessionals about their decisions to stay on for a second year.

➡️ICYMI: Yesterday, two administrators in the college’s Office of Housing explained the measures they’re taking to tamp down on-campus density. Also, we recapped last week’s Town Hall for Colorado College employees.

✍🏻CORRECTION: An earlier edition of yesterday’s newsletter referred to Acting Dean of Students Rochelle Dickey as “Rochelle Dickey-Mason.” She has removed “Mason” from her name, and we have made the appropriate correction online.

Image from CC’s Plan for Fall 2020 announcement. 

Block out your schedule: Other colleges and universities adopt Block-Plan-like calendars for pandemic flexibility

Colorado College has been teaching classes in an intensive, one-class-at-a-time academic format for 50 years, an anniversary they celebrated by hosting a “Institute on Block Plan and Intensive Teaching and Learning” over the past two days. Now, with a pandemic forcing higher-ed to explore new ways to increase flexibility, some colleges and universities are giving Block schedules a first try. We’ve heard imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. 

Colleges making the switch:

Bates College in Maine has announced both its fall and winter semesters will be broken into two “modules.” Each will run for seven and a half weeks, and students will take two classes per module. “Student workload hours in any given week will also remain the same and will be focused on two classes instead of four,” administrators wrote. They also say this plan will allow the college additional flexibility if they have to move to fully remote learning at any point during the year, as the transition would disrupt only two classes instead of four. Bates will continue to offer “Short Term” classes beginning April 23, 2021. 

Centre College in Kentucky will have a fall semester consisting of two six-week blocks, and students will take two classes per block, a change from their traditional 13-week semester schedule. Each class will meet for 90 minutes per day, and science classes will likely have three days of lectures and two days of labs. After each block, there will be two days for exams. “It will also help reduce anxiety, allow flexibility in uncertain times and maintain the high quality of our programs,” said Ellen Goldey, Centre College Dean and vice president for academic affairs. Administrators will decide later if they will keep the block schedule or return to a semester schedule for the spring.

East Carolina University in North Carolina will chop up the 2020-21 academic year into four eight-week blocks. This year, in order to finish both blocks before Thanksgiving, the semester will start two weeks early. “The block scheduling format will allow us to be more flexible and nimble in our approach as we plan for fall classes and implement the necessary adaptations to keep our students, faculty and staff healthy and safe,” wrote Grant Hayes, acting provost and senior vice chancellor for Academic Affairs. The university will “migrate” existing student schedules to the new timeline, and students who were planning to have five courses in the fall will take two classes during one block and three during the other. Certain courses, including studios and student teaching, will remain in their semester-long format and will run concurrently to the new blocks. 

Lynn University in Florida plans to break up its fall semester into four four-week terms where students will either take one or two classes. Classes will meet Monday to Thursday, and activities including science labs, tutoring, and student group meetings will take place on Friday. “With fewer courses at a time, block scheduling will limit the number of people that students and faculty come in contact with during each session,” Vice President for Academic Affairs Katrina Carter-Tellison said in the announcement. “It also allows the university to quickly switch to remote learning if necessary.” Graduate and online programs have already been using a two-block per semester format and will continue to do so. 

College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in Minnesota will use a Block Schedule for the 2020-21 academic year. There will be four blocks per semester, and each block will be four weeks long. Classes will meet for three hours per day on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Some labs or music ensembles might meet on Wednesdays, but the mid-week break will allow time to deep-clean classrooms, since two classes may use the same space during a block. “Hybrid learning allows faculty and students the flexibility to attend class virtually and in a synchronous way, when needed, even as others attend class in person,” wrote Provost Richard Ice. “We believe this enhances our ability to maintain a safe community and to accommodate members of our community who are at higher risk for severe illness.”

‘The Chaos That Comes’: Amid COVID-19 uncertainty, three CC paraprofessionals choose to stay on campus for a second year

SethWilson Gray, Creativity and Innovation Paraprofessional

SethWilson Gray ’19 is the first-ever paraprofessional for Creativity and Innovation at Colorado College. Though paraprofessional jobs are usually a one-year commitment, Gray is one of several paraprofessionals from this year who will be sticking around in the fall for a second year after the pandemic altered the job market for recent college grads.

“More people are doing it for the second year this year than I think ever before,” Gray says. “Because you can’t really find a job right now, and it’s a lot safer to stay with a community that you know when everywhere else is so uncertain.” 

One problem: most paraprofessional jobs are seasonal. “I cannot afford to not have a job over the summer,” Gray says. 

With the pandemic limiting available summer opportunities, Gray started looking at anywhere still open and offering jobs, such as Jack in the Box, Costco, and grocery stores. Eventually he stepped into a role as project manager on the production team at “Project PPE at CC,” a student-faculty operation that makes face shields to help support pandemic efforts during a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment. In the fall, Gray will step back into his paraprofessional job.

He, for one, says he’s “pretty happy” he’ll be around for another year “because it’ll give me a chance to really come into the role and enjoy it more, instead of just kind of surviving like last year.”

Kai Cintorino, Film and Media Studies Paraprofessional

Kai Cintorino ’19 was planning to move to Italy and claim citizenship after her year as the paraprofessional for the Film and Media Studies department. However, COVID-19 battered Italy in early March, and Cintorino’s flight was canceled in April. 

“My boss knew what my plans were and when she realized that may not be happening, asked if I would reconsider staying another year,” Cintorino says. “It was a hard decision … but ultimately I figured that choosing financial stability and comfort and safety in this time was kind of a better option, and I’m still hoping on getting there next year.”

During Block 7, Cintorino helped the students and visiting professor in Basic Filmmaking navigate the challenges of distance-learning during a class that typically requires using gear from the department. After attempting socially-distant handoffs of equipment for students who were still on campus, Film and Media Studies adapted the class so it wouldn’t require any gear when it was taught via distance-learning in Block A. She also helped organize virtual film screenings at the end of the block. 

“We still wanted the energy of coming together and watching everyone’s films together,” Cintorino says. “So we had to figure out how to put together a virtual screening on these weird virtual screening websites that I didn’t know existed.”

This summer, Cintorino is working as supervising producer for “In Short,” a TV series on Rocky Mountain PBS created in partnership with CC Film and Media Studies. She isn’t sure what the fall will bring for her position, but she will continue helping move production classes online and will support seniors through their year-long thesis projects, which sometimes include documentary filming in the fall. 

“I feel like it’s lucky for me and the department that I’m a second-year paraprof going into all of this because it’s a hard enough transition out in the normal climate, and I can’t imagine all the on-the-job learning while also being in this kind of uncertainty,” Cintorino says. “I just feel really lucky that I know how things run, and I’m able to help out with the chaos that comes.”

Addie Knight, College Access Paraprofessional 

Addie Knight ’19 started as the first-ever College Access Paraprofessional last September. She is planning to stay at CC for a second year and continue her work with the Stroud Scholars program. 

“I think my initial [reason] was because I don’t know what I’m doing next,” Knight says. “I have no idea what my plan is.” 

Stroud Scholars, which launched in October of last year, is a three-year college-prep program aimed at supporting local high school students, specifically students of color, low-income students, and students who would be the first generation in their families to attend college. Students accepted to the program will participate in a three-week residential summer program at CC each summer focused on academic support in quantitative reasoning and writing skills, and successful completion of the program will result in admission to CC and a “comprehensive” financial aid package.

As the program’s paraprofessional, Knight works with high schools in the Pikes Peak region. She travels to different schools to deliver materials and present information sessions, attends webinars, helps with communications efforts, and supports the program’s CC student mentors. Her role is year-round, so now she is working from home and modifying the three-week residential program into a one-week virtual program for the 25 scholars in this year’s cohort. In her second year, Knight will continue her recruitment work but will also work on case management and welcome the next cohort into the program. 

“And so getting to stay for another year, I would get to see another group of kids come into the program,” Knight says. “I’d get to see these students through their second year, and just see a lot more growth in the program.”

Knight is also friends with Gray and Cintorino, and says knowing they will also be staying in Colorado Springs is “a good plus.” 

About the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project

The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project is a student-faculty collaboration by Colorado College student journalists Miriam Brown and Arielle Gordon, Journalism Institute Director Steven Hayward, Visiting Assistant Professor of Journalism Corey Hutchins, and Assistant Professor of English Najnin Islam. Work by Phoebe Lostroh, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at CC and National Science Foundation Program Director in Genetic Mechanisms, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, will appear from time to time, as will infographics by Colorado College students Rana Abdu, Aleesa Chua, Sara Dixon, Jia Mei, and Lindsey Smith.

The project seeks to provide frequent updates about CC and other higher education institutions during the pandemic by providing original reporting, analysis, interviews with campus leaders, and context about what state and national headlines mean for the CC community. 

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