Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Dear community college faculty, staff, students, and supporters:
Suffice to say, 2020 will not be the year for which any of us were hoping or expecting.
The COVID-19 pandemic not only threatens lives but changes the very pace of life. That includes how our colleges continue to work on behalf of the students we serve.
Virginia’s Community Colleges are open for business and will remain so, albeit adjusting how we operate to prioritize health safety.
To date, we have cancelled several events, large and small, across Virginia to comply with what the experts recommend including our State Board meeting in Martinsville and the New Horizons conference in Roanoke, along with other professional development events.
May Commencement Ceremonies Cancelled
Sadly, we will add another round of events to that list: our May college commencement ceremonies. The most recent CDC GUIDANCEcalls for avoiding gatherings of 50 or more people over the next eight weeks, meaning our commencement ceremony season. I’ve consulted with our college presidents and please know that we do not take this step lightly.
What’s difficult is that the very things that make these ceremonies meaningful also make them dangerous in this pandemic. While it’s a celebration of individual achievements, it’s a community celebration. Many of the same family members who travel far and wide to attend are at particularly high risk with this virus. And the hugs and high-fives that come naturally to so many of us in that moment fly in the face of the social distancing practices we are asked to observe.
The colleges will honor the achievements of their Class of 2020 graduates later, at a time and in a manner that is safer for all concerned.
Colleges Find a Way Forward
In the meantime, faculty and staff members are finding ways to minimize the pandemic on the students we serve and their academic journeys.
I commend you for all that you are doing to offer classes remotely, to adjust performance-based courses to gather students in smaller groups, to find ways to counsel and advise beyond traditional face-to-face meetings, and continue offering computer lab and food pantry resources when possible.
This is incredibly important work. Just look around this emergency – the first responders, the hospital nurses, the truck drivers keeping food and supplies coming to our stores, and so many more – our society depends on community college-trained people to function, especially in its darkest moments.
Stay in touch with your managers, and college leadership, about what is occurring at your campus. As we look to salvage this current spring semester and prepare for perhaps an untraditional summer and fall semesters, your contribution will make all the difference.
Be Smart, Be Safe
That brings me to my final and most important point: be sure to take care of yourself and your family in this process. As a member of our team, we need you at your best to ensure that our mission continues when it is most needed.
Stay up to date on that guidance from the VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH(VDH)and the CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION(CDC). Stay tuned to local media to understand what’s happening in your community. Practice the hygienic and social distancing habits that health experts are urging us to exercise. And make sure you know what’s happening with the operations of your college. Things can change quickly in this emergency.
Thank you for all that you are doing to support our students through this unexpected episode. Though we don’t know when, we know that this pandemic will come to an end. Let’s do everything possible to ensure the dreams and aspirations that brought people to our colleges don’t get lost along the way.