By Alexandria Zine
Along with the COVID-19 protocols initiated to preserve life through its truculence, academic resources such as the O’Neill Center and the Student Readiness Office have gone through the typical mutations for efficiency and then the not so typical changes. Richard Sommer’s retirement from being a Learning Disabilities (LD) specialist left this position open, which Jaclyn Kotowski has taken on. For the not so typical change(s), the O’Neill Center cannot proctor exams on the 4Cs campus as long as the remote learning implementation still stands, but students can communicate with the staff by email, a phone call, and/or a Zoom (video chat). The Student Readiness Office has been dealing with much of the same, with the inability to offer the CLEP exam and in-person guidance. However, the Accuplacer exam and counseling in breakout rooms are currently available, requiring the stability of technology as well as the temerity of students to withstand the ineluctable obstructions.
According to the COVID-19 and Fall 2020 semester guidelines (updated August 20, 2020), the O’Neill Center is aiding 315 students who are under the umbrella of testing, advising, and tutoring. The central focus of this student resource is to “…provide a wide range of support services for students who have learning differences, sensory impairments, psychological disabilities or physical conditions.” The start of Jaclyn Kotowski’s journey as the new LD specialist since July 2020 has been quite unique due to the pandemic. COVID-19 has jostled much of the traditional approach, but technology and the efficiency of adaptation has made this collective situation manageable.
“Generally,” said Kotowski, “students with accommodations are feeling comfortable with the remote environment, but there are some more concerns about time management and keeping up with the work without the face-to-face interaction with the professors.”
For students who must deal with the void of technology in their home or its occasional weaknesses, staying planted on their academic trek can seem daunting. Kathleen Fulginiti, the Tech Specialist in the O’Neill Center, returns to campus every week to check on the state of administrative essentials to properly help students, according to Kotowski. If a student who uses the O’Neill Center needs technological assistance, then one can contact her by her email firstname.lastname@example.org. If a student has any queries about potential adjustments they could make in their courses, then one can contact Doug Terry, the coordinator of the O’Neill Center at email@example.com. According to Kotowski, “students also had difficulty with work-life balance since they may not always have a quiet space in their home to study.”
Overall, Kotowski has loved her introduction to the 4Cs atmosphere, and cannot wait to embolden those with learning disabilities like Richard Sommer did before his retirement. Although many students did feel a bit engulfed by sadness after learning of his decision, “I believe the transition has been smooth,” said Kotiwski, “as I have been meeting with students to introduce myself on Zoom and make sure they know they are still supported. I am excited to build on Dr. Sommer’s legacy and continue to improve the support services that the O’Neill Center provides for 4Cs students.”
For those who are new to 4Cs and need to obtain/communicate their accommodations, an email should be sent to the O’Neill Center (firstname.lastname@example.org) containing one’s name, the date of one’s high school graduation, and one’s disabilities. The center recommends that students complete this prior to the start of the school year for simplicity once the semester begins.
Similarly, the Student Readiness Office (SRO) has maneuvered around the ineluctable changes that COVID-19 brings. Arthur Esposito, who has been the Coordinator since August 2018 and the Director of Academic Advising since January 2020, is astounded by the deep and ostensible shifts that have come about. The SRO and the Academic Advising Office have made it so that the “Admissions-to-Registered” endeavor of students, which measures a student’s abilities in English and Math courses and finalizes a student’s schedule, is achievable through Zoom breakout rooms. According to Esposito, the Remote Readiness assessments (the Accuplacer exams) are taken in breakout rooms, which hold only one student for the sake of academic honesty. The Ready to Register virtual meeting provides a compendious orientation and help on navigating the CampusWeb as well as choosing one’s ideal classes. For the most part, students have had to resolve unreliable internet connection, tackling particular programs with tech assistance, and finding peace through all of this.
This summer’s enrollment campaign,” said Esposito, “was the most challenging that my administrative colleagues and I had ever seen (that dates back decades for some of us). The way that my staff (in addition to those in the Admissions, Registration, Financial Aid, and all of the academic departments) met every new challenge and developed their computer mediated communication skills amazes me, the institution managed an unbelievably challenging situation and all credit should go to the staff members in each of the offices I mention above.”
When it comes to the Accuplacer exam, new students are not required to take it if their high school grade point average meets or exceeds a 2.7 (in the span of ten years for English and three years for Math). If one is without the felicitous grade point average or has the desire to be
enrolled in a higher-level course than what has been selected based on the score or GPA, then the Accuplacer exam is required, according to the 4Cs website. Currently, the SRO does organize workshops for students who are trying to prepare for this exam, as well as providing links that contain suggestions on preparation. This exam can be scheduled by contacting the SRO during their hours of availability, which are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with Wednesdays between 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. “In October,” said Esposito, “we will begin to offer TEAS assessments for applications to the College’s Nursing program.”
However, the CLEP exam, which is administered by the College Board, will not be an option, as a result of the pandemic. The benefactors of this exam include adults who are ready to finish their secondary education, young students (high school and college), military members, international students, and more. In addition to ensuring that students can endure the rigor of college courses, the CLEP exam gives an “opportunity to receive college credit for what you already know by earning qualifying scores on any of the CLEP 33 examinations.” These score reports are recognizable to more than 2,900 colleges and universities, according to the 4Cs website.
“This is a regional problem,” said Esposito. “Until recently, no test centers in Eastern Massachusetts have been able to offer these tests. Bridgewater State University and Northern Essex Community College have recently begun to administer limited numbers of on ground CLEP tests.” He considers it to be the most immense out of the many obstacles presented by COVID-19. Since the computers that complement the CLEP exam program cannot be utilized nor replicated on another piece of technology, it is not clear when the CLEP will be an option again. So far this year, it has been a common qualm among many students.
Despite the fact that many aspects of the academic world have had to bend according to the risks of COVID-19, esoteric execution as well as hope seems to be a part of every facet of planning and solving among the staff at the student resource centers.