Life at Columbia Bible College (CBC) looks quite different than it did back in mid-March, when classes suddenly ended and students were sent home due to COVID-19. After six months of inactivity, CBC has reopened for in-person classes. Staff were busy over the summer preparing the campus for a safe return, balancing residence life, instructional space, and general community living.
“We want to be in the same space and do it safely,” says Academic Dean Gil Dueck. He notes that while some schools have resorted to remote instruction, CBC has a “very strong value of being in person as opposed to online.” This resulted in a flurry of modifications on campus during the summer.
One change involves increased technology. Each classroom now has the capacity to livestream so that those who cannot attend physically can still participate. Classrooms have been fitted with plexiglass for instructors to stand behind, desks are two metres apart, and classroom space is at 46 percent capacity. Students must also sanitize their hands and desks upon entry to class.
Classes begin and end at different times to reduce crowded hallways, and one-way arrows into and out of buildings help keep traffic flow smooth and keep close contact to a minimum.
The college has instituted a mask requirement for all spaces except dormitory pods, the library and the cafeteria. The cafeteria has extended hours for mealtimes and limits seating to four people per table.
“So far student response has been very good,” reports Dueck. “Everybody is getting what they need. We are facing something unprecedented [but] so far it’s working.”
Another change affects campus life with large gatherings, as the whole college community cannot be together as a group. Instead of weekly chapel services for everyone, now chapel services take place in smaller groups five days a week. Student extracurricular activities are still taking place with precautions. Many are wondering about the upcoming athletic season and Dueck says the school plans to “revisit the question in mid-October. Right now the teams are here, practicing and training.”
Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen, dean of students, told Canadian Mennonite, “I have been so impressed by the student leaders, who have owned the COVID adaptations that are required for us to function this year and [I] admire the way they have intentionally helped create a positive student culture within these parameters. When I commiserate with them about the challenges of masking and distancing, rather than lamenting about the inherent limits that are part of operating during a pandemic, they typically respond by expressing gratitude that Columbia is actually functioning in person this year. Their resilience and creativity is inspiring.”
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