Smiles...even through their masks

School of Professional & Continuing Education (SPCE)

It’s been a year. A year full of so many life changing up’s and down’s. A year no one was expecting or could have even remotely prepared for. A year that will be forever remembered by us all. Last year at this time, JMU’s Professional & Continuing Education Youth Programs, had just completed our 13th year of running College For Kids. Just a few weeks later, little did we all know, would be the last time of interacting and running and attending programs as we always had.

Fast forward one year later to March of 2021. Masked faces and social distancing are the practiced norm for all. Seeing family, friends and coworkers in person over the past year almost never happened and new connections formed online or over zoom in its place. Schools and all outside of school programming ceased, which left students as well as teachers and staff working with youth programs, desperately missing the enjoyment of learning and interacting together. Once 2021 began, the search for exactly how to continue running youth programs safely in person, became a main focus. College for Kids, being one of our top running programs, that offers a variety of diverse thematic course offerings, begins every year in January.

Typically there are 150 or more students that attend, with 12-15 students per class. To ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students as well as staff, we lowered the max number of students to 8 per room, in order to keep ample social distancing and lowered the number of courses available to register for from 16 to 8. Everyone in attendance was required to wear a mask. Class rooms and all supplies were disinfected prior to and following each class. Each student also maintained a bag of their own daily supplies that were kept separated, in order to not cross use any items. Instead of a set time for all to arrive, each class had a staggered set time to arrive and depart. Parents were not permitted in the building and were met outside at cars or at the door to greet students upon arrival and departure. Each student also had their temperature checked as they entered the building. Separate entrances of Memorial Hall were also utilized so as to limit interactions as much as possible. Students took breaks in class rooms or in the large space of the forum of Memorial Hall, one class at a time, again to minimize interactions and all spaces were disinfected in between uses. With a total of 54 students, College For Kids ran with great success for the first in person youth program in a year following the pandemic.

To see the students as well as staff’s happiness was the most wonderful feeling each Saturday of the program. To realize that something that we took almost for granted, had regained a new appreciation for us all. The interactions, learning, laughing and connections with students had been desperately missed by us all. The extra steps, work and decision to make in-person programming run again was worth more than any of us could have imagined. Despite the trying situations for everyone in the past year, we have all regained an overwhelmingly wonderful new appreciation for life, in a variety of ways. But being able to hear the students laugh and see their smiles, even through their masks, was a wonderful gift for us all and we can’t wait to continue moving forward and growing Youth Programs with our community.

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Published: Thursday, April 1, 2021

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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