British Columbia

Churches in Summerland, B.C., provide study space for local university students learning online

Raja Gupta and other local residents established the "University of Summerland" initiative for students who want to study with others.

Volunteer-run project allows young people to focus on study outside of home

Summerland Baptist Church is one of the three churches in Summerland, B.C., providing free study spaces for university students as part of a volunteer-run initiative called "University of Summerland." (Google Maps)

A new university — of sorts — is coming to Summerland, B.C., next month, with dozens of young people already enrolled without paying any tuition or registration fees.

University of Summerland is not a degree-granting school. It's a light-hearted solution created by several volunteers to provide study spaces for local students forced by COVID-19 to take courses online. 

"Encouraging students to get out of their bedrooms [and] away from their dining room tables, and go somewhere there's a dedicated space and an environment of learning," said Raja Gupta in describing the plan.

The Summerland Secondary School science teacher spoke on CBC's Daybreak South about his initiative that has a website featuring a coat of arms with Latin motto studere nobiscum, meaning study with us. Students must fill out an online registration form and will receive a confirmation email telling them where they can study.

University of Summerland's coat of arms with the Latin motto meaning "study with us." (Submitted by Raja Gupta)

Julia Street Community Church, Summerland Alliance Church and Summerland Baptist Church — which Gupta dubbed the University of Summerland's three "campuses" — provide free study spaces with tables, chairs, wireless internet access and staff.

The three venues vary in terms of opening hours. Church staff will gather information for contact tracing and maintain COVID-19 protocols.

Wi-Fi service was Gupta's top priority when he searched for community facilities about six weeks ago. 

Raja Gupta, science teacher of Summerland Secondary School and a volunteer with University of Summerland, looked for community facilities with Wi-Fi access as many university students are taking classes online. (Cherrie Wells)

Hannah Peterson, 18, will take her first-year biomedical science courses from Montreal's McGill University remotely in Summerland. She has good internet connectivity at home, but still registered for University of Summerland's study spaces.

"When it comes to studying, it's especially beneficial when you have a separate location where you're forced to sit down and focus," Patterson said. 

Hannah Patterson, a first-year biomedical science student with McGill University in Montreal, registered for University of Summerland because she wants a study space away from home to focus on her online courses. (Katie Van Bergeyk)

But she's also attracted to the social support that she may receive in the common learning environment. "It's a really great way to just connect to each other because we are all going through the same thing." 

Calum Bird, second-year computer science major with Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, will visit the study spaces with his Summerland friends who are studying the same subject.

"In-person aspect is a big component of learning," said the 18-year-old. "Even if we're at different universities, we can study similar material together."

The three churches will provide study spaces until December.

With files from Daybreak South


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