Some college students back in class Monday to complete studies interrupted by pandemic

A number of Ontario colleges and universities are participating in a provincial summer pilot project for students considered "academically stranded," with a small amount of extra classroom time or hands-on training required to graduate.

Other students already looking ahead to fall classes during COVID-19 pandemic

Some students in heating, refrigeration and air conditioning are among the 350 Humber College students returning to class this summer. (Submitted by Humber College)

Humber College students will be back on campus starting Monday to finish their programs, bringing post-secondary students into classroom settings for the first time since classes shut down in March due to the pandemic.

Humber is one of a number of Ontario colleges and universities participating in a provincial summer pilot project for students considered "academically stranded," with a small amount of extra classroom time or hands-on training required to graduate.

Classes won't look the same as they did pre-COVID-19, with a screening process required to enter buildings, mandatory masks and extra safety protocols in place.

"That might mean that they're coming in on staggered days," said Emily Milic, Humber College's manager of PR and Communications.

"It might mean that they're using two spaces when they used to use one" to ensure distancing, Milic added.

The students returning to class over the summer are studying to be front-line workers, such as paramedics, or going into jobs determined by the Ontario government as essential to restarting the economy, such as driving tractor trailers.

Milic said some of the returning Humber College students need as little as five more hours of class time to graduate.

"The finish line was right on the horizon" when the shutdown happened, she said.

These are the six Humber programs that are part of the summer pilot:

  • Commercial Driver Training (Tractor Trailer).
  • Heating, Refrigeration & Air Conditioning.
  • Electrical Apprenticeship – Construction and Maintenance.
  • Industrial Woodworking.
  • Pharmacy Technician.
  • Paramedic.

The University of Toronto confirmed its first returning students taking part in the pilot will be a group from the Faculty of Dentistry, scheduled to start sometime in July.

Bringing some students back to campuses over the summer "will allow institutions to test their capacity" for activities in small group settings, said Ciara Byrne, spokesperson with the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, in a statement.

She said all participating institutions must follow enhanced screening requirements, stiffer cleaning protocols and require the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

"Robust consultations will continue into the summer," said Byrne, about the guidelines to be put into place for gradually opening post-secondary institutions beyond summer.

'I really don't know what to expect'

Meanwhile, thousands of other post-secondary students are preparing for a much different school year starting in September.

Angie Lawrence, a York University film production major, said she considered taking the next semester off, but decided she wanted to continue her program with the same classmates.

Angie Lawrence says COVID-19 was a main topic of discussion with her three new roommates for the upcoming school year, as they asked about each other's families and any health issues. (Submitted by Angie Lawrence)

She'll be starting her second year and said she understands classes need to change given the pandemic, but said her favourite class last year was a large film class with hundreds of students.

She'll be living in on-campus housing with three roommates this year. When they recently 'met' over the phone, "we all discussed our family and if anyone's immuno-compromised."

Her friend Reagan Leahey is about to enter Ryerson University in nursing, after taking a gap year.

"I'm just worried I won't get the full experience of first year," she said, with most classes online, and she wonders how she'll create bonds with her classmates.

She had planned to live in student housing, but is instead living at home for an extra year. She said her parents, especially her mom who's a nurse, didn't feel comfortable with her living in a group setting during a pandemic.

Reagan Leahey will be living at home with her parents instead of in student housing due to the pandemic, as she prepares to enter her first year at Ryerson University in Nursing. (Submitted by Reagan Leahey)

Leahey said it appears her clinical training will be different, too, with actors used to play the role of patients.

Normally, she said the clinical component includes visiting a long-term care home, which obviously won't happen this year, given the risk of COVID-19.

But Leahey said she's still excited to start university.

"I really don't know what to expect."


Lorenda Reddekopp

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Lorenda Reddekopp is a news reporter for CBC Toronto.


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