Zac VanderLey– Staff Writer
Students attended classes as normal on Tuesday, October 27, but each vibration of their phones intensified the anticipation; never before had students checked their emails with such consistency. They gasped and then sighed after each Instructure Canvas message. But then, around the middle of the day, the awaited email landed in every inbox: Dordt would be moving online after Thanksgiving break until the end of the semester.
Abby Barrientos, a junior, remembers her exact location at the time of the message. She was napping in her friend’s apartment when awakened by the email. She proceeded to jump up and down and called her mom right after.
Barrientos is from Cartago, Costa Rica where she lives with her younger brother, parents and grandparents. She hasn’t been home for almost a year and a half.
“Costa Rica just opened their borders to everyone,” Barrientos said. “I’m happy because now I can go home, but I can sympathize with people who wanted to stay.”
Barrientos recalls one of her classmates smacking his textbook on the table after he read the email. The Dordt student body seems split on the decision. Some, like Abby, will need to quarantine after returning home, but still will be able to spend time with friends and family for Christmas. Others are happy for their fellow comrades, but they wish they did not have to lose two weeks of college.
“I value my relationships here,” junior Annetta De Jong said. “Quarantine made me realize the community I have.”
Annetta enjoys seeing her friends, classmates, and professors on the walk to class. Her college experience has flown by, and she cannot believe she is in her junior year nearing the end of the fall semester.
The goal of Dordt had been to continue in-person instruction until December 11th, but a multitude of reasons expressed in a video from President Hoekstra and an email from Dean of Students Robert Taylor prompted the university to reevaluate.
“If one person is in quarantine, then the in-person exam wouldn’t be equal,” Taylor said.
On top of this, nearly half of finals administered at Dordt come in the form of
. . .papers or projects, making for an uneven playing field for those potentially in quarantine.
In classes that require strict testing or wish to still hold an in-person test, in-person exams can take place on November 23rd and 24th before the Thanksgiving travel break day on the 25th. The weekend before these dates, then, could serve as time for students to study and prepare if one of their classes elected this route.
Taylor recalls professor Dave Mulder standing in front of the Dordt faculty at the beginning of the pandemic as they prepared for online classes. He emphasized that the learning that would take place over next few months—for any school without a rigorous online learning program—was not true online instruction. Online learning takes months and months to prepare for and is not something thrown together in the emergency of a pandemic.
Based on the summer that faculty spent preparing for potential online learning, Taylor is confident that the two weeks online will exceed the online quarantine experience. It may not be the same experience as in-person classes, but will still hold value.
That being said, Dordt sees in-person instruction as the goal.
“I just want students to know that we made it,” Taylor said. “We could have in-person classes until December 11th if we wanted to, but the wisest choice was to move online for a short time.”
Many schools were either forced to transition to online earlier in the year or did not even attempt in-person learning. As of recent, Dordt has overcome multiple COVID-19 outbreaks and maintained in-person instruction, athletics, and on-campus living. The entire Dordt administration sees this as a success.
“It was the work of students that got us here,” Taylor said. “The students did the right thing when no one was looking.”
Ultimately, the international students and those facing quarantines because of Thanksgiving break travel weighed heavily on the hearts of the Dordt administration. In their email, Dordt explained a desire to protect its community while allowing all of its students the opportunity to see friends and family during Christmas. For them, transitioning to two weeks of online learning to secure both those values proved a sacrifice worth making.
Annetta and Abby agreed upon one thing: they both love Dordt and will miss it during the break. They, like many students, look forward to seeing their friends and family during a much-needed break, but they will be eager to return to the college they call a second home.