HELENA - On Monday morning, the Carroll College campus was full of activity again, as students returned to in-person classes for the first time since March.
“I can’t describe how wonderful it feels,” said Carroll President John Cech. “This morning, when I got out of my car, the first thing that happened to me was I encountered one of our students, who looked at me with this big smile and she said, ‘We did it! We’re here in person!’”
As he has in previous years, Cech opened the fall semester by meeting with students and handing out muffins outside the Campus Center. However, this year, the muffins were individually wrapped.
Carroll switched to online classes in March over concerns about COVID-19. Cech said the college’s “Marching Back” task force has spent hundreds of hours planning so the school could return to an in-person model.
“People come here from all over the country and the world for the Carroll College experience,” he said. “We worked very hard last spring to replicate that experience in a virtual environment, but nothing replicates what it’s like to be a student here on this campus, in this community.”
Students said they’re glad to be back at Carroll – even on a changed campus.
“It feels really weird to see people again and socialize, but it’s good to be back,” said Danielle Scanes, a biology major on the pre-med track.
“Yeah, it’s definitely nice after kind of a chaotic end of last semester to be back in a semi-normal environment,” added Emily Mackay, who is studying health sciences and public health.
Both said they prefer an in-person learning environment.
“It’s definitely easier to be in-person for classes – it’s more motivating than online, and the struggle with technology and Wi-Fi,” Scanes said.
“It’s a more connected feeling that you have when you’re actually in a classroom versus sitting behind a computer screen,” said Mackay.
The fall semester started ten days earlier than originally planned, allowing students to wrap up their classes before Thanksgiving. Leaders made the change to reduce student travel during the semester.
The changed schedule is only one of the measures Carroll has taken to reduce COVID-19 exposure. Leaders have also required masks for students and faculty, reduced class sizes by about half, distanced students within classrooms and created assigned seating.
Carroll is also paying for and encouraging all of its students to be tested for COVID-19 when they arrive on campus. On Monday, nursing students were conducting tests in a tent outside Borromeo Hall.
Cech said they are working with a lab in Boulder, Colorado to process the tests. So far, all have come back negative.
Carroll has cut back on conferences and other programs that will bring outside visitors onto the campus, and they’re asking prospective students to register ahead of time in order to get a tour with proper precautions.
“As much as we can, we’re trying to create that safe bubble here, while continuing to be an important citizen of the Helena community,” said Cech.
Mackay, who works at the hospital in Helena, said she’s comfortable with the precautions Carroll has taken.
“I think definitely we’re doing the right sort of things, taking the right steps to make sure that everyone’s being safe,” she said.